Of all the nonentities who might become prime minister of the next Israeli government, there is one man head and shoulders above all the rest who will never run: Ephraim Halevy. Halevy has proven his hard-headed pragmatism about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict many times in the past. And just this past week he thought the unthinkable in the most unlikely place: the Wall Street Journal, which profiled his unorthodox, but refreshing views:
Mr. Halevy is speaking the unspeakable about Hamas: It is time, he says, to negotiate with the movement’s leaders — the same men his former agency and his nation have targeted for assassination…
Among Israelis, Mr. Halevy’s words amount to political heresy. Most mainstream politicians don’t speak of negotiating with the group.
But Mr. Halevy, 73 years old, is part of a small band of public figures who now say that, because of Hamas’s growing clout, it is becoming impossible to avoid such a dialogue. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell joined the group in a recent interview with National Public Radio.
Halevy is quite dyspeptic about the prospects for the new Bush “West Bank First” policy:
Mr. Halevy believes this strategy amounts to political fantasy, especially given the weakness of Fatah and signs it is fracturing inside the West Bank. “If there is a secret assessment somewhere which says this is going to do the job and is going to turn things around, I salute them,” says the former spymaster, who retired from the Mossad at the end of 2002 and went on to briefly head Israel’s National Security Council under then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He has since maintained his public profile as a commentator and author.
Halevy echoes my sentiments about Hamas precisely when he says the following:
“I don’t say we should talk to Hamas out of sympathy to them. I have no sympathy whatsoever for Hamas. I think they are a ghastly crowd,” Mr. Halevy says. “But I have not seen anybody who says the Abbas-Fayad tandem is going to do the job.”
Mr. Halevy says defeating Hamas politically is unrealistic, given its enduring popularity among Palestinians.
He warns, in this passage, that the current U.S.-Israeli policy of strangling Hamas in Gaza not only won’t work, it may make the situation even more desperate and dangerous than it already is (hard to believe it could get worse, but it can):
“The danger is that they will not be defeated, that they will become more despairing…and they will no longer feel constrained by anything, because there is nothing left for them to hope for,” he says.
…He says negotiating with the group is necessary in order to stop the spread of the even more radical ideology espoused by al Qaeda, which he sees gaining adherents in the Palestinian territories.
Halevy also scorns the U.S.-Israeli conditions under which they’d be willing to negotiate with Hamas saying recognition of Israel should not prevent talking:
Mr. Halevy says pressure should be used to reach a favorable, long-term armistice, similar to those Israel reached with hostile neighbors after the Jewish state was founded in 1948. Hamas has repeatedly said it is willing to discuss such a deal.
“We signed armistice agreements with all of the Arab world,” Mr. Halevy says, adding that many Arab nations agreed to end hostilities without formally recognizing Israel. The U.S. and Israel have pushed for a formal recognition of Israel from Hamas before agreeing to possible talks.
“We don’t need their recognition,” he says. “We are a sovereign state…They need us to recognize them. The shoe is on the wrong foot.”
Why is it the fools run the country while the wisest ones sit on the sidelines writing op-ed columns?
Hat tip to Daniel Levy’s Prospects for Peace.