Almost all of my Palestinian colleagues tell me that Hamas will change. They say that once Hamas has the burden of governing they will have to become more pragmatic. They speak of the process of change that they themselves went through.
In 1976 together with a small group of Zionist students in New York I had a clandestine meeting with the PLO ambassador to the United Nations attempting to convince him to support the two-state solution and to recognize Israel. His response was "over my dead body." At that point I realized that until the PLO made the decision to support the two-state solution there was no basis for dialogue. In March 1988 shortly after the outbreak of the first intifada, reading the flyers of the Unified Leadership of the Intifada which called for ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, I came to the conclusion that the PLO had changed.
In November 1988, the PLO made that change official at the meeting of the Palestine National Council in Algiers. In early 1988 I began working on the establishment of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, a joint Israeli-Palestinian public policy think-tank in order to advance the two-state solution.
During my early efforts to build Palestinian support for IPCRI, the late Faisal Husseini arranged for me to meet with one of the leaders of the radical Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine one of the member organization of the PLO.
I flew to Geneva for that meeting and spent three hours trying to convince my interlocutor from Damascus to support the two-state solution and to back the work of IPCRI. The PFLP man rejected the argument that the two-state solution is in the best interests of the Palestinian people. Following that meeting, Husseini arranged for me to meet with one of the PFLP leaders from Ramallah. The local PFLP representative, living under occupation and playing a role in the leadership of the intifada, was much more pragmatic than his colleague living in exile in Damascus.
SINCE 1988 I have been engaged in intensive dialogue with Palestinians. During all of my years I have never had any real occasion to speak with Hamas members or leaders. I have met people who were described to me as "close to Hamas" but I have never spoken with any bonafide Hamas people. It is therefore difficult for me to assess Hamas' intentions or to predict how they will evolve as the new Palestinian leadership.
A close Palestinian friend who was a PA minister and who spent 15 years in Israeli prisons before the first intifada knows all of the Hamas leaders personally. He met them all when he was in prison. He lives in Gaza and still has the opportunity to speak with them on a regular basis. He is 100% convinced that once they assume power Hamas will discover that they will have to deal with Israel.
Every single Palestinian ministry and minister has to deal with Israel. Palestinians are simply too dependent not to deal with the Israeli government and army.
Reality is simply much stronger than slogans - for both sides. I, too, think that the two sides will have to deal with each other; they simply will not have a choice.
It may take time for the Hamas to meet Israeli conditions for negotiations. Hamas will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state - I cannot say Fatah ever recognized Israel as a Jewish
state. Fatah did recognize Israel as a state that is here to stay without recognizing the legitimacy of the state as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
I think that Hamas will be pressured by the Arab world to support the Arab League peace initiative which calls for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines, in return for which Israel will be recognized by the entire Arab world who would sign peace treaties with Israel.
Hamas will not accept the road map. Hamas, at this time is not interested in a mini-Palestinian state in part of the West Bank and Gaza with provisional borders as called for in Phase II of the road map. Hamas is not interested in negotiations with Israel.
HAMAS' PLATFORM is actually very comfortable for the Israeli government. Israel too is not interested in negotiations at this time. It would rather move forward unilaterally. Despite the comments of Khaled Mashal against the Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan for unilateral disengagement from most of the West Bank, Hamas has no real problem with that plan.
Hamas will not oppose any Israeli decision to withdraw or to remove settlements. My friend, the PA minister, tells me that since the Palestinian elections Hamas has toned down what he called "the culture of resistance." He says that Hamas is now speaking much more about "steadfastness" - the same term used by Fatah during the 1970s and 1980s.
Most analysts - Israelis and Palestinians - say that Hamas is interested in entering into a long-term hudna
- or Islamic cease-fire. According to Israeli security experts, over the past year, with one exception, Hamas has kept to the tahadieh
- the calm, and has not engaged in terrorism.
The optimistic assessment is that Hamas will enter into a long-term hudna
(the Israeli condition of ending terrorism fulfilled), Hamas will support the Arab League peace initiative (granting conditional recognition to Israel), and the Hamas government will deal with Israel on a daily basis (basically working according to the Oslo agreements). Formally, Hamas will not fulfill the Israeli conditions, pragmatically they will.
Facing the reality that Hamas is now in power in Palestine, it is important to accelerate their transformation from a radical pariah into a potential interlocutor. The Likud used to always claim that "only the Likud can do it" because the Likud represented the most hard-line positions and because it had no real opposition to their right. In the same way perhaps "only the Hamas can do it" and perhaps it is in the interest of Israel to sit across the table from Hamas leaders.
The writer is the Israeli Co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.