Why Isn’t Israel Talking to Hamas?

Protected by the Israeli Army as well as US policy? Jewish settlers march to the evacuated settlement of Homesh near Jenin with the intent of resettling it, 26 March 2007. (Anat Zakai/MaanImages)

The blinkered government of Israel continues to undermine normalcy in Palestine and the peace process as the world is slowly but surely reaching out to initiate a dialogue with a new unity government of Palestine still dominated by the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas). It is painfully obvious that Israel is no longer interested in a peace process leading to a two-state solution, and in any event won’t make a move in that direction without a push from the US.

The Norwegian Undersecretary of State Raymond Johansen met with Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister on March 18 and indicated that Norway would resume aid to the Palestinians more than a year after efforts by Israel and the United States blocked all aid going to the Palestinian government. In retaliation, the Israelis canceled his meetings with their top officials.

Undeterred, Norway reiterated that it will proceed with a resumption of aid. Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority Finance Minister said in Oslo April 18, “What remains now to happen is for us to restore the capacity to receive funds … That is contingent on the banking restrictions being removed. When that happens … Palestine will be ready for business and I expect hopefully that this issue will be resolved very soon.”

A few days earlier, Fayyad was in Washington, and called on the State Department “in a private capacity,” visiting David Welch, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Condoleezza Rice just happened to drop in during the course of the meeting, but details of what was said were not disclosed, nor even that it represented an official meeting.

There have also been contacts with the European Union, a number of European countries, and Turkey, as a consensus seems to be building that the status quo established last year is no longer acceptable in global humanitarian terms.

Some commentators have said Secretary Rice’s brief meeting with Fayyad represents a new turning point in US-Palestinian relations. But if so, it is a long time in coming. Even pundit Robert Novak visited Ramallah in April to speak with Nasir al-Din al-Sha’ir, the Hamas deputy prime minister and minister of education, who had just been released from an Israeli jail. Novak not only found him reasonable, but he also discovered that his colleague in the PA government, Fayyad, lived in Washington for 20 years working at the World Bank — so he must be worth talking to.

The hypocrisy in Washington is palpable. On the one hand, government officials and Congressional representatives refuse to meet with Hamas representatives because the party has not recognized Israel, while on the other they ignore Avigdor Lieberman’s appointment as deputy prime minister of Israel, a man who promotes expelling the Palestinians from their homes in Israel proper. Outside the now discarded Oslo accord, has Israel ever recognized the Palestinians right to live in Palestine?

Then again, on the one hand, the US government demands that Hamas renounce terrorism, while on the other they allow US foreign aid be used to build the separation wall and US private individuals to fund settlements on the West Bank. As disclosed in the New York Times on April 21, a “wealthy American” provided the funds to purchase a Palestinian house in the flashpoint Hebron, the legality of which is hotly disputed by the Palestinians.

The settlers brazenly solicit private funding from the US for notorious Jewish colonies such as Kiryat Arba near Hebron without US government interference. Who can pretend this is not subsiding terror in the Palestinian territories where settler attacks are commonplace?

Moreover, evangelicals are also being allowed to raise funds for Jewish settlements, such as Ariel. William J. Murray, the son of the atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair and an evangelical convert, heads the Religious Freedom Coalition that raises funds for the Jewish colonies. His organization’s website recently disclosed, “On Monday I will attend a fund raising dinner in Florida for the Jewish settlement of Ariel in Samaria.”

The blurring of lines between legal and illegal foreign aid has been made clear for several years. As the Institute for Research: Middle East Policy pointed out last year, “Israeli government officials disclosed in August of 2005 that at least US$ 60 billion has been spent financing illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. According to Israeli prosecutor Talia Sasson, the Israeli government has systematically violated its own laws by financing settlements from foreign donations, the official state budget, and secret military accounts. One global nonprofit, the World Zionist Organization, played a central role in coordinating illegal settlement activities.”

Why are American taxpayer dollars supporting the Israeli army to protect the colonizers of the West Bank? Why are the settlers, who have taken land, houses, and groves from the Palestinians, not called terrorists? If we talk with Israelis, why don’t we insist Israeli officials talk to the elected representatives of the Palestinians?

Terry Walz is a staff member at the Council for the National Interest.