Former Israeli secret service chief Efraim Halevy has shocked the Israeli political establishment by arguing that Israel should enter talks with Hamas. Not because he likes the movement but because he thinks it is in Israel’s strategic interest to recognize the ‘reality on the ground’.
‘As long as the Palestinians are not able to produce a unified leadership’, argued the senior Israeli policymaker Halevy last Wednesday in a lecture in The Hague, ‘we cannot implement a solution to the conflict. So what we are doing now is conflict management, not conflict resolution. And in managing the conflict, we have to deal with the ‘forces on the ground.'”
As former director of Israel’s intelligence service Mossad, Efraim Halevy (74) helped devise the campaign of targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders in recent years. One of them was the 68-year-old blind shaykh Ahmad Yassin, who was killed in 2004 by an Israeli missile. But now Halevy is part of a small group of right-wing critics of Israeli policy, who argue that the government should talk to Hamas.
Hamas, which won the 2006 Palestinian elections and is now in control of Gaza, has repeatedly declared its preparedness to enter a long-term armistice, or hudna, but it refuses to recognize Israel. For Israel and its main ally the USA, this refusal is reason to boycott Hamas. They now limit their contacts to the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority on the West Bank, with the aim of isolating Hamas and defeating it politically. Halevy believes this strategy will fail, simply because Fatah is too weak and Hamas too popular among Palestinians.
The better option, according to Halevy, is to enter negotiations with the islamist movement. “Apart from entering with the military, the only way to stabilize the situation in Gaza and to end the daily rocket attacks is to engage them in talks.” The danger of the present policy of isolating Hamas, Halevy says, is that they will lose hope and resort to even larger-scale strategies of terror. Al-Qaeda-like ideologies are already gaining popularity in Gaza. “If there is nothing left for them to hope for they will no longer feel constrained by anything.” On the other hand, their stubbornness could evaporate if they are given something to aspire to. Halevy foresees a real possibility that in time, the movement would eventually recognize the pre-1967 borders. “After all, also Fatah recognized Israel only after negotiations started.”
Halevy thinks Israel should take up Hamas’s offer of a long-term armistice without prior recognition of the Jewish state. He does not see why this should be such a taboo. In the past, Israel signed similar treaties with several Arab countries without them recognizing its right to exist. “It has not been a problem when we negotiated with others in the region.”
The former intelligence chief does not hide his dislike of the movement, but he does trust them to stick to a negotiated agreement. “I believe Hamas are evil people, but so far they are very credible and reliable.”
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