Ephraim Levy is one tough sombitch, as they’d say out Texas way. You don’t get to be Israel’s chief spook without being willing to crack a few eggs to make an omelet. There are, I’m sure, things in Halevy’s past that would make me blanch or worse. In fact, Halevy resigned in protest when he felt Ariel Sharon went too far in pursuing his Gaza withdrawal policy. That’s certainly not a position with which I agree.
So when a hard-headed Israeli like him says its time to talk to Hamas somebody at the top ought to be listening. Halevy isn’t saying these things because he’s suddenly become what’s called derisively in Hebrew a y’fay nefesh (a “gentle soul” or even better “effete snob”). Davke l’hefech (“precisely the opposite”), he sees negotiating a comprehensive ceasefire with Hamas as a pragmatic way to resolve what has become an intractable problem for Israel.
Unlike the current IDF and political leadership, Halevy realizes there is no way to stop the Qassam attacks nor to free Gilad Shalit without co-opting Hamas into a political process. Bless the truth-tellers like Halevy and God let’s hope someone’s listening. Laura Rozen is. She interviewed him in Mother Jones. Read this and remember you’re not hearing from Yossi Beilin or Shulamit Aloni, but a hardened intelligence operative with a long history of fighting against precisely the movement he’s analyzing:
MJ: Why do you think Israel and Washington should talk with Hamas?
EH: Hamas has, unfortunately, demonstrated that they are more credible and effective as a political force inside Palestinian society than Fatah, the movement founded by [former Palestinian Authority president] Yassir Arafat, which is now more than ever discredited as weak, enormously corrupt and politically inept.
[Hamas has] pulled off three “feats” in recent years in conditions of great adversity. They won the general elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006; they preempted a Fatah design to wrest control of Gaza from them in 2007; and they broke out of a virtual siege that Israel imposed upon them in January 2008. In each case, they affected a strategic surprise upon all other players in the region and upon the United States, and in each case, no effective counter strategy mounted by the US and Israel proved effective…
It makes sense to approach a possible initial understanding including Hamas—but not exclusively Hamas—at a time when they are still asking for one. No side will gain from a flare up leading to Israel re-entering the Gaza strip in strength to undo the ill-fated unilateral disengagement of 2005.
Here Rozen asks Halevy’s opinion about the three conditions for dialogue imposed on Hamas:
MJ: Should Hamas be required to recognize Israel’s right to exist before Israel would talk with it?
EH: Israel has been successful in inflicting very serious losses upon Hamas in both Gaza and the West Bank and this has certainly had an effect on Hamas, who are now trying to get a “cease fire.” But this has not cowed them into submission and into accepting the three-point diktat that the international community has presented to them: to recognize Israel’s right to exist; to honor all previous commitments of the Palestinian Authority; and to prevent all acts of violence against Israel and Israelis. The last two conditions are, without doubt, sine qua non [essential]. The first demands an a priori renunciation of ideology before contact is made. Such a demand has never been made before either to an Arab state or to the Palestinian Liberation Organization/Fatah. There is logic in the Hamas’ position that ideological “conversion” is the endgame and not the first move in a negotiation.
In this passage, Halevy critiques the Israeli and American desire to manipulate and micro-manage political developments within Palestinian society:
MJ: Again and again, Israel and Washington too have tried to engineer which Palestinians would come to power, to whom they would speak or recognize, etc. Is this itself problematic? Should the West step back from trying to manipulate internal Palestinian politics?
EH: Yes, for two reasons. First, is the sovereign right of Palestinians to decide who their leadership should be. I think that is the basis of democracy. More than that, it is the best possible way in my opinion for a country or society to determine how it wants to be governed and how it wants to be lead. And second, so far it must be admitted that attempts to do this [manipulate internal Palestinian politics] have not succeeded. After all, in the final analysis, it would not be possible to create and fashion a leadership from without.
Hat tip to Daniel Levy’s Prospect for Peace where I first read about this interview.