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Palestinian gunmen in Gaza Photo: Reuters
Palestinian gunmen in Gaza Photo: Reuters
 
 

Deal with the devil

Instead of refusing to talk with Hamas, Israel granted it priceless legitimacy

Sever Plocker
Published: 06.19.08, 16:42 / Israel Opinion

When we talk about a “lull agreement with Hamas,” the word “lull” isn’t the problem. Rather, the agreement with Hamas is the problem.

 

En route to the truce agreement, the government shattered the most important strategic advantage it possessed ever since Hamas came to power: The advantage of refusal. The refusal to engage in dialogue with Hamas, the refusal to recognize the legitimacy of its rule, the refusal to compromise with it, and the implied refusal to give Hamas international legitimacy.

 

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This refusal had much power because it was premised on a moral worldview that even Israel’s critics adopted, either wholeheartedly or not: One does not get into the same bed with someone who in advance declares his intention to kick you out of that bed. One does not fall for the honey trap of appeasement deals with the devil.

 

The Israeli public was mistakenly presented with only two options – a massive military operation, or appeasement. There was a third way too: Ongoing blows delivered at terror centers and leaders.

 

In June 1940, Germany sought to embark on secret indirect talks with Britain. Winston Churchill rejected these feelers out of hand. If we embark on any kind of contacts, he warned, we shall quickly find ourselves on a slippery slope that would ultimately lead to acceptance of the evil Nazi regime, based on the argument that this is reality and that it “represents the Germans.” Churchill was not tempted, and saved civilization.

 

Yet the lesson of June 1940 is sometimes forgotten.

 

The State of Israel did not need Hamas’ recognition. We’re doing quite well without it, thank you. Hamas, at the current stage of its political development, desperately needed Israel’s recognition, as the doors to the family of nations were closed to it. Otherwise it would have forever remained outside the fence of the Arab mainstream, ostracized and rejected, just like al-Qaeda.

 

Hamas would have capitulated 

In the wake of al-Qaeda’s global terror campaign, international consensus emerged in respect to boycotting the organization: No one was talking to it, no one was looking to cut deals with it, and no one engaged in negotiations with it, either directly or indirectly. It was isolated, ostracized, and fought against.

 

The refusal strategy led to al-Qaeda’s decline, its significant weakening, and a gradual evaporation of the bewitching influence it had on hundreds of millions of Muslims. Its stock dropped considerably: At the end of the day, only few people are willing to be considered the friends of a pariah.

 

Had Israel persisted in its refusal to recognize Hamas, the regime in Gaza would have collapsed or fundamentally changed. Yet surprisingly, Israel deserted the path of refusal a short time after it managed, through great efforts, to convince Europe, the United States, Russia, and the United Nations to establish a united refusal front. Yet Jerusalem was the first to cut out a window in the boycott wall.

 

Without making any diplomatic-ideological-strategic concession, Hamas was recognized by Israel as the legitimate master of the Gaza Strip, the authentic representative of the Palestinian people, and a partner for agreements of one kind or another.

 

This is a priceless gift for Hamas. Without it, it would have capitulated. Under the pressure exerted by the Palestinian and Arab street, in the absence of any military choice, and with a sense that the oxygen of its zealous rhetoric is running out, Hamas would have ended its attacks unilaterally, drafted a new charter, agreed to hand over Gilad Shalit to Egypt, and accepted the ultimate conditions presented by Israel and the international community for minimal recognition of it. We were within reach of this.

 

Yet it was not Hamas that capitulated. Israel capitulated.

 

And now we are left to hope that the Israeli government won’t repeat the same mistake in the north and refrain from engaging in “indirect” negotiations with Hizbullah on the matter of drawing the border between us and Lebanon.

 

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