AFTERNOONS WITH IPCRI

MARCH 9, 2006

SHOULD CIVIL SOCIETY LAUNCH AN ISRAEL-HAMAS DIALOGUE

Prof. Gerald Steinberg, Mr. Zoughby Zoughby, Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Dr. Sufyan Abu Zaida

Notre Dame Center, Jerusalem

 

Summary of the Discussion

 

 

Gerald Steinberg

 

In launching any kind of dialogue it is important to be vigilante of the issue of symmetry. Who are the interlocutors? In many previous Israeli-Palestinian dialogues, the Palestinians were officials and the Israelis were not.  We must ask ourselves what is the standing of the participants in the dialogue.  In the Geneva initiative for example, who sent them?  Who did they represent? They were not officials and they did not negotiate in the name of either government.  This is the reason for Genevaís limited impact and even perhaps its negative effect. In previous dialogues where the Palestinian officials were meeting left-wing Israelis, Palestinians were allowed to get the wrong impressions about Israeli society and the readiness of Israeli governments to make compromises. Most Israelis involved in previous dialogues usually tended to support the Palestinian positions and did not represent really Israeli positions. This is perhaps one of the reasons for the failure of Oslo, the Palestinians had incorrect impressions of Israeli politics.

 

Regarding Hamas, we have to ask what would be the agenda for the dialogue? What positions would the Hamas participants present? If the Hamas participants reject Israelís basic right to exist as a Jewish state and if they support terrorism, what is the basis for that dialogue? It is important to provide space for Hamas participants to present changes in the Hamas ideology, but if they donít can such a dialogue have any legitimacy?

 

It might be possible to talk about non-political issues such as culture, religion, rituals, etc. we have a lot in common in our Holy texts. But this is not a conflict resolution oriented dialogue. There is a lot of mutual ignorance on cultural and religious issues. Such dialogues have been held even between Israelis and Iranians, albeit not strong advocates of the ruling establishment there. This kind of dialogue could be a prelude to a more political dialogue.

We must recognize that there are limits to Track II.  Track II only exists when there is Track I Ė the aim of Track II is to influence Track I.  Oslo began as Track II and quickly was transformed into Track I. Geneva is the opposite and therefore was not appropriate. We cannot use the term Track II concerning a dialogue with Hamas.  It could be called exploration, checking positions, etc. but it should not be called Track II.  It will be difficult for Israelis to participate in dialogues with Hamas.  It was difficult with the PLO for Israelis to sit with people who were directly involved in terror, it will be even more difficult with Hamas people.

 

Participants should represent a wide cross section of their society. The dialogue should include people who donít automatically agree with each other. It is important that the participants not be political leaders.  It is also important that they not be religious leaders because those tend to become politicians too quickly in the dialogues.  The dialogues should not include 3rd parties because then the participants end up talking to the 3rd parties and they posture to win points rather than speaking to each other. The dialogues should avoid publicity and should be held off the record to allow people to speak directly and frankly. If the dialogues are used to justify Palestinian positions against Israel, then these dialogues are dangerous and should not be held. 

 

I am in favor of dialogue with Hamas between civil society on both sides, but it must be done with a great deal of caution.

 

Zoughby Zoughby

 

I am a social activists and I believe that social activists can have leverage on governments. There should be dialogue between the governments of Israel and Palestine regardless of who is sitting in those governments. I donít believe in the saying that there is no partner and nothing to talk about.  There are partners and there are real issues to talk about. Civil society in Palestine is liberal and secular and now we have a conservative and religious government. But Hamas was not elected because of religion. Hamas was not elected because it rejects Israel.  Hamas was elected because people want a change, people want reform. People want an end to anarchy.  People want security for themselves, - physical security, economic security, human security. Hamas was always opposed to being part of the government.  Now they are the government.  Their participation in the Government gives legitimacy to everything they were opposed to.

 

The conditions placed by Israel and the US on the Hamas are the same conditions that were placed on the PLO in the past. How much time will it take for Hamas to meet the conditions? Hamas is part of the Muslim brotherhood movement throughout the Arab world. Hamas is not only a political movement, it is also a social movement. It is better to encourage Hamas to change then to threaten it. The dialogue with Hamas should not be a cultural or religious dialogue. It has to be a political dialogue on issues such as land for peace and then Hamas can be transformed from being a source of conflict to become a source of peace.  The Hamas victory does not mean that Hamas will rule forever.  Palestine should have a multi-party political system.

Will Hamas become part of the international community? We are asking Hamas to change, but it cannot be expected to make the changes that took Fateh 30 years to make in a month. Hamas will be subject to criticism from the people. They have to be responsive to that criticism. Moderates may not be leading Palestine now, but if we donít talk to them they will become more extreme.

 

There should be multi-track dialogues Ė with civil society, government, religious groups, etc. Threats against the Hamas to cease aid and support will be collective punishment against the Palestinian people and will not help peace and will also weaken civil society. We should not ignore the supporters of peace amongst the Palestinian people. Abu Mazen has said that he is willing to meet with and to negotiate with any Israeli leaders who are elected by the Israeli people.  The Israelis should say the same thing.

 

We need third parties to assist us.  The apartheid regime of South Africa would not have been toppled without the involvement of the international community. The international community and the dialogue can help to enhance dialogue at all levels.

