Who's Calling for Talks with Hamas?

Nov 19, 2012


In the wake of Israel's extra-judicial assassination of Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari and the escalation of violence in Gaza and Israel that followed, prominent voices in the United States, Israel and elsewhere have spoken out in support of dialogue with Hamas to end the violence. This latest escalation bears striking resemblance to Israel's "Operation Cast Lead" assault in 2008/2009, after which a number of U.S. and Israeli officials also spoke out in support of including Hamas in negotiations to work toward a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Below is a sampling of statements from prominent security officials, diplomats, and others from the U.S., Israel, and Europe noting the importance of engaging with Hamas over the last four years.

"Hamas is not about to disappear, Gaza is not about to disappear and the Palestinians are not about to disappear. Whoever thinks they can topple Hamas, well the Islamic Jihad will succeed it, and if we topple the Islamic Jihad then al-Qaeda will emerge and so on.

Eventually we will have no choice but to establish a line of communication with Hamas, be it direct or indirect. Hamas is the ruling power in Gaza, we’re Gaza’s neighbors and eventually we will have to reach an agreement or a settlement with them. Maybe eventually we’ll talk to them and make them realize that it’s in their interest to maintain a calm border, if not love us, if they want to remain in power.”

Noam Shalit, father of Gilad Shalit, 11/14/2012


A real leader is the person who will take real responsibility and demand civilian courage from himself to talk to Hamas in order to recreate life here. But our leaders are hiding behind tons of bombs cast from the sky by an advanced air force, armored and artillery forces, warships and infantry brigades, which are all comprised of civilians who are losing the ability to understand the meaning of civilness and of a vital life...You owe us the preliminary and most basic thing – talking to Hamas – if you wish to gain our trust. You have tried out all the weapons in the world. The only thing you haven’t really tried out is the simple, required dialogue. Now is your chance if you still wish to remain relevant in our eyes."

Avner Fainguelernt, an educator and filmmaker who lives in a Gaza-adjacent kibbutz, 11/19/2012


* Former prime minister Tony Blair
* Former Israeli defense officials including the former commander of Israeli troops in Gaza Brigadier General (res.) Shmuel Zakai and former head of the Mossad Ephraim Halevi
* Former Israeli Chief of Military Intelligence Ret. Major General Shlomo Gazit
* Former foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami
* British MP Mike Grapes
* Israeli journalist Nehemia Shtrasler
* Noam Shalit, father of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
* Senator John McCain in 2006
* Martin Indyk and Richard Hass from the Brookings Institution
* Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter

In addition, the majority of Israelis favor talks with Hamas and believe the blockade of Gaza has made Hamas stronger.

***
TONY BLAIR: "IN A SITUATION LIKE THIS YOU TALK TO EVERYBODY"
On January 31, 2009 in an interview with The Times of London, former Prime Minister Tony Blair called for talks with Hamas and easing the isolation of Gaza.

Excerpts from The Times:

Mr. Blair says that the strategy of “pushing Gaza aside” and trying to create a Palestinian state on the West Bank “was never going to work and will never work”. He hints in references to how peace was eventually achieved in Northern Ireland that the time may be approaching to talk to Hamas ... “My basic predisposition is that in a situation like this you talk to everybody.”

“Yes, we do need to show through the change we are making on the West Bank that the Palestinian state could be a reality. The trouble is that if you simply try to push Gaza to one side then eventually what happens is the situation becomes so serious that it erupts and you deliver into the hands of the mass the power to erupt at any point in time.”

Mr Blair then says that there is a distinction between the difficulty of negotiating with Hamas as part of a peace process if they would not accept one of the states in the two-state solution, and “talking to Hamas as the de facto power in Gaza”.

“I do think it is important that we find a way of bringing Hamas into this process, but it can only be done if Hamas are prepared to do it on the right terms.”

“We do have to find a way of making sure that the choice is put before Hamas and the people of Gaza in a clear, understandable, unambiguous way, for them to choose their future. You have to find a way of communicating that choice to them in their terms. Now exactly what way you choose at the moment, that is an open question.”


