Menachem Froman is an extraordinary person. He is an Orthodox rabbi who lives in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa. He was a co-founder of the right-wing Gush Emunim movement, yet broke with it after Baruch Goldstein’s rampage massacre. Despite this past history, he has very close relationships with Hamas. In fact, he negotiated for the release of Sheik Ahmed Yassin (later assassinated by Israel) from an Israeli prison, later becoming fast friends with him. He’s met with Mahmoud al-Zahar and the group’s leaders seem to like and genuinely trust him. He is a key figure in Jerusalem Peacemakers whose goal is to create an interdenominational dialogue involving spiritual dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
All of these qualities make Froman a very dangerous guy to Israeli intelligence. Here’s how Arthur Neslen described what happened to Froman’s promising initiative by which Israeli peace activists and Hamas leaders would have jointly called for the immediate release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit:
The day before the tanks rolled into Gaza, Froman had been due to launch an extraordinary peace initiative at a news conference in Jerusalem with Muhamed Abu Tir, the Hamas MP, Khaled Abu Arafa, the Palestinian minister for Jerusalem, and three Israeli rabbis.
The panel was to have made a collective call for the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit, the beginning of a process to release all Palestinian prisoners, and the immediate start of negotiations with Hamas on the framework for a peace deal based on 1967 borders.
They would also have announced that Jewish and Muslim religious leaders could achieve peace where Israel’s politicians had failed.
But the response from Israel’s security establishment was crushing.
Hours before the meeting was due to start, the Shin Bet detained Abu Tir and Abu Arafa and warned them not to attend the meeting. The news conference’s organisers were forced to contact the other rabbis — who were already on the road to Jerusalem — and tell them not to come.
Instead of a triumphant statement of mutual respect and dialogue, a subdued and gently defiant three-man panel fended off aggressive questioning from an unruly Israeli press pack.
Nelsen continues by pointing out that Froman’s efforts at finding common ground with Hamas is truly threatening to the Israeli government because it would put pressure on it to negotiate in good faith and make real concessions in order to achieve peace:
Two days after the news conference, Abu Tir and Abu Arafa were kidnapped by Israeli forces, along with a third of the Hamas cabinet. Four days later, Israel revoked both men’s citizenship and residency rights in Jerusalem. As the Jerusalem Post headline put it: Shin Bet foils Hamas-Jewish meeting.
An even more accurate headline might have been the one Israel National Radio’s Arutz Sheva website ran a few days later, pertaining to another story: The peace process is a bigger danger than Hamas.
In this opinion piece, Ted Belman said that “the threat of rockets raining down on Israel from Gaza isn’t nearly the threat that the peace process was and is” because peace talks would require Israeli concessions.
To give some perspective, Belman, one of the powers behind right-wing pro-Israel blog Israpundit actually finds the Qassam rockets fired into Israel useful in some warped way since it means (according to him) that there will be less pressure on Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians.