Like it or not, we need to make peace with Hamas

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Our politicians’ refusal to address Hamas’ role in a future Palestinian state is dangerous and inexcusable.

The United Nations and World Bank recently issued reports commending the Palestinians for their impressive efforts in establishing the essential social, economic and political institutions necessary for the conception of a future Palestinian state.

Avi Yesawich

Impressive indeed: In merely four years since taking office, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has managed to accomplish political and economic feats that other Palestinian leaders failed to achieve throughout their entire careers, and his state-building initiative is bearing substantial political fruit. He has successfully positioned the Palestinian Authority for a transition into statehood, adding credence to the idea that U.N. recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state could be forthcoming as soon as September of this year.

Although peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been indefinitely stalled for some time, one realization has become undeniably clear: Whether through unilateral declaration or negotiated settlement, a Palestinian state is emerging on the horizon. We can see its approach in clear view.

However, Israel and the international community must urgently consider the political and security implications of such a reality, and most notably the inevitable role of Hamas in the implementation of any future agreement with Israel.

Before negotiations between Israel and the P.A. broke down, officials on both sides worked vigorously to resolve the most pressing issues, including the settlements, partition of Jerusalem and the right of return. However, when al Jazeera leaked the intimate details to the public, Hamas severely reprimanded the P.A. for making what the Islamist group viewed as unacceptable concessions on issues of critical, even sacred, importance to the Palestinian cause. This reprimand illustrated the considerable gap between the very different interests of Fatah and Hamas.

Furthermore, Hamas has a convoluted history of issuing wildly contradicting positions in relation to the peace process with Israel, ranging from outright rejection to implicit recognition of Israel and a professed desire to implement a “long-term truce” with the Jewish state. Although the term “peace” is noticeably absent here, most Israelis would certainly prefer a long-term truce to an incessant hail of rocket and mortar fire that destroys any opportunity to live a normal life.

However, if Hamas’ positions are being completely ignored, how can Israel ever expect the organization to honor any future agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority?

When Democrats forced their overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system through Congress with virtually no Republican support, they lauded the initiative as historical and groundbreaking. That same embattled initiative has been subjected to overwhelming criticism and hostility by a Congress now dominated by Republicans, who are working diligently to have the legislation altered dramatically, if not completely overturned. How does one imagine Hamas will react after having an agreement, which many Hamas leaders vehemently oppose, forced upon them by their rivals with whom they have been in a civil war for the past four years?

The world may laud such agreement as historical and groundbreaking, but we will find those words ring hollow as terror attacks against Israeli civilians persist after the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” carries a much different connotation in Israel than it does in the U.S. In Israel, it signifies our leaders’ scandalous shortsightedness, even gross neglect, in addressing issues and challenges of immense importance even when they are right in front of their faces.

A few months ago, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer came to speak to a group of international students at Tel Aviv University. Throughout his presentation, not one word was uttered about Hamas. When I asked him why negotiations are being held that neglect the Hamas aspect of the equation, I received a rather vague response about how Hamas supports terror and Israel will always retain the right to protect her citizens. While that is undoubtedly a true statement, the original question remained untouched.

Unfortunately, such avoidance of questions is commonplace among Israeli politicians.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who was intimately involved in peace negotiations over the past several years, spoke recently at the Heseg Center for Lone Soldiers on a variety of issues, including how close Israel and the P.A. were to reaching an agreement. She also said that Israel does not and will not negotiate with Hamas. Huh? I hope I am not the only one seeing the massive discrepancy here. Are we attempting to secure peace with the Palestinian people, or just half of them?

It is well known that security cooperation between Israel and the P.A. plays a major role in suppressing Hamas activity across the West Bank. On the other hand, no sane individual imagines that Israeli troops will remain in the Palestinian territories after a sovereign state has been established there.

However, if you ask any security analyst about the state of affairs in the West Bank, you may be hard pressed to find one that would disagree that Hamas poses a major political and security threat to the P.A. in the West Bank, especially if the IDF presence there disappears. Indeed, the West Bank is not immune to what happened in Gaza four years ago, and the P.A. realizes this. Our own leaders need to be prepared for such a scenario.

Israel currently rejects any form of direct communication or negotiation with Hamas, and I am not advocating that we change that policy as long as the group denies our right to exist. But how naïve are we to believe that we can ever implement a comprehensive peace agreement without the tacit agreement or acceptance of Hamas? We are doing ourselves a huge disservice by refusing to point out the enormous elephant lingering in the room.

Avi Yesawich is a Cornell University graduate and former IDF combat soldier now working on a master’s in conflict resolution and mediation at Tel Aviv University. This piece first appeared on Ynetnews.com.