It's Time for Dialogue With Hamas

Is There Really Any Benefit In Not Talking to Gaza Rulers?

Talking With the Enemy: There was a time when talking to PLO leaders was deemed treasonous by many Jews. We gained by negotiating peace with Yasser Arafat and we will also gain by talking to Hamas.
getty images
Talking With the Enemy: There was a time when talking to PLO leaders was deemed treasonous by many Jews. We gained by negotiating peace with Yasser Arafat and we will also gain by talking to Hamas.

By Leonard Fein

Published December 04, 2011, issue of December 09, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

I was not in Stockholm in 1988.

More precisely, I had declined an invitation to join what turned out to be a five-person delegation of American Jews who flew to Stockholm to meet with Yasser Arafat. I had cogent reasons for demurring, but I applauded the gumption of the five who went, and was pleasantly surprised that their meeting was, according to all the reconstructions of the history of the time, an important milestone in the pursuit of a still-elusive peace.

The Swedish government had orchestrated the encounter, reasoning that without a bold initiative, there would be no change in the long-standing American policy of refusing to enter into a dialogue with the PLO. The US had insisted that such a dialogue could take place only if the PLO accepted Israel’s right to exist, renounced terrorism and proclaimed its support of the two key UN resolutions — 242 and 338 — that set the framework for negotiation. Arafat had in various ways been sidling up to the requisite statement, but the Americans remained dissatisfied.

It was then, in November of 1988 — the first intifada still raging — that the Swedes arranged for Stanley Sheinbaum, a well-connected Los Angeles economist and political activist; Rita Hauser, a highly-regarded Republican attorney and chair of the American branch of the Institute for Middle East Pace, along with Drora Kass, executive director of the IMEP’s American branch, to meet in Stockholm with a delegation of PLO leaders. That meeting led, just weeks later, to the meeting with Arafat himself.

The meeting ended with a joint statement asserting that the Palestinian parliament in exile had “accepted the existence of Israel as a state in the region” and a convivial press conference, in the course of which Arafat said ”We accept two states, the Palestine state and the Jewish state of Israel.” [Because the big news was the recognition of Israel, no one paid particular attention — nor, to the best of my knowledge, has anyone in the current ongoing debate made reference — to Arafat’s explicit endorsement of Israel as “the Jewish state.”]

Still, it was only after six more days of hemming and hawing and backing and forthing that Arafat held a press conference and said all the requisite magic words, begetting a positive American response and the beginning of a process that led, five years later, to the Oslo Accords.

Why recount these details now? Because the reaction of the mainstream American Jewish community, as also of Israel, at the time was bitterly critical. Yet, as Gidon D. Remba, executive director of the Jewish Alliance for Change, observed in a detailed posting, there are prominent people “from Israel’s security, intelligence and diplomatic establishment who argue that Israel must, in its own best interests, initiate a pragmatic dialogue with Hamas, dropping counterproductive pre-conditions which, had they been adopted with other Arab parties, would have prevented any peace talks — and peace treaties — from coming to fruition (think Egypt and Jordan, and the peace talks with Syria in the 90’s, which laid the groundwork for what may be a future Syrian-Israeli peace treaty). On this view, the most solid foundation for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations is one that co-opts Hamas into the process.”

In 1975, calls for an Israeli dialogue with the PLO were anathema to the organized American Jewish community, much as calls for talks with Hamas are today. Comes my dear friend, Kathleen Peratis, a sometime oped contributor to the Forward, and reports on conversations she had in early November with Hamas officials in Gaza, conversations she reports on in columns in the Forward and the Nation, conversations meant to give us insight into the current thinking of Hamas, and her columns beget abuse.

Is it really better that we not know what Hamas is thinking? There is, in fact, ample precedent here. As Remba observes, to oppose any such contact is to misunderstand “the vital role which ‘independent’ third party intermediaries often play, usually with the covert approval of governments, in facilitating peace talks between enemies, who require preliminary explorations of the possibilities to be conducted at arms length by unofficial interlocutors. Third party intermediaries enable political leaders to explore the viability of a formal negotiation process with reduced risks.” And Peratis in fact does not come anywhere near calling for talks or acting as a “third party intermediary.” A professional lawyer, she asks questions and records and reports answers. Good stuff, but no big deal. The big deal would be to use blindfolds and earplugs, to rely on rumor and speculation, to insist on ignorance, to punish the messenger. To that, it is time to say “never again.”

Contact Leonard Fein at feedback@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.