Khaled Meshal, head of the political wing of Hamas / Getty Images
“Apart from fringe elements such as the Jewish Voice for Peace, which abandoned the last shred of its dignity when its rabbinic co-chair presented Hamas as a force for reason, American Jews of all persuasions back Israel’s position.”
So says Rabbi Eric Yoffie , former president of the Union for Reform Judaism. He declares a rival Jewish organization as having “abandoned the last shred of its dignity” because Rabbi Brant Rosen, co-chair of Jewish Voice for Peace’s Rabbinical Council, argued that Israel should have considered negotiating with Hamas, and that Israel should have recognized the joint Hamas-Fatah unity government while given the opportunity.
Dignity is a strong word to use when attempting to criticize the strategic analyses of other Jews, and so I need to ask: Is it really that unreasonable to suggest that Israel negotiate with Hamas?
On its website, the ADL categorically rejects such negotiations. But theirs is an argument built on a flawed comparison. Israel only negotiated with the PLO, the ADL argues, after the Palestinian organization renounced terror, amended its charter, and recognized Israel. The problem? It’s true that the PLO-Israel letters of recognition were exchanged in September 1993 before the signing of Oslo’s Declaration of Principles on the White House Lawn: but only four days before.
As anyone who has even cursorily studied the history of that period knows, behind-the-scenes negotiations between Israeli and PLO representatives had been taking place throughout that year via the good offices of Norway, to get them to that very spot.
Writing in 2012, following the last Hamas-Israel flare-up, political scientist Dov Waxman lays out a number of considered reasons why Israel should not negotiate with Hamas, before suggesting that Israel ultimately should at least consider it. “Hamas might be persuaded to stop arms smuggling into Gaza in return for the complete opening of its borders with Israel and the lifting of Israel’s naval blockade of the coastal enclave,” Waxman argues, also invoking the idea of a hudna (Arabic for long-term truce), something Hamas has previously mentioned.
Or consider an article in yesterday’s Haaretz by Geneva Initiative spokesperson Gili Harpaz, whose headline reads “better a bad peace than a good war,” and which points to the “catch-22” in which Israelis experience themselves as being caught: “When there’s violence, there’s no one to talk to, and when quiet prevails, there’s no reason to talk.” It’s important to get out of this catch-22 mindset, Harpaz implies, as she argues that, while whittling away Hamas’s military capabilities, Israel should attempt to negotiate with a joint Hamas-Fatah government.
Of course, it’s clear from this war that Hamas’s political goals are anything but obvious. While the Gaza-Egypt tunnels represent an important commercial lifeline for an impoverished people, the Gaza-Israel tunnels can only suggest one thing. The indiscriminate rocket fire has hardly led Israelis to trust Hamas. And its charter remains rejectionist in the extreme. But there are glimmers of hope that Hamas may be reasoned with: even its most daring and terrifying actions — like the capture of Gilad Shalit — had negotiable ends within defined parameters. And the recent interview with Khaled Meshaal, while still maddeningly ambiguous as to Hamas’s political goals, suggests that co-existing alongside Israel is not necessarily a no-go in their eyes. (To wit: Bibi’s declaration against a two-state solution a few weeks ago was more definitive.)
Ultimately, history has shown that many militants — even the bloodiest of them all, can eventually moderate for strategic ends. In the horrifying shadow of Munich and Ma’alot, PLO recognition of Israel emerged. To suggest that Hamas is beyond all strategic thinking is to consign Israelis to a permanent state of war and terror. And to suggest that it is undignified to call for negotiations to try to dig amidst the rubble for a shred of possibility is itself a sign of the lack of dignity characterizing our communal discourse in these troubled times.