 

 

Mordechai Kedar

 

I will start by saying that it is unfortunate that this discussion is being conducted in English and not in Hebrew and Arabic.  We need to understand each otherís language because language is very important to understand each other.

Sufyan Abu Zaida spent 12 years in Israeli prisons and now he is here with Israelis talking. Hamas people will be here also Ė and before the year 2010. Hamas is not one person and one ideology. There are people in Hamas who are more moderate like Hanieah and Sheikh Talal Sidr. Hamas has more than one voice.

We should differentiate between politicians and civil society.  Civil society works on perceptions while political people ignore perceptions Ė they work on more superficial levels. There is a woman in Gaza, a deeply religious Muslim woman who I have been in dialogue with for a long time.  She supports Hamas.  She is the daughter of refugees. She has told me that I should go back to Poland where my parents came from; She knows that I am a Zionist but she continues to talk to me. She knows my views but she continues to feel comfortable talking to me. Something has changed in her - this is the result of normal discourse, the result of people to people contact. We have to talk to Hamas and we have subjects to talk with them about.

 

I have read the Hamas covenant and believe me it sounds much worse in Arabic than it does translated. I know what their agenda is, but I say, as a religious Jew, I think that we have a lot in common. We both share an agenda of opposing the over permissiveness of our societies, of drugs, alcoholism, crime, etc. We have a lot of common interests. Both sides, on the political level have to talk and they have to do this in public. Both sides will have to talk.  Letís face it if there is an outbreak of the bird flu in Jenin, it will have an immediate impact on all of the chicken farmers in the north of Israel and we will have to talk to the Palestinian Minister of Health and it wonít matter if he is from Hamas. If an Israeli gets lost in the Palestinian areas, we will talk with their security and police people. Etc.  Daily life questions are a lot more powerful than empty political slogans.  

I am not sure of all the people from Fateh that we spoke with really recognize the legitimacy of Israel.  When Hamas has the responsibility of governing they will have to become more pragmatic. For Hamas, their victory was like a road accident.  They only wanted to sit on the brakes, now they find themselves with the steering wheel in their hands. They must provide answers to the people. Hamas has an advantage over Fateh Ė they have no real opposition to their right. They will come to realize that authority = responsibility.  Israel will have to deal with Hamas and both sides will become more pragmatic. Hamas will change on the political and the popular levels. Civil society and NGOs have a lot of work to do to change perceptions.

 

Sufyan Abu Zaida

 

The first time I ever read the PLO Charter was in Hebrew in 1982 while I was in Beersheva prison. From the time I read the Charter I was convinced that the PLO would recognize Israel and would reach agreements with Israel. Reality is stronger than slogans or ideology, even Islamic ideology. The Hamas victory was a surprise for everyone including for Hamas. Now they will realize very quickly that every Ministry and every Minister will have to deal with Israel about everything.  Every Minister needs to coordinate something with Israel. Hamas knows that if they are in the government they will have to deal with Israel. Maybe they will do it through their Deputy Minister or the Director General, most of the civil service is made up of Fateh people. Maybe the Minister himself wonít be able to coordinate with Israel, but his Ministry will have to.

 

I know everyone in the Hamas leadership personally.  I met them all in prison when I was the spokesman of the prisoners. I have seen Hanieh and I see him now and talk politics with him. In 2003 Israel targeted him, I met him one evening after midnight and had a long talk with him. This was during the time when Hamas and Jihad were attacking Israel everyday. Hanieh was open minded and ready to listen.  I donít know if he will succeed in his job.  I donít know if I should be happy or sad Ė what happened to Fateh 30 years ago will also happen to Hamas. When Fateh joined the PLO in 1968 there was a huge gap between slogans and reality and it took 30 years to close the gap. Then they said no negotiations and no recognition. Both Fateh and Israel realized they would have to recognize each other and to negotiate. Now Hamas is in power and they are taking their first steps towards trying to control the PLO. Controlling the PA and the territories will be a burden for them. They want to lead the entire Palestinian people as Fateh did 30 years ago.

 

Hamas accepts what Olmert has said Ė unilateral steps are ok for them. Hamas doesnít want to negotiate final status, they donít want a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza only. Hamas wants to Islamize the conflict.  They donít need a solution for West Bank and Gaza.  They know it is a problem to reach an agreement on Jerusalem and refugees and the long term hudna that they are proposing is real for them. With the exception of one set of attacks after the explosion in Jabalya when they tried to blame Israel, Hamas has held to the ceasefire. Since the elections, Hamas isnít even talking about the culture of resistance. They are talking instead about steadfastness.  They are talking about strengthening the Palestinian people and society in its ability to suffer.  Hamas is preparing for the pre-1987 period Ė social and religious agenda.  Hamas used arms in order to get power, now that they have power they donít need to use arms.

 

What does Israel want from Hamas?  Israel is saying no Palestinian state, no 1967 borders, no negotiations and Hamas has already stopped all the attacks. Something good has happened. It is good to see Hamas deal with all the complicated issues Ė economy, security, - all of the daily problems.  Hamas has to now form a government and I want to see them take responsibility.  Before they only disturbed the PA, now they are the PA.  They want Fateh to share the responsibilities but Fateh will not because of the big gaps in the political platforms of the two movements.