There’s a long-standing narrative, made prominent again over the past few weeks, that Israel cannot work with Hamas, cannot legitimize or recognize them in any way, because Hamas has repeated stated that its goal is the destruction of Israel. This is written in the Hamas charter and has never been revised or repudiated.
Thus, it’s taken as a given amongst those who support Israel that there’s nothing to be done as long as Hamas remains in control in Gaza and that Palestinians who support Hamas do so because they support Israel’s destruction. All that Israel can do, it seems, is to continue its blockade and oppose any efforts by Palestinians to bring Hamas into a unity government with Fatah. Hamas, Israeli politicians and their supporters claim, represents an existential threat to Israel and, as such, cannot even be considered a potential partner for peace until it formally rejects its long-standing opposition to Israel.
When did Israel become so uncharacteristically rigid in its thinking?
Let’s be honest: It’s not like Hamas is the first group to pose an existential threat to Israel. The PLO did so before Hamas, as did numerous countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The organizations and states actively sought Israel’s destruction for decades. Egypt and Jordan, for example, are neighboring states with fully-functioning militaries that formally declared war on Israel several times throughout the country’s history. And yet Israel made peace with both countries. Those peace agreements were very difficult and very costly for everyone involved, but they’ve endured for decades now. And the PLO/Fatah provides a model for normalizing relations between Israel and representatives of a dispossessed people who advocated armed struggle against Israel. The Oslo process hasn’t exactly lived up to its promise, but there remains an opportunity for representatives from Israel and the Palestinian Authority to negotiate together rather than to bomb one another.
Years ago, the PLO, Egypt, and Jordan were seen as existential threats and then one day they weren’t. One day their leaders viewed Israel as completely illegitimate and promised its destruction; the next day, they were sitting down to negotiate with Israeli diplomats. Obviously this is an oversimplification; it took a lot of back-channel negotiation, commitments from third parties, and — most of all — it took courage from politicians on both sides to see one another (and the situation as a whole) in a different light. But, importantly, it also took Israelis saying to themselves, “Peace is more important to us than anything else. Maintaining a constant war footing is bad for us, so maybe we can find a way to talk to these people who keep saying they want to kill us and maybe they’ll stop wanting to kill us.” This takes courage and it takes will and it takes creativity.
So, I guess what I’m saying is, this whole thing about Hamas representing a credible existential threat to Israel is just laziness. Israel found a way to negotiate with people who were better equipped to carry out their threats in the past. I can’t imagine anyone today actually believes that Hamas is ever going to succeed in destroying Israel, so then this is just a more palatable way of saying, “We’re just not willing to think very hard about how to make peace with the Palestinians.” Or worse, “It’s better for us not to make peace, actually.”