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Ephraim Halevy: Former Mossad Director Favors Talks With Hamas

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.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Bill Pearlman February 23, 2008, 2:17 AM

    This is going to surprise you but “why not”. It’s also the Scharansky theory also. You have democratic elections, you know who the people want and who you’re dealing with. But let me ask you this. I think both you and Halevy have this ass backwards. Show me where the Hamas leadership has ever called for direct negotiations with Israel. And not in some veiled Arabic folk saying but in clear English.

    Also, I have to reiterate. At least you don’t seem to attract the jihad, neo-nazi, outright lunatic (j martillo ) crew that inhabits the lower regions of Phil Weiss’s world.

  • Richard Silverstein February 23, 2008, 2:55 AM

    You do surprise me, Bill. But I’m delighted you’re with me on this one.

    Halevy doesn’t claim Hamas is interested in “direct” negotiations. He says they’re interested in 3rd party negotiations. A Hamas spokesperson was interviewed on Israeli TV calling for negotiations with Israel. I wrote about it here though it’s too late for me to have the energy to search for the link right now. If you want to find it & can’t let me know & I’ll try to get the link for you.

    As far as commenters, we have a top drawer crowd commenting here (though there are a few layabouts I can’t seem to get rid of–present company excluded). But in all seriousness, I do admire Phil because he has a very strong, loyal following of commenters. He has far more comments on his blog than I do and he doesn’t even participate in his comment threads!

  • americangoy February 23, 2008, 8:05 AM

    Welcome to REALPOLITIK as defined by the late great Bismarck.
    Simply put, realpolitik is stripping the bulls**t away and dealing with international relations in a realistic way, with a little regard for ethics, morals and other outdated concepts.

    In this case, realpolitik adherents recognize that it is in Israel’s best interest to negotiate with Hamas.

    After all, Israel has nothing to lose for just talking with them, politically and morally….

  • bar_kochba132 February 23, 2008, 8:51 AM

    Israel IS talking to HAMAS, just listen to the reports about the Gilad Shalit negotiations. The question is not about TALKING, the question is about recognizing them as the official representatives of the Gaza Strip.
    You might find this interesting but what you would call “the pro-settler far right” OPPOSES any large-scale military operation in the Gaza Strip and especially reoccupying it, if carried out by the current government. They say that Jewish blood would be spilled to take control of Gaza from the HAMAS terrorists and then handing it back over to the FATAH-Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terrorists. Don’t forget that Olmert said explicitly that he started the Lebanon II war in order to get Sharon-style “tough-guy” credentials so that he could then use the army to expel Jews from Judea/Samaria, and so the fear is that he would try this again. As Richard has noted, even people in the current gov’t like Ramon and Barak are talkiing about going into Gaza in a big way and doing just that.
    Another interesting item you might have seen in Ha’aretz last week was about the leaders of the Jewish community of Hevron/Kiryat Arba meeting the heads of two large Arab clans in Hevron, Abu-Seneina and Ja’abari and agreeing to working together for peace and keeping extremists from both the Jewish and Arab camps (and this means both left-wing anarchist Jews as well as right-wingers) from disrupting normal life in the town. As far as I am concerned, this is a good first step for creating a true modus vivendi in Judea/Samaria. This is somewhat similar to what Richard pointed out Rav Menachem Froman of Tekoa is trying to do in a somewhat different way.

  • Bill Pearlman February 23, 2008, 10:10 AM

    Here is where you and I part company. Why not direct talks. And if Hamas can’t do that. If they can’t bear to be in the same room has Jews then what is there really to talk about in the end.

  • Richard Silverstein February 23, 2008, 11:29 PM

    Israel IS talking to HAMAS, just listen to the reports about the Gilad Shalit negotiations. The question is not about TALKING, the question is about recognizing them as the official representatives of the Gaza Strip.

    As usual, you have it wrong. Israel is negotiating for Shalit’s release but it has flat out rejected any Hamas overture to negotiate for a ceasefire. That is what Halvey & I are talking about. And negotiating a ceasefire has nothing to do with recognizing them as anyone’s official representative. And even here you have it wrong. Hamas won an election to run the PA. That, in effect has been stolen from them by the collusion of the U.S., Israel & Fatah.

    the leaders of the Jewish community of Hevron/Kiryat Arba meeting the heads of two large Arab clans in Hevron, Abu-Seneina and Ja’abari and agreeing to working together for peace and keeping extremists from both the Jewish and Arab camps (and this means both left-wing anarchist Jews as well as right-wingers) from disrupting normal life in the town.

    Oh, do tell us how the dangerou left wing anarchist Jews are disrupting normal life in Hebron. Puh-leeze. There are no left wing anarchist Jews disrupting settler lives in Hebron. You may be referring to Anarchists Against the Wall demos but they’re happening in Bilin, not Hebron. There are Breaking the Silence tours to Hebron led by former IDF officers. Are you calling them left-wing extremists? If so, how are they “disrupting the normal lives” of settlers? The only extremists in Hebron are the settlers. If they’re prepared to tone down their outrageous behavior against Hebron’s other inhabitants I’d love to see any evidence that this will happen. I’d be the first to applaud this.

    You seem to imply that you approve of Rabbi Froman’s efforts in negotiating a Hamas-Israel ceasefire. If so, I’m glad to say that we finally agree on something.

    @Bill: I have no problem with direct talks bet. Hamas & Israel & I’m glad you don’t appear to either. The problem is that Israel wouldn’t want to appear to negotiate directly with Hamas. If Olmert did so Netanyahu would hand his head to him on a platter.

  • bar_kochba132 February 25, 2008, 7:11 AM

    Richard-Anarchist groups are active in Hevron. There was an article in the Makor Rishon about a true Israeli non-political peace activist who has good relations with both the Jews and Arabs in Hevron (he helped arrange the meeting I referred to above) and he was scathingly critical of the anarchists because he believes their activities incite violence. He says their political agenda militates against coexistence and peaceful relations. As I said, he views himself as non-political and his good relations with both Jews and Arabs across the board.
    You are correct, I do not oppose Rav Froman’s activities, if they contribute to coexistence. I don’t know effective he is, though.

  • tangentlama March 5, 2008, 3:01 AM

    No no no – the Israeli anarchists uphold the principles of non-violence. You have that all wrong, Mr. Kochba – they favour a system of democractic horintzontalism which brings all involved parties to the negotiating table. They don’t have a political agenda, they have a social agenda. Modern anarchism bears little resemblance to it’s revolutionary-minded and often violent forebears, and is first and foremost a social science. Basically, it is either the state and/or vigilante groups in WB who are meting out violence – the Israeli anarchists eschew using such tactics, and can be seen to offer solidarity irrespective of ethnicity or religion, and also they will use non-violent situationist tactics to attract attention to their goal of bringing about an end to violence between the two peoples.

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