***
ISRAELI DEFENSE & SECURITY OFFICIALS: "NEGOTIATIONS SHOULD TAKE PLACE WITH HAMAS

In May 2008, former senior defense and security officials wrote a letter to top Israeli government officials calling for indirect negotiations with Hamas on a long-term cease-fire. The following month Egypt brokered a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas which began on June 19.

Among the signatories of the letter, which was made public on May 16, 2008, were:

* former Mossad head Ephraim Halevi
* former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak
* Brigadier General (res.) Shmuel Zakai, former commander of Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip
* Member of the Knesset Yossi Beilin (Meretz party, and one of the architects of the Oslo peace process between Israel and the Palestinians)

The letter stated:

"Recognizing that ending the Hamas regime in Gaza is not a realistic goal and that reinstating Fatah in the Gaza Strip by means of Israeli bayonets is not desirable ... non-public negotiations should take place with Hamas through Egypt or anyone else acceptable to both sides," they wrote.

The letter also states, "Hamas could prevent the shelf agreement Israel is seeking with the PLO by the end of 2008, by increasing violence from Gaza or actions in the West Bank, and a cease-fire could be the only way to prevent this from happening."


***
ISRAELI FORMER CHIEF OF MILITARY INTELLIGENCE: PRECONDITIONS ARE "AN EXCUSE NOT TO NEGOTIATE"

The Forward reported in February 2007 that Retired Major General Shlomo Gazit, a former chief of military intelligence, called the three pre-conditions for dialogue with Hamas insisted upon by Israel and its Western allies 'ridiculous, or an excuse not to negotiate.'"

Gazit, as an analyst at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, said: “Only a country that suffers from an inferiority complex demands that everyone like it. We must negotiate on concrete problems — not on declarative issues. I am in favor of starting negotiations today, while the violence continues, and to sign an agreement which will go into effect when it stops. Why should Palestinians stop fighting against us until they know we are willing to make an agreement?”

“Why are we not negotiating with [Syrian President] Assad? Because we know the price and we aren’t willing to pay. The same goes for the Palestinians.”


***
ISRAELI FORMER FOREIGN MINISTER SHLOMO BEN-AMI: INCLUSION OF HAMAS IN PEACE PROCESS IS NECESSARY TO SAVE TWO STATE SOLUTION

In March 2008, former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami wrote in an op-ed in Lebanon's Daily Star that resurrecting a coalition government with Hamas is essential to rescuing the two-state solution.

"Israel must change its strategic objective in Gaza from toppling Hamas to rescuing the Annapolis process, and with it the last chance for a two-state solution. This requires not only a cease-fire with Hamas, but also a return to a Palestinian national unity government that alone can offer the peace process the vital legitimacy that it lacks today. Without the resurrection of the Mecca agreement, which put Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization in a coalition government, Hamas cannot expect to secure its control of Gaza and the PLO cannot deliver a peace settlement with Israel."

"The notion, dear to the architects of the Annapolis process, that peace can be achieved only when a wedge is driven between Palestinian "moderates" and "extremists" is a misconception. A Palestinian national-unity government would not impede a settlement for the simple reason that the moderates now negotiating with Israel must in any case strive for an agreement that the extremists could not label as a treacherous sell-out. Hence, the difference between the Palestinian positions in the current negotiations and those they may hold when a unity government is restored would only be very minor."

On April 10, 2006 The Jerusalem Post
featured a prior call from Shlomo Ben-Ami's for negotiations with Hamas: "Hamas is not al-Qaeda. It is an organization that has used terror in the service of well-defined national goals... You can argue the means are inadmissible, but the rationale is essentially nationalistic".




***
UK MP: "TIME TO TALK TO HAMAS"

In an op-ed in The Guardian, British MP Mike Grapes urges the Quartet to begin "inviting moderates from Hamas to the table". Mike Grapes is the Labour Co-operative MP for Ilford South and chairman of the foreign affairs select committee.

"The decision not to engage with Hamas after the Mecca agreement has proved to be counterproductive. Hamas is not a homogenous organisation. It is an Islamist movement that includes more pragmatic and more extreme elements. The current policy helped isolate the pragmatists. This must be reversed. Ways must be found to engage politically with more moderate elements to help move Hamas towards the three Quartet principles and become a true partner for peace in the Middle East. "


***
ISRAELI JOURNALIST: "NO ESCAPE BUT TO TALK TO HAMAS"

In March 2008, the Israeli journalist Nehemia Shtrasler wrote in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz "there is no escape but to talk to Hamas. We cannot choose our enemies."

