Friday, March 26, 2010

"Co-opt" Hamas ... and discover how much they hate the Shiites in Tehran...

From a fmr. head of Mossad, Ephraim Halevy, ...
TNR/ here

Under the current circumstances—with the destructive gamesmanship of the Palestinian Authority and the stagnation in Gaza—the time has surely come to explore a new relationship with Hamas. Attempts to penalize the group with exclusion have failed; perhaps, the time has come for a strategy that co-opts Hamas.

For starters, let’s consider the prospect of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that excludes Hamas. This would be a fool’s errand. Hamas has a proven ability to play the role of spoiler, to exploit such a situation for its own political ends at the expense of peace. But we don’t even need to progress that far in our thought experiment. Right now, the decaying Palestinian administration in Ramallah doesn’t have the credibility to survive the rigors of negotiations, let alone the implementation of an agreement. Abu Mazen can only speak in the name of the West Bank, and recent events have shown that his mandate there is (at best) fragile.

Israel’s current Palestinian strategy is not a winning one. That’s because it has confined itself to playing a game with rules that place it at an inherent disadvantage. It must scramble these rules to have a chance. Bringing Hamas to the table would do just that.

Hamas has demonstrated a will and a capacity to think and act pragmatically when it believes it useful or necessary. There’s no better example of this than its governance of Gaza. Yes, it continues to play the role of peace-process spoiler when that role suits its interests. But Hamas has also demonstrated a serious capacity to exercise responsibility and restraint when that role suits its purposes. It has demonstrated its ability to control Gaza effectively, to both enforce a long-term cessation of hostilities and to withstand the combined efforts of the United States, Israel, and Egypt to bring it to its knees.

Before President Obama and Premier Netanyahu proceed to negotiate with their dispirited Palestinian interlocutors, why not reconsider the options? Bringing Hamas to the table could relieve pressure on the Palestinians—who would no longer need to worry about the Islamists attacking their credibility. It might create space for a less ideological approach to peacemaking, and it might allow for the negotiation of a more achievable agreement with Israel. Why not hammer out a temporary arrangement between the three sides that would, say, extend for 25 years with a clause for renewal? Such an agreement would make for a practical second-best outcome--a durable interim understanding.

Current policy, after all, sends Hamas the signal that it is doomed to exclusion come what may and forever. But the more that Hamas is permitted inside the tent, the better the prospects of a modest (yet historic) success. Of course, there will be those who say this is impossible. They will say Hamas is inhuman, and why would the Iranians ever allow this? The answer is that Fatah hardly behaves much better than Hamas. Besides, Fatah has limited ability to deliver any sort of peace without the consent of Hamas. As far as the Iranians go, once you start talking with Hamas, you soon discover how much they hate the guts of those renegade Shiites in Tehran. I could be wrong about all of this. But given the unworkable alternatives, surely this is worth putting to the test."

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