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The Hamas emblem shows two crossed swords, the Dome of the Rock and a map of the land they claim as Palestine (present-day Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Hamas emblem showing crossed swords, the Dome of the Rock, and a map of Palestine. 
News and Op/Ed

Back To The Future 

Even with Hamas's victory, there may yet be a chance for peace..

The election victory of Hamas and the resulting feeling of hopelessness regarding the prospects for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians sent me digging through boxes in my garage. This is not the first time that Israel has been confronted with Palestinian leadership that did not recognize its right to exist and I strangely decided to find comfort in yellowing newsprint. I dug out two artifacts that I share with you today. 

Back in the 70s I helped edit "The Jewish Radical," a Berkeley, California Jewish student newspaper. In February of 1976 we ran an editorial which called on the Israeli government to negotiate with the PLO, well before this was a popular notion in Israel, much less in the American Jewish community. It was more than 12 years before the PLO would recognize the sovereignty of Israel.

In 1973, as the general secretary of the Habonim Dror youth movement, I wrote to then Prime Minister Golda Meir urging the government to end all civilian settlement in the territories and to recognize the Palestinian's right to self determination. While I received a letter from Golda's secretary stiffly thanking me for the letter, I received an effusive reply from MK Lova Eliav, the secretary general of the Labor Party stating that "it is clear to me that your proposals are right." Lova eventually left the Labor Party over policy issues and was a leader of the left in Israel for many years before dedicating himself, like Ben Gurion before him, to the development of the Negev desert. Lova recently returned to the Labor Party in support of Amir Peretz, appreciating his commitment to a joint message of peace and social justice. 

OK, let me stroll back from this walk down memory lane and tie this to the current situation created by Hamas? rise to power.

So far, the consensus among Israelis and American Jewish organizations as well as the U.S. government is to withhold recognition of, and funding for, a Hamas led Palestinian Authority. In addition, there seems to be a consensus that humanitarian aid needs to reach the Palestinians both because it is the right thing to do and in order to avoid a total collapse of the PA which would destabilize the region. 

On some level we have been here before and perhaps we can use that experience to find our way. Those of us who foresaw the disastrous effect the settlement enterprise would have on Israel understood early on that even before PLO recognition of Israel it was time to engage with Palestinian representatives. 

Since recognition of Israel by the PA is fact and the status quo, the starting point of requiring a Hamas led PA to respect previous decisions makes complete sense. In addition, however, I believe there must be a nuanced approach to next steps for Israel and the U.S. If ever there was a time for a "carrot and stick" policy it is now. 

For example:

  • if security for Israeli citizens is a top priority for the Israeli government, shouldn't maintaining and enforcing a truce "earn" a Hamas led PA rewards and not punitive actions? This could include freer movement for Palestinians and release of tax monies held by the Israeli government.
  • existing and new third party back channels can be utilized to maintain contact with Hamas and monitor both the use of humanitarian funds and provide reasoned feedback as dictated by the situation on the ground.
  • if additional "unilateral" withdrawals are contemplated by a newly elected Israeli government, it would seem wise to do so in a coordinated manner with the PA to ensure continued quiet. 

Make no mistake about, I too have read the Hamas Charter and it is a hate filled, anti-Semitic document. We can not ignore the philosophical and religious underpinnings of Hamas and their friends around the world. By the same token, ignoring the new political reality simply won't work. Like with the PLO, Hamas did not negate their Charter by Friday when they held high level meetings in Moscow. We have to find a way to weather this storm and allow the majority on both sides of the conflict to carry the day. 

After the PA election in which a majority of voters cast ballots for candidates other than Hamas (yes, the actual voting results prove that fact), a recent poll showed that over 66% of Palestinians questioned support political negotiations with Israel. After the March Israeli elections, it is very likely that a government will be formed with a significant majority in the Knesset supporting a two state solution.

Although it may not feel like it, we have actually come a long way since 1976 where the voices for co-existence were a tiny minority. While the current political reality is grim, the underlying conditions for an agreement still exist. 

Ken Bob, President of Ameinu . 

Reprinted courtesy of Ameinu.