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Will Hamas and Israel agree to direct negotiations?

There have been many conversations in the Palestinian arena regarding the concept of direct negotiations between Hamas and the Israeli occupation. This issue was raised after the latest attack on Gaza and such conversations have been reinforced by statements made by Dr Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of the Hamas political bureau.

Hamas’ ruling out of the possibility of engaging in direct negotiations with Israel has not limited the debate on the issue of negotiations. There are many visions regarding this, as some consider it to be political maturity for Hamas, although it was cheated by timing, while others have strongly attacked Hamas as they consider negotiations to be President Abbas’ issue and the option of Fatah. Some consider these negotiations to be a political balloon timed to move the Palestinian-Palestinian relations.

The context of direct negotiations

The fogginess of the Palestinian political scene and the lack of a unified vision regarding dealing with the attack on Gaza, including the consequences of the Egyptian initiative, the resistance’s rejection of its terms, and the subsequent management of the Cairo negotiations by one delegation, have all contributed to the realised voices calling for the need for direct negotiations between the resistance, led by Hamas, and the Israeli occupation.

This has been explained with the resistance’s entitlement to present its demands and lead its dialogues directly. The experience of the Libyan leader Omar Mukhtar with the Italian occupation has been used as an example to reflect the state of political chaos resulting from the failure to apply the reconciliation agreement last April, as well as the consequent dealer absence of the national unity government in Gaza and its unjustified failure in light of the recent aggression.

They have been voices raised due to the emotional and angry public, but this is not an intellectual development as much as it is a phrasal product reflected by the reality witnessed by Gaza, without studying the dimensions of taking the step of negotiations.

Dialogue with the strength of the occupier

There have been numerous experiences between Hamas and the Israeli occupation in terms of negotiations before the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. These negotiations included officials inside and outside prison, which came as a natural result of the reality of occupation. Licensing for various institutions and unions required meetings with occupation officials, but Hamas was not the sole negotiators. Instead, all the Palestinian factions dealt and negotiated with the occupation and the experiences even reached prisons, as the prisoners negotiated with their jailers. During these meetings, issues affecting the daily life of prisoners were addressed, but there are two specific experiences that present some of the political dimensions of negotiations processes. They are as follows:

The first of these experiences was the meeting between Dr Mahmoud Al-Zahar, a Hamas leader, and Shimon Peres in the 1980’s. Al-Zahar was forcefully brought to the meeting and the meeting addressed the issue of finding a solution in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The second experiences was held inside prisons and coincided with the signing of the Oslo Accords. This meeting was between the prison administration and Hamas leaders and was regarding Hamas prisoners signing an agreement to renounce violence and respect the peace agreements in exchange for their release from prison.

Many meetings were held in a similar manner, with no political content to base a long-term vision on. Hamas, as well as other groups and the general public, were forced in by virtue of the occupation’s strength on the ground.

The Shalit experience

The actions of the Shalit deal were a result of direct negotiations between Ghazi Hamad, the undersecretary of the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Gershon Baskin, an Israeli journalist close to Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. These negotiations quickly collided with the positions of Hamas’ military leadership, which sent Hamad with a number of messages that can be summarised as no direct dialogue with Israel. The negotiations were then completed in Cairo via an Egyptian mediator after the failure of the German mediator to make the deal.

Despite the fact that the “Hamad-Baskin” channel remained open on various levels, it has remained limited in its effect because it is a journalistic relationship that cannot make a qualitative breakthrough in direct negotiations between Hamas and Israel.

The Shalit deal leads us to enhance our vision towards Hamas’ rejection of direct negotiations. If the goal is to achieve certain issues, the deal achieved the aspirations of the resistance. Relations between Hamas and the Egyptian mediator may play a more influential role on the course of events, but the cumulative experience since 2003 and as of this moment leads us to one conclusion; the aspirations of the resistance can be achieved by means of mediators without resorting to direct dialogue.

But why won’t Hamas accept direct negotiations?

