An Israel-Hamas coalition for peace
Geoffrey H. Lewis and Seymour D. Reich
IT'S BECOMING increasingly clearer that reaching an Israeli-Palestinian agreement requires finding a way to bring Hamas into the process. This must be done without compromising Israeli or American interests.
Many respected Israeli security officials, including two former heads of Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, arrived at that conclusion some time ago. So have 64 percent of Israelis, who said, according to a Haaretz-Dialog poll taken in February, that they would negotiate directly with Hamas to end the rocket attacks from Gaza, controlled by Hamas since June 2007, and to secure the release of the captive Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who returned to Israel last week to prod Israelis and Palestinians to make progress toward an agreement, seems to have recently made this same determination.
Efraim Halevy, former Mossad chief who spent three decades at the agency, started advocating talking to Hamas even before it wrested control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority. David Kimche, former deputy chief of Mossad and former director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry said during a teleconference briefing organized by Israel Policy Forum last month that Israel should talk to Hamas through indirect channels as part of a threesome that would include Fatah, which controls the West Bank.
While there are legitimate concerns over Hamas policy and over direct engagement with it, it is impossible to achieve an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians on any of the key issues without engaging Hamas through some means. Hamas is the governing authority in Gaza, a reality we can no longer ignore. Hamas can torpedo talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority by intensified rocket attacks or suicide bombings, as it has done in the past.
Another reality is that until Hamas-Israel violence ends, even if an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is reached, it will languish on the shelf no matter how acceptable it is. No progress can be made with a divided Palestinian polity. Israel cannot reach a binding agreement with the Palestinian Authority while at war with Hamas. Israelis cannot be expected to make the sacrifices needed to establish peace if Hamas, the most violent actor, is not included, at least tacitly.
Rice appears to recognize these realities. During her previous visit to the Middle East early last month she used Egypt as an intermediary to open a channel between Israel and Hamas to mediate a cease-fire. This is a significant and commendable development. It could facilitate reaching an Israeli-Palestinian agreement by the end of the year, the goal of the Bush administration, or during the next administration.
Any actions by an American administration that encourage Arab states such as Egypt or Saudi Arabia, or Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, or other appropriate interlocutors, to determine Hamas's willingness to establish a cease-fire and to help stabilize the current situation should be supported. We say this with the recognition that - as in the case of Israel's indirect dealings with Hamas to free Shalit - no progress can be made if Hamas is totally excluded from the process. As distasteful as this may be, that policy has not succeeded.
It is only with determined and sustained personal involvement by an American president and secretary of state that a Hamas-Israel cease-fire and a border agreement among Israelis, Egyptians, and Palestinians can be reached.
Should a cease-fire be established, a new mechanism for maintaining it must be crafted - either through international monitors, a multinational force on the Gaza borders or at least through better coordination among Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinians.
This is a moment of decision. An immediate end to the Israel-Hamas violence and a rejuvenated peace process are of critical importance to the Israeli and Palestinian people, and to American interests in the Middle East. This is an essential step on the difficult road leading to the state of Israel living in peace and security alongside a stable and peaceful Palestinian state.
Geoffrey H. Lewis, a Boston lawyer, is a member of the executive committee of the Israel Policy Forum. Seymour D. Reich is president of the Israel Policy Forum and past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.