Ephraim Halevy is one of the wise old men of the Israeli intelligence apparatus. A former Mossad director, he is the ultimate pragmatist. To his credit, his pragmatism allows him to say things disturbing to both the Israeli left and right. He is a breath of fresh air compared to the ideologue politicians running Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, if there is such a thing as a current policy. We progressives shouldn’t make the mistake of believing that Halevy says things we agree with for altruistic or idealistic reasons. He’d probably just as soon have an antagonistic policy toward the Palestinians and Hamas in particular if he thought it would work. But to his credit, as he writes in Ynetnews, he sees it will not and tells it like he sees it:
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the only one where the US is still maintaining an ideological approach…
While President Bush approved a sharp political change of direction enabling direct negotiations with North Korea, under favorable conditions for the North Koreans, and while the US sits at the table in Baghdad with Syria and Iran (the only remaining parties in the “axis of evil” ) – the administration is flexing its muscles against the Palestinians and is demanding that Hamas recognize Israel as a precondition for legitimacy.
The US and Israel are continuing their efforts to embolden Fatah and to convince its leader, Abbas, to oppose Hamas. According to intelligence estimates, there is no chance of Fatah subduing Hamas and ruling the Palestinian authority single handedly. The Saudis, who initiated the Mecca Agreement, also hold this view and granted equal standing to both Palestinian camps in the eyes of the Arab world…
So in Halevy’s view the U.S. is wasting its time in bolstering Abbas or sitting back and watching a Palestinian civil war unfold. Fatah is just not suited to do our dirty work for us. The most recent violence in which many saw Hamas outmaneuver Fatah in fighting in Gaza proves this point.
Below, Halevy argues against the Quartet’s third condition which requires Hamas to recognize Israel before relieving the international boycott of the PA (a position I’ve opposed):
Israel and the US have so far succeeded in getting the world demand three conditions for granting Hamas legitimacy – a commitment to ratify previous Palestinian Authority agreements, prevention of any violence from the Territories, and recognition of Israel. The first two commitments are reasonable and imperative conditions. The third is superfluous.
Israeli-American policies are unable to prompt developments in the Palestinian Authority that would minimize the violence carried out against Israel and they are not preventing massive flow of arms into the Gaza Strip. The American ideological approach is politically unwise and inefficient in practice. The Europeans and Russians are already eating away at it and it won’t last in the long term.
In the following passage, Halevy argues that the the much of the Arab world is willing de facto to recognize Israel and preparing to present a rejuvenated form of the 2002 Saudi Initiative. So why is Israel presenting “unwise” conditions to Hamas and telling the Arabs the Initiative is unacceptable even before it is formally presented?
The entire Arab world actually recognizes Israel and is preparing to engage in further talks with us, and this is what’s important and significant today. The new Arab initiative calling for negotiations with Israel comprises conditions that are unacceptable to us. We are not obligated to accept them. Why doesn’t the prime minister suggest coming to an Arab summit and sitting at the table with the litigators? What does he have to lose?
Halevy wisely argues that if Israel continues to sit back and issue its “Nyet” rejoinders to multiple Arab voices offering negotiation, then eventually the entire world may pass Israel by and vital issues affecting Israel may be negotiated out from under it:
The new American pragmatism, which is blowing in our region as well, calls for Israel – more than ever – to demand that a place be reserved for it at the table in every conference or forum where issues pertaining to Israel’s destiny are being discussed. If negotiations are held with Iran over its nuclear plans, we should be there. We must be present in every place where the issues of our region are being discussed. Only we know how to adequately present our interests as a sovereign state and not as a protégé.
These are the crucial matters, rather than the pointless campaign aimed at receiving a kosher certificate signed by Hamas’ Khaled Mashaal.
If the formerly hardline-ideological U.S. foreign policy is showing a “new pragmatism,” why not Israel? If it sticks to its rigid positions does it risk being left behind when the train leaves the station?
In The Forward, Gershom Gorenberg notes Israel’s reluctance to embrace the Saudi Initiative. Israeli Palestine expert Menachem Klein warns Gorenberg that Israel stands to be outmaneuvered by the Palestinians:
…The new Palestinian government, Klein argues, is likely to affirm the initiative. If it does, some European countries will probably accept that it has met international demands for recognizing Israel, and that the boycott of the P.A. should end. Diplomatic pressure on Olmert to negotiate with the new Palestinian government will increase. With Bush’s backing, and indeed with domestic support, Olmert can be expected to say no. But his lack of a diplomatic alternative of his own, the vacuum of policy goals, will be even more glaring.
Then you would have Olmert’s “policy” of isolating Hamas blown to smithereens by European acceptance of the PA. And what policy would Olmert have ready to take its place? Anything credible? Unlikely.