Tony Blair has finally said something I can support him on, however much I revile his past actions. He’s called for and end to the Israeli and ‘Quartet’( formally the EU, US, Russia, UN) blockade of Gaza (1). (To be more accurate the Quartet should be defined as the EU, US, Russia and Israel, since the UN has condemned the blockade and called for it to be lifted.)
Unfortunately Blair still holds to the other ‘Quartet’ position – that talks with Hamas can’t begin until it formally recognizes Israel, signs up to the 1993 Oslo peace agreement between Israel and the PLO; and renounces violence.
These three conditions though are some of the biggest barriers to a negotiated peace – and that’s not just my opinion. Many Israelis, including former government ministers, advisers, academics, historians and the former heads of Shin Bet and Mossad say the pre-conditions being placed on talks with Hamas are ludicrous and amount to setting impossible preconditions to avoid talking at all – combined with a war on all Gazans intended to replace the elected Hamas government by force.
Professor Yossi Alpher, director of the Jaffa Institute for Strategic studies and a former adviser to Ehud Barak, wrote in the Jewish ‘Forward’ newspaper in October 2006 that “Israel never demanded recognition from Egypt or Jordan as a precondition for negotiating with them; recognition is a logical way to conclude successful peace talks, not to begin them.”.(2).
Alpher also points out that Israeli governments have failed to abide by the Oslo agreements by continuing to expand settlements by force in the West Bank, yet demand Hamas abide by these agreements before talks begin.
Former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami signed an open letter saying “Hamas must recognise Israel as part of a permanent solution, but it is a diplomatic process and not ostracisation that will lead them there. The Quartet conditions…set an unworkable threshold from which to commence negotiations.” (3)
Shlomo Gazit, the former head of Israel’s military intelligence, called the three pre-conditions laid down by Israel “ridiculous, or an excuse not to negotiate.” (4)
Efraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad, also says Israel should negotiate with Hamas, noting that the group has maintained ceasefires and enforced them on other groups in the past.(5).
A poll in March 2008 showed 72% of Israelis wanted negotiations with Hamas (6).
Some may object that Hamas has failed to prevent attacks by other groups, but the Israeli government’s war and blockade on Gaza is the main reason for that. During the last offensive Israel’s deputy PM told interviewers “What I think we need to do is to reach a situation in which we do not allow Hamas to govern.” (7). On 6th January Yuval Diskin, the head of Shin Bet, told the cabinet that Israeli attacks have made it increasingly difficult for Hamas to govern (8). Attacks on Hamas’ police force and stations have continued since (9).
While claiming they’ve destroyed Hamas’ ability to govern Israeli government ministers have also said they hold Hamas responsible for attacks on Israelis from Gaza – even though they admit those attacks aren’t being carried out by Hamas (and that includes the much publicized roadside bombing which came just after the new ceasefire). (see this post and the sources listed in it)
This is what makes the ‘renounce violence’ pre-condition an impossible one for Hamas to meet. Israeli forces demand they end attacks on Israel by other Palestinian groups while simultaneously denying them the means to do so (including the very direct method of assassinating Hamas members). Once again it’s also fairly hypocritical coming from a government that reserves the right to bomb Gazans even during ceasefires.
If the campaign to destroy the Hamas government is ended then Hamas and Fatah can be reconciled, as they were in June 2007 in a coalition government, when Israel and its allies still refused to recognise Hamas as part of that government despite its election victory. Hamas can enforce a ceasefire on other groups and peace negotiations can proceed through third parties (10).
As Israeli historian and IDF veteran Avi Shlaim wrote in January “There is…no military solution...Israel's concept of security…denies …security to [Palestinians]. The only way for Israel to achieve security is…through talks with Hamas, which has repeatedly declared its readiness to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with [Israel] within its pre-1967 borders for 20, 30, or even 50 years.”(11)
And in case anyone thinks Shlaim is wrong to think Hamas would negotiate or concede that Israel could exist even inside it’s pre-1967 borders, he’s right, they’ve said they’d accept that if given a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
For instance in September 2005 Mohammed Gazal of Hamas told Reuters that the Hamas Charter ‘is not the Koran’ and could be amended to accept the existence of Israel within it’s pre-1967 borders – and that negotiations with Israel were entirely possible (12). In 2008 Khaled Meshal of Hamas said a Palestinian state could co-exist with Israel (13). In January this year Hamas leaders told Associated Press reporters that “"We accept a state in the '67 borders," and “We are not talking about the destruction of Israel” (14)
Hamas’ leaders are not so blind as to think they could destroy an Israeli state that has F-16 jets, helicopters, missile armed drones, tanks and heavy artillery when they only have AK-47s and rockets. They will not give up all their negotiating cards before the negotiations even begin though. Not in return for nothing, which is what Palestinians would get from the kind of ‘negotiation’ in which one side has to give in on every point before negotiations even start. Nor would the governments of Jordan or Egypt, yet negotiating with them has led to decades of peace between them and Israel.
There is no barrier to beginning peace negotiations with Hamas via third parties. The question is, does the Israeli government want peace or does it just want more land, taken by force, at any cost in Palestinian and Israeli lives?
(1) = Independent 02 Mar 2009 ‘Blair says Gaza crossings must be opened to assist rebuilding’,
(2) = Forward 20 Oct 2006 ‘Preconditions for a Problematic Partner’,
(3) = Times 26 Feb 2009 ‘Peace will be achieved only by talking to Hamas’,
(4) = Forward 09 Feb 2007 ‘Experts Question Wisdom of Boycotting Hamas’,
(5) = Interview with Efraim Halevy in Mother Jones Magazine 10 Feb 2008 ‘Israel's Mossad, Out of the Shadows’, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2008/02/israels-mossad-out-shadows
(6) = Newsweek 07 Mar 2008 ‘‘We’ll Have to Talk’’
(7) = New York Times 03 Jan 2009 ‘Is the Real Target Hamas Rule?’,
(8) = Guardian 06 Jan 2009 ‘Israel looks to drive out Hamas’,
(9) = CNN 1 Feb 2009 ‘Airstrikes hit Gaza after rockets wound 3 Israelis’,
(10) = Guardian 07 Jan 2009 ‘How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe’,
(11) = see (10) above
(12) = Reuters/Ynet(Israel) 21 Sep 2005 ‘Hamas: We'll rethink call to destroy Israel’,
(13) = Guardian.co.uk 21 April 2008 ‘We can accept Israel as neighbour, says Hamas’,
(14) = AP/Haaretz 01 Jan 2009 ‘Hamas: We will accept long-term truce if Gaza borders opened’, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1059873.html