When I first read this story I got it on a superficial level but didn’t really understand the full significance until Assaf Oron sent me a link to his Daily Kos diary entry. Haaretz reports that deputy prime minister Eli Yishai of the Mizrahi Shas party, broke the government boycott against Carter’s Israel visit and not only met with the former president but asked Carter for a meeting with Hamas representatives in an attempt to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Assaf correctly notes that this is a bombshell not only for Israeli politics, but it also breaks the solid front the Israel lobby has attempted to create here in the U.S. against dealing with Hamas.
It also serves notice on journalists like Mark Perelman of the Jewish Forward, Shmuel Rosner of Haaretz, and strangely Michael Young of Beirut’s Daily Star; and political operatives like Ira Forman’s AIPAC-leaning National Jewish Democratic Council and even all the presidential candidates, who’ve bought the Israel lobby line (clearly Young is following a different political line). They all ignore the fact that a number of liberal Jewish blogs like this one (Jerry Haber and Tony Karon as well) and now a cabinet minister have bucked the “Three No’s” (an ironic reference to the Arab League’s “three no’s” after the 67 war) approach to Hamas. The line on Carter is that he’s a troublemaker who represents no one but himself. Rosner even goes so far as to say that Carter is a washed up has been (which actually describes Rosner himself rather than Carter) whose glory days, if he ever had any, are past.
I’ve already noted here that Israel already negotiates with Hamas though indirectly through Egypt. Further, a recent poll finds that 64% of Israelis are in favor of precisely the kind of approach favored by Yishai–direct negotiations with Hamas. So this Hamas boycott is a charade, a political fiction created to provide cover for a Bush Administration that can’t do anything to promote meaningful negotiations among the warring parties; and an Israeli government which doesn’t have the will to get up and do what’s got to be done regarding talking to the Palestinian parties that really matter. So how long will it be before this sham policy falls like a house of cards?
I’m not a huge fan of Shas, though they sometimes are quite progressive on issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But on this one issue Yishai is right on the money (or should I say “shekel”?).