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Engaging Hamas: An Israeli Hawk Speaks

Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008

Laura Rozen has a must read interview with former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy over at Mother Jones. Among other reasons why Halevy argues that Israel and the US should engage Hamas, this struck me as noteworthy:

[Hamas has] pulled off three "feats" in recent years in conditions of great adversity. They won the general elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006; they preempted a Fatah design to wrest control of Gaza from them in 2007; and they broke out of a virtual siege that Israel imposed upon them in January 2008. In each case, they affected a strategic surprise upon all other players in the region and upon the United States, and in each case, no effective counter strategy mounted by the US and Israel proved effective... (Emphasis added.)

It strikes me as particularly significant that in a region where some sort of sea change will be necessary to move things forward, it is Hamas and not the US or Israel that is coming up with the strategic surprises. Ariel Sharon seemed to be heading down that road, but from what Halevy suggests, unilateral disengagement was the wrong direction.

As for who is behind the consensus to isolate Hamas and recognize Fatah, Halevy had this to say:

I don't know whether it is Abu Mazen who is pushing Washington and Israel not to deal with Hamas, or Abu Mazen who is acquiescing to them, or some combination of both. I don't know who the stronger element in this policy is.

There is a triangle of forces: Israel, the Abu Mazen-led group in Ramallah, and the [Bush] administration. They have become mutually interdependent on this policy and one cannot rule without the other two. That's the way it is at the moment.

There was a moment where I wondered if Olmert, Abbas and Bush might actually be counter-intuitively better-placed to achieve a breakthrough given that all three are so permanently weakened as to be effectively (and in Bush's case actually) de-coupled from the political necessity of electoral popularity. In retrospect, that would have depended on how much courage the three were willing to demonstrate and how many risks they were willing to take. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like they are.

Cross-posted to Headline Junky.