When I was in Israel recently, my family’s Passover seder ended in a raging argument about whether Hamas should be part of any Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The battle-lines were purely generational. Everyone under the age of 40 was adamant that Israel set aside ideological pre-conditions and talk with Hamas. Whether we like it or not, they insisted, Hamas is the elected leadership in Gaza. Ultimately, they said, any viable solution will have to include them.
Older relatives yelled back the familiar litany of objections: Hamas is a terrorist organization, they are committed to destroying Israel, we cannot trust them. The younger set was emphatic, reminding everyone that Hamas has repeatedly said it would accept a long-term truce with Israel, and that Hamas has proved its willingness to hold a negotiated ceasefire. In the end, the older generation’s claim that “we have no partner for peace,” sounded shrill and worn out.
My family blow-out is no Gallup poll, but that generational divide speaks to the fact that direct negotiations between Israel and Hamas are a matter of time. A year ago, 64% of Israelis were in favor of their government talking with Hamas. For many, Israel’s recent carnage in Gaza and their fear of renewed Hamas rocket attacks only make negotiations more urgent.
Compared to the hardnosed realism of some Israelis, this Thursday’s meeting between Barack Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seems like an exercise in magical thinking. Obama wishes that Abbas was the key to an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, so he invited him to the White House. But the meeting, coming just weeks after Obama’s talk with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, doesn’t change reality: without the participation of Hamas, negotiations will not produce peace.
Like the majority of Palestinians and Israelis, Barack Obama says he supports the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Given the relentless pace of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, it may already be too late for a two-state solution. But whatever solution emerges, it will only come about through negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli leadership.
That leadership includes Hamas, which won an uncontested majority in the Palestinian legislature in 2006. When that happened, the Bush Administration imposed sanctions on the people of Gaza and iced Hamas out of any diplomatic process. The policy was seamlessly carried over by the Obama Administration.
Today, the US continues to insist that Hamas meet three conditions before it can be part of negotiations: renounce violence; abide by past agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority; and recognize Israel.
Interestingly, Israel is not required to meet any of these conditions. Clearly, Israel has not renounced violence. Just a few months ago, its soldiers killed 960 civilians, including 288 children, in Gaza. Those Israelis who do renounce violence by refusing to do military service in the Occupied Territories are thrown in jail.
Neither has Israel honored past agreements with the Palestinians. By continuing to build illegal settlements on occupied territory, Israel has violated every diplomatic accord that it has signed with the Palestinian Authority. Remember the “Roadmap”? Annapolis? The Wye River Memorandum? How about the Oslo Accords, which promised Palestinians a state by 1999?
Indeed, just as Hamas has not recognized Israel, the Israeli government refuses to recognize an independent Palestinian state. In fact, right now, Hamas is closer than Israel to meeting Obama’s three conditions: at least it accepts the two-state solution. Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu does not.
If President Obama is serious about reinvigorating a peace process, he should end his double standard in the treatment of Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Rather than continue the failed policy of George Bush, Obama should be quoting the Israeli General Moshe Dayan: “If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.”
YIFAT SUSSKIND is Communications Director for MADRE. This op-ed was distributed by the American Forum.