Rattling the Cage: Say 'no' to Hamas

Failed Middle East peace talks are worse than none.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
With Hamas clearly being the leader of the Palestinians, and with the Obama administration wanting to talk with Iran and the Taliban, it's no longer taboo to say Israel should step up and talk peace with Hamas. Today, this is cutting-edge opinion. The idea is that Hamas is basically a religious version of what the PLO was before Oslo - a movement that's at least open to making peace and is just waiting for Israel to stop being so closed-minded and paranoid. Now that Hamas says it's willing to negotiate a 10-year truce, what, people ask, does Israel have to lose by trying? A lot of lives, I think. While I'm all for a negotiated truce with Hamas and for lifting the Gazan blockade in return, the idea of recognizing Hamas and going into peace talks like we did with the PLO in 1993 is like walking into fire. If there's one thing we learned from Oslo, it's that failed Middle East peace talks are worse than none. Expectations get raised to a very high altitude, so the crash is all the more violent. Before we start a dramatic, historic new chapter in peacemaking, we ought to know from the outset that there's a good chance for success. With Hamas, it would be just the opposite: We'd know going in that we were headed for a cliff. EVEN if we could agree with them on the borders between Israel and Palestine - an extreme long-shot - there's no way on Earth we could agree on the so-called right of return for Palestinian refugees. There are all sorts of suggestions how to bridge this gap, but even the most "generous," from a Palestinian point of view, is totally unacceptable - even to me, and I'm probably more left-wing than 95 percent of Israeli Jews. The most far-reaching concession I've heard is that we needn't agree to let the refugees return to Haifa, Jaffa, etc., so long as we acknowledge responsibility for their tragedy. We must, in effect, apologize for having made them refugees. This is ridiculous. This suggestion, which I first heard of years ago coming from Sari Nusseibeh, the most moderate Palestinian leader alive, and that I most recently read in a column by The New York Times's Roger Cohen, requires us to tell a terrible lie against ourselves. I am ready to apologize for a lot of things we've done to the Palestinians - I apologize for the settlements, I apologize for Operation Cast Lead - but I am not ready to apologize for the direct consequence of a war the Palestinians started. There would have been no refugees if the Palestinians, like the Zionists, had accepted the UN's two-state solution back in 1947 instead of starting a war. That was the decisive moment in Israeli-Palestinian history, and for me to say that we were wrong and the Palestinians were right would be a betrayal of myself as an Israeli and a betrayal of the truth as I see it. I don't ask any Palestinian to change his "narrative," and he shouldn't ask me to change mine. So if we can't reach agreement with Sari Nusseibeh on the right of return, how are we going to do it with Hamas? If it was possible to believe in 1993 that we could settle our differences with the PLO, I don't see such a possibility with Hamas in 2009. We know things now that we couldn't know then. In the 26 years between the end of the Six Day War and the signing of the Oslo Accords, we never tried to reach a two-state solution with the Palestinians. This was to be our first try, and we didn't know how they would react. What we found was that in the years until the intifada began, the PLO, with very few exceptions, put aside terror. But what it didn't do at all for the first 2-1/2 years, and never did completely at any time, was to stop Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror. Throughout the peace process, while Israel was trying to reach a two-state solution with Yasser Arafat, the PLO and the Palestinian people, Hamas was killing Israelis - and not just on general principle, but also for the specific goal of destroying the chance of an agreement. The peace process actually lasted 12 years - from 1988, when Arafat recognized Israel and the US recognized the PLO, until the intifada began in 2000. For those 12 years, Hamas did everything in its power to kill the two-state solution. Against that history, how can anyone be confident that Hamas is ready for it now? I don't say that Hamas can't change. As far as I'm concerned, they don't have to apologize, they don't have to amend their charter, they don't have to sign the Oslo Accords - but they do have to give us reason to believe that peace talks with them could succeed. And to do that they would have to drop any impossible demands, such as an Israeli admission of guilt over the Palestinian refugees. Until then, let's try to reach limited cease-fire agreements with them and hope they come around to making us an offer that we aren't honor-bound to refuse. But for now, at least, "peace process" and "Hamas" don't mix. They're a recipe for an explosion.