Should Israel Talk to Hamas?

By John Chuckman

It is so elemental a question, yet one rarely mentioned in the mainline press. Hamas has been demonized so thoroughly and with so little genuine reason that its situation provides prima facie evidence for the immense reach of the Israel lobby.

The world is horrified by Israel’s bombing of Gaza’s densely populated area, and rightly so, but the bombing is only a more intense horror than the blockade.

The word “blockade” comes so easily, so cleanly, without any feeling for what it reality means. It is one of that class of terms you find dissected in Orwell’s great essay, “Politics and the English Language.” It truly means here an entire population is abused and tortured for months because it voted the wrong way.

I do think most of us, if treated in this fashion in our homes by a foreign power, would use any means at hand of protesting and fighting back, even if that fighting is hopeless, as it is. It was, I believe, a former Israeli Prime Minister who said that if he were a Palestinian, he would be a terrorist.

The blockade and the bombing and the invasion have little to do with homemade rockets. Those rockets long predate the Hamas government.

Defenders of Israel’s bloody excesses insist on muddying the water by saying that the rockets are the reason for the current mass murder in Gaza, for that is just what it is, mass murder.

Israel’s secret service, Shin Bet, quietly subsidized Hamas for years, deliberately creating a future competitor for Fatah.

It clearly never feared Hamas. And why should it? If Israel were to stand back, even today, and say to Hamas, “Okay, give me your best punch,” the results would be small and ineffectual. On the other hand, we all know Israel possesses the capacity to virtually annihilate all Palestinians.

Hamas prospered after Israel’s secret subsidy. Why? Partly because it served many humanitarian needs in Palestine with perhaps ninety percent of its work being humanitarian, but also, of course, because of the endless, grinding oppression of Israel’s Apartheid system. People need hope.

When Hamas finally was elected in a cleaner election than that of George Bush, it was also in large part because the poor people of Palestine had become exhausted by the corruption of Fatah. Just as Americans with Obama, Palestinians wanted a fresh start with some people that seemed to be doing something right.

Yes, Hamas mouths anti-Israel stuff, but so what? Israel is full of people saying ugly anti-Arab stuff. It is not hard to find a number of disturbing quotes by fairly prominent Israelis calling Palestinians “roaches” and “vermin.” There are also prominent advocates of simply driving all the Palestinians under an artillery barrage across the Jordan River. Others are on record as saying the Palestinians should be “eliminated,” whatever was meant by that chilling word.

As in international affairs generally – what someone like Nixon or Bush has said of Russia or Cuba – I do not focus on such statements, they are for domestic consumption, and they also represent an unpleasant release of stress. But when a government does focus on them, as Israel’s government does, you know it is being dishonest. Governments and politicians everywhere make statements that do not reflect their actual behavior. And just so, Hamas.

It is always actions that count. So what have Israel’s actions been?

Israel immediately said an elected government was a bunch of terrorists.

Israel refused even to talk to the government although that government indicated on more than one occasion it was willing to talk to Israel and to work towards some kind of modus vivendi.

You really do not have to like your neighbor to get along with him or her. Peace requires that, often. It is the common experience across much of humanity. And with so much at stake, you might expect Israel to show some slight flexibility and even generosity. Look at the immense sacrifice of Anwar El Sadat for peace.

And it was not Arabs who gave the world the Holocaust, the event that gave the final impetus to the foundation of a state that had been talked and written about for a century previously. Yet it was Arabs who were made to pay the price with land and homes and olive groves that go back countless centuries. Now they continue to pay with abuse and severely oppressive conditions. They can’t even vote for governing their own internal affairs without horrible consequences.

After all, events around Israel’s creation as a state – especially including the bloody terror of gangs like the Stern, Irgun, and Lehi – did create the circumstances of these unfortunate people, as every honest Israeli knows. So why not some flexibility and generosity towards future peace? But we never see that from Israel. We only see one-sided conditions set even for talks decade after decade, the one-sided conditions today including the arbitrary removal of an elected government.

But Israel wasn’t satisfied with just ignoring and calling an elected government names: it arrested illegally a major part of that government, literally kidnapping them. Likely, they have been tortured for information, as Israel has practiced torture on prisoners from its founding. And it boldly assassinated many other members of Hamas using Hellfire missiles from its jets, killing scores civilian bystanders in the process.

These arrests are of course on top of something like 9,000 illegally-held Palestinians in Israeli prisons, Israel releasing a token couple of hundred every once in a great while, with great fanfare and publicity, to bolster the public image of Abbas and a party which was rejected in free elections.

Hamas, of course, achieved precisely the early promise of Israel’s secret service by ending up fighting Fatah. The events weakened the voice of Palestinians and gave Israel fresh themes in its ceaseless efforts against Palestinian nationalism.

Once Hamas was left with only Gaza – a weak and vulnerable place, effectively the world’s largest outdoor prison camp, surrounded by fence, and with no ability to receive anything by land, air, or sea except with Israel’s permission – the stage was set for today’s events. Hamas in Gaza was ready to be strangled.

The leader of Fatah, Abbas – a weak and ineffectual man whose party, in fact, lost an election but “leads” and is the only figure Israel even pretends to talk to – was left in the West Bank with Israeli and American protection and help, Israel actually supplying guns to Fatah during the struggle.

Abbas appears to be a man with whom Israel can work, but that means a man with no democratic position, a weak voice, and a somewhat step-and-fetch-it public posture. What does this say of Israel’s genuine respect for democracy and human rights?

The day Israel completely gives up on the idea of Greater Israel and the day it begins treating its neighbors with respect as human beings is the day we will see the foundations of peace. It truly is that simple.

For sixty years Israel has maintained what an early Zionist advocated, an “iron wall” towards its neighbors. And it has manipulated events time and again with black ops – as Shin Bet’s subsidizing Hamas or the horrific attack on an American spy ship during the 1967 war in an effort to draw the U.S. in, or the assistance towards Apartheid South Africa’s becoming a nuclear power in exchange for strategic materials.

Well, you cannot make peace with an iron wall.

 – John Chuckman lives in Canada and is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company. He contributed this article to

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