The Current Discussion: Vice President Dick Cheney said last week that Hamas is doing all it can to torpedo the Mideast peace process -- but Ephraim Halevy, former head of Mossad, thinks it's time to include the Islamist group in peace talks. Who's right?
The debate over talking to Hamas tends to miss the point: why talk to someone who says outright that they are committed to your destruction? No one suggests that the US negotiate with al-Qaeda, for instance. It is not just that the latter are terrorists. The more fundamental question is, what is the purpose of talking?
Talking is for when there is room to split the difference, such as in a border conflict. In fact, the whole Arab-Israeli peace process is built on pretending that it is a border conflict -- that is, that two states, Israel and Palestine, are a given so what remains is working out the details.
The problem is that the Arab-Israeli conflict remains what it always was, one over existence -- Israel’s existence -- not borders, or refugees, or Jerusalem. At the moment that the leaders of the Arab world, including the Palestinian leadership, decides that it is time to give up the “struggle” to destroy Israel, then it will be a matter of negotiating the details.
So, the real problem with talking to Hamas is that it would give the mistaken impression that Hamas has given up on destroying Israel. Also, as a practical matter, it should be pointed out that whenever Hamas has decided to throttle back its terrorism (such as the ongoing missile attacks against Israeli civilians in Sderot), it has not been because they were talked out of it, but because it had become too dangerous or counterproductive for them.
Rather than talking to Hamas, two other steps would be more effective: 1) stepping up the pressure on Egypt to shut down the weapons flow into Gaza over the Egyptian border and 2) pressing the Arab states to thaw their relations with Israel by taking Sadat-like gestures that show they are serious about pushing for peace.
These two steps would dramatically change the atmosphere, strengthen Palestinian moderates, and weaken Palestinian radicals. They would also, as it happens, show Israelis that there is hope for negotiations to lead somewhere as well.
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