Rattling the Cage: Without handshakes, without hugs

Everybody in Israel knows we're negotiating with Hamas, and nobody's protesting.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
Funny, but it's still a taboo for any Israeli politician, or any American politician, to say that Israel should negotiate with Hamas when it's plain for the world to see that Israel is doing just that. Not directly. Not face-to-face. Instead, through a mediator, Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. Hamas tells Suleiman and Suleiman tells Israel, then Israel tells Suleiman and Suleiman tells Hamas. Back and forth. It's been going on for months. It's in all the news media. Everyone knows. Yet Robert Malley, a liberal, loosely-affiliated advisor to Barack Obama, just had to disaffiliate himself from the campaign because it was discovered that in the course of his work on conflict resolution, he had interviewed a few Hamasniks. By the same token, John McCain wins points with "pro-Israel" voters by promising to be "Hamas's worst nightmare." And meanwhile, in Jerusalem, the prime minister, the defense minister, the foreign minister, the IDF brass and the Shin Bet and Mossad leaders weigh offers from Hamas's leadership, conveyed by Suleiman, on a cease-fire, a prisoner exchange, and an end to Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. Afterward, Suleiman receives an Israeli counter-offer to pass to Khaled Mashaal, Mahmoud a-Zahar and the other warlords who make decisions for Hamas. Back and forth. And from all reports, this is a good-faith negotiation - meaning that both Israel and Hamas are genuinely trying to reach an agreement. But I guarantee you - not one word of encouragement or hope for this process will be heard from the podium at Shimon Peres's big bash in Jerusalem with President Bush and the rest of Israel's powerful, rich friends. Probably not even a word of acknowledgment. "During my presidency, there's been clarity for people to see the world the way it really is. A failed leadership of Hamas in Gaza, for example," Bush explained in the Oval Office this week, and I'm sure all of Peres's guests at the International Convention Center will be nodding their heads. "Hamas is not a classic political party trying to better people's lives," the president pointed out. "They are trying to destroy Israel." Standing ovation. MEANWHILE, IN Mashaal's Damascus headquarters, in Gaza, in Cairo and in the halls of power in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, messages between Hamas and Israel will be flowing. Everybody in the Convention Center, beginning with Bush, will know it, and they will pretend they don't. Outside the Convention Center, everybody in Israel knows we're negotiating with Hamas, too, yet nobody's protesting. So long as Olmert doesn't shake hands and smile for the camera with Mashaal, or Zahar, or Ismail Haniyeh or any of those guys - as long as we don't have to admit what we're doing, as long as we can go on talking tough on terror, may the negotiations succeed. It's the smart move. If it'll bring Gilad Schalit home, if it'll stop the rockets on Sderot, it will have been worth it. And if the talks fail, we're no worse off than before. There are a couple of reasons why it's still a taboo to acknowledge that Israel is negotiating with Hamas and to acknowledge that this is good, a couple of reasons why the better people don't say such things out loud. One is that these Hamasniks really are bad guys, terrorists, anti-Semites, al-Qaida clones, keepers of the flame of 9/11. Who wants to talk to them, even indirectly? Who wants to compromise with them, to give them anything that will make them happy, for whatever Israeli interest? The other reason for the taboo is that these negotiations are an admission that Israel and its staunchest supporters were wrong: Israeli military power couldn't make Hamas surrender, the bombings and blockade of Gaza didn't turn the Palestinians against Hamas; just the opposite. The negotiations are a recognition that the policy of regime change in Gaza has failed, and that the new policy, or at least the policy Israel hopes to implement in concert with Hamas, is detente. Non-belligerency. Not what anyone would call peace, but peaceful co-existence. That's right: with these bastards. It may not get off the ground. The negotiations could fail. An Israeli shell or a Palestinian rocket could kill too many people. Hamas could demand the release of too many of the worst terrorists in return for Schalit. If the IDF ended up invading Gaza next week, it would be a surprise, but not an altogether huge one. If, on the other hand, the negotiations succeed and the cease-fire begins, there still won't be any official Israeli acknowledgment that we're doing business with Hamas - not at first, anyway. There will be no treaty, no signing ceremony on anybody's lawn. No handshakes, no photo ops, no tears of joy, no doves, no trumpets. And just as well; nobody can even pretend to believe in that junk anymore. But if the deal is made, Israelis will accept it eagerly. The protests you don't see in the street are the public's tacit approval for the negotiations with Hamas. This is not just Ehud Olmert's policy, this is Israel's policy. The old taboo still lives, unfortunately. But not for long.