"We could even alleviate the economic siege in an agreement that would prevent transferring weapons and explosives via the Rafah crossing. All this is attainable, and is many times preferable to continuing the bloodbath, which would only raise the walls of hatred and revenge higher.

Once we didn't want to talk to the PLO and Arafat. Then we humiliated Abbas and didn't want to give him any achievement during the disengagement. Now we don't want to talk to Hamas. So the struggle will continue - until a catastrophe occurs, on their side or ours. Only then will the leaders be forced to sit down and talk around the negotiating table."


***
FATHER OF GILAD SHALIT: "DIRECT NEGOTIATIONS ARE THE MOST EFFECTIVE"

In a May 2008 article by Newsweek, the father of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit expressed his support for direct negotiations with Hamas to free his son from more than two years of captivity.

"I really don't care much about the politics," says Noam Shalit. "My only interest is to resolve the issue of my son and bring him home. From my point of view, direct negotiations are the most effective. The two parties need to sit together. Hamas controls Gaza whether we like it or not."


***
SENATOR MCCAIN: WE SHOULD RESPECT DEMOCRACY AND DEAL WITH HAMAS

Journalist James Rubin from the Washington Post asked in January 2006: "Do you think that American diplomats should be operating the way they have in the past, working with the Palestinian government if Hamas is now in charge?"

Senator McCain: "They're the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice, so . . . but it's a new reality in the Middle East. I think the lesson is people want security and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that."

Since 2006, Senator McCain has changed his position and now advocates continued isolation of Hamas from the diplomatic process.


***
MARTIN INDYK & RICHARD HASS: DROP PRECONDITIONS WITH HAMAS

A report from the Brookings Institution recommends that the United States drop its doomed preconditions and engage Hamas in the political process. The December 2008 report "A Time for Diplomatic Renewal: Toward a New U.S. Strategy in the Middle East" was a collaboration between President of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard N. Haass and Saban Center Director Martin Indyk .

Among its recommendations: The United States should support a Palestinian unity government so as to "diminish the Islamists' incentive to undermine negotiations." It should push for Hamas acceptance of the Arab Peace Initiative and drop preconditions that Hamas recognize Israel, renounce violence, and respect past agreements. It should insist on a full settlement freeze and quickly issue American ideas on final status to keep "the hope of a two-state solution alive."


***
CARTER: "NO WAY TO HAVE A PERMANENT PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST WITHOUT THE INCLUSION OF HAMAS"

On January 29, 2009, Former President Jimmy Carter gave an interview on Al Jazeera where he said, "Hamas has got to be involved before peace can be concluded."

According to the Al Jazeera report, Carter said reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the faction led by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, had been "objected to and obstructed by the US and Israel" and that there was "no way to have a permanent peace in the Middle East without the inclusion of Hamas".


ISRAELI PUBLIC: TALK TO HAMAS

According to a Haaretz poll from February 2008, the majority of Israelis support talks with Hamas.

64% of Israelis support direct talks with Hamas. Among those Israelis who identify as supporters of the Labor party, 72% favor negotiations. Almost half--48 percent--of supporters of the Likud party said they favor a face-to-face dialogue.

The majority of Israelis also believe that Israel's blockade on Gaza is making Hamas stronger. According to a poll released in June 2008 by the Israeli human rights groups Gisha and Physicians for Human Rights--Israel, 83% of Israelis believe the blockade has empowered Hamas.

The following excerpts were reported by The Jerusalem Post:

Sixty-eight percent said Israel's security had deteriorated since then. Sixty-two percent said Hamas had gotten much stronger over the last year.

Additionally, 53% of respondents said the closure's goals were political and not security-oriented. Just 32% said they believed the closure was intended to prevent the movement of goods and people that would threaten Israeli security. Ten percent believed the goal of the closure was to punish Gazans because of the Kassam rocket fire. Twenty-six percent said that the goal was to cause Gaza residents to change the Hamas regime, and 27% said the goal was to influence Hamas directly and cause it to change its policies.

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