There are obstacles that require Hamas to remain rigid and firm against direct negotiations with Israel, resulting from Hamas’ positions of rejecting the PLO’s negotiations with Israel. These positions include:

  1. Direct negotiations with the occupation would mean recognising its existence. The Palestinian situation is contradictory with the historical experiences in this regard. The main problem between Hamas and the occupation is the issue of existence, both sides establishing their existential projects on the basis of the elimination of the other.
  2. The PLO’s experience with the occupation is turbulent and contributed to Israel getting its security demands and its settlement expansion, This was also boosted by the mutual recognition document between the PLO and Israel in which the PLO recognised the existence of Israel on 78 per cent of Palestinian historical land in exchange for the recognition of the PLO without determining any borders or geographic matters for it.
  3. The stereotype and mental image drawn in the minds of the Palestinian and Arab people regarding the absurdity and futility of the negotiations as well as their lack of trust in the Palestinian negotiator.
  4. The public discourse inciting against the negotiations and the mistrust of its results, labelling them as security coordination, without communicating with the popular base and explaining the reasons behind such labels limits Hamas’s ability of making political manoeuvres.

These obstacles complicate the mission of any team pushing for direct negotiations and confirm that any qualitative transformation requires efforts made to change the performance of Hamas’ platform and its political approach.

It also causes some to question whether or not Hamas will accept or reject direct negotiations, which also raises the same question at the level of the Israeli front.

Israel forced recognition of its existence after imposing it through military force and international support, as well as fighting strenuous wars in which it was victorious over the Arabs. It signed three peace agreements; one with Egypt in 1979, one with the PLO in 1993 and one with Jordan in 1994 and it received an implied recognition after the proposal of the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002.

This information explains Israel’s rejection of any direct negotiations, as its experience with Hamas reflects a resistance that continues to grow and develop its capabilities and potential after every blow it is dealt. The arrests, assassinations, and three wars have not succeeded in changing the ideology of the resistance and therefore, Israel will not seek any direct negotiations with the resistance until it obtains recognition from the Arab Islamists.

There is also a belief amongst the Israelis that Hamas will not change its approach of mass mobilisation and incitement against Israel, as the Hamas educational curriculum has made no changes since its establishment and its slogans have remained the same. In addition to this, the ideological dimension of the conflict has remained one of its most important educational pillars, and despite the political flexibility shown by the movement at times, such as when Sheikh Ahmed Yassin offered a 10 year truce in 1998, it has never changed its anti-Israel rhetoric.

The Israeli position towards Hamas requires two things according to Israel:

First, a fundamental change in the education amongst Hamas’ ranks that produces a generation that believes in Israel’s right to exist.

Second, a change in the balance of power that will guarantee that Hamas will achieve military victories on the ground that go beyond the borders of the Gaza Strip and will force Israel to sit at the same negotiating table as Hamas. Otherwise, Israel will continue to reject direct negotiations with Hamas, although there have been some attempts that have remained unofficial because Israel continues to consider Hamas a terrorist movement.

In conclusion, the experience of Omar Mukhtar with the Italians did not suffer the problem of recognising Italy, as he did not have a problem with the Italians or the Italian state within its geographical borders. Moreover, the Vietnamese rebels negotiated with the Americans in France, and America possesses a sovereign state outside Vietnam. There are several experiences and examples of occupiers and the occupied, but the Palestinian and Arab case represents an unprecedented model in modern history. Israel is established on the land of the Palestinians and has occupied the first Qibla of the Muslim people, and there is also an existential and ideological dimension that needs to be taken into consideration when dealing with Israel in light of a popular environment that renounces its existence.

This scene in itself reins in those who think of negotiating directly with Israel. Instantaneous actions are nothing more than emotional moments that arise from any situation that may harm the essence of the conflict. This is the case regarding the reconciliation agreements between Fatah and Hamas; every time they fail, we search for an alternative.

Perhaps there are no legitimate dangers that prevent direct negotiations with Israel, but I do not believe that there will be a change in Hamas’ political approach towards Israel anytime soon. The current statements are merely political balloons being let loose towards the internal arena, and political maturity is not linked to accepting direct negotiations as long as a mediator accepted by both sides is available.

With the improved relations between Egypt and Hamas, the opposition front against direct negotiations will strengthen as long as the indirect negotiations are achieving their goals. This does not mean that there are no discussions within Hamas regarding the idea of direct negotiations, but I do not believe this idea will gain a large acceptance in light of previous experiences.

Although the negotiations are being held between enemies, Israel has adopted the method of procrastination and stalling in order for it to break the barrier of hostility between it and the other side. Therefore, Hamas is required to improve its relations with its neighbours that support the movements and who may contribute to the perseverance of the resistance and its development while benefitting from the Palestinian energies abroad in order for them to act as a pillar on which the liberation project can rely.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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