Hey, it’s Tom Friedman’s red letter day. This may be the second time in this blog’s four-year existence that I’ve featured one of his columns. That’s because I normally find him a pontificator full of self-regard and lacking in new ideas. His opinions always seem to go right down the middle rarely swaying right or left. As a result, I find much of what he writes full of stasis with little to surprise or offend. But today’s column (TimesSelect sub required) about the approach Israel and the U.S. should take toward Hamas was right on the money:
This moment has the potential to open some new, intriguing possibilities for a long-term settlement, or truce, in Israeli-Palestinian relations…
If Hamas is going to fail now in leading the Palestinian Authority, it is crucial that it be seen to fail on its own — because it can’t transform itself from a terror group into a ruling body delivering peace, security and good government for Palestinians — not because Israel and the U.S. never gave it a chance.
“Any minute that it is evident to the Palestinian public that Hamas is being forced to fail will guarantee that any future elections will only produce another Hamas victory,” said the Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki…
“We want to provide Hamas a [Palestinian] context within which to begin to moderate its views — without being forced to do so by the West and Israel,” Mr. Shikaki said. If Hamas is going to change, it will change only if it is forced to confront the reality that it can get so much more for Palestinians by negotiating with Israel than by fighting Israel…
Friedman argues that it is in Israel’s long-term interest in getting a peace agreement that it test Hamas rather than declare all out war on it:
Israel has an enormous interest in testing Hamas’s ability to evolve. Because if Hamas keeps to the current cease-fire, focuses on better governance and begins to tacitly, but not formally, support a negotiating process with Israel, the benefit to Israel would be enormous…
Israel was obsessed with getting the P.L.O. to renounce its charter, but in the end, that did not affect Yasir Arafat’s real behavior one whit. That’s why, regardless of the conditions Israel lays down for allowing funds to flow to a Hamas-led government or negotiating with it, Israel needs to ask itself this: What would impress Israelis most — if Hamas recognized the Jewish state today and sang Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem, or if it maintained the cease-fire and the negotiating process?
The last paragraph in particular is full of wisdom that Israel, AIPAC and the American Jewish community needs to hear. If you scheme against Hamas and engage in full-throttled battle then you may be losing out on a last best chance for peace with the Palestinians. Of course, no one knows what Hamas will do and no one should be so foolish as to believe that the best possible scenario is the one that will prevail. But we should at least allow for the possibility that it might, especially if we don’t go about mucking things up with plots to undermine Hamas and topple it’s new Palestinian government even before it begins its rule.
Dick Berger says
I disagree with your overall comments about Tom Friedman at the beginning of this article. I think more often than not he has something thoughtful to say ands worthwhile to read, including this current piece you are quoting.
The difficult problem is that I wouldn’t trust much of what Hamas negotiators promised, if there ever are Hamas/Israel talks. How do you talk to people who aren’t even willing to concede the right of your nation to exist?
Israel will never negotiate Israel’s right to exist, and if Hamas won’t concede that right, how can negotiations take place? Can Hamas discuss borders with an entity it considers illegal? Can Israel discuss permanent cessation of all suicide bombings with an entity that wants to terminate its existence?
Richard Silverstein says
Dick: I freely concede there are those who find Friedman refreshing and interesting. My view of him is not the only legitimate one. But I’ve been reading him almost as long as he’s been at the Times. I started out reading him religiously & really enjoying his perspective (especially when he wrote more often about the I-P conflict). But after a time (after he became popular, won Pulitzers, etc.) his writing (at least to me) became self-indulgent and full of self-regard. I think jetsetting around the world with Secretaries of State like Jim Baker went to his head a bit. As a result, I rarely these days find much of his that stirs my imagination.
I am glad though we agree that the piece I feature here is excellent.
I think Friedman and Henry Siegman have it precisely right in terms of what Israel’s strategy should be in the event of Hamas-Israel negotiations. You don’t set ultimatums demanding that Hamas admit this or recognize that. You start from a position of common interest. For example, Hamas says it will agree to a long-term truce if Israel retreats to 1967 borders. Start there. I doubt that Israel would retreat to ’67 borders, but there may be ways to bring both sides to a common understanding & set of compromises as long as we don’t set up unilateral demands about what we expect of our negotiation partner even before negotiations begin.
As Friedman says, I’d rather make a real & lasting peace with a Hamas that never fully concedes Israel’s right to exist; than make a supposed peace with Mahmoud Abbas & Fatah which can never be guaranteed or enforced because they are too weak, divided or corrupt to do so.
You raise the pt. that Hamas cannot discuss borders w. an entity it considers illegal. But one must also view this fr. the other side. One of my recent posts quotes a Wolf Blitzer CNN interview with a top Hamas leader in which he flips your argument on its head: how can Hamas be expected to negotiate peace with an Israel which itself has not been willing to determine its own borders?
I say get ea. side to agree to borders that are minimally acceptable to the other side & then worry about the idea of recognition.