Time to negotiate with Israel, says Hamas journalist
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Time to negotiate with Israel, says Hamas journalist

Mustafa Sawwaf claims Gaza group has left Palestinian cause at a nadir; Hamas not a partner, says incoming Israeli Foreign Ministry chief

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Gaza journalist Mustafa Sawwaf at a Hamas rally in 2011 (Mustafa Sawwaf Facebook page)
Gaza journalist Mustafa Sawwaf at a Hamas rally in 2011 (Mustafa Sawwaf Facebook page)

Hamas should realize its regional weakness and engage directly with Israel, a Gaza-based journalist close to the Islamic movement argued in an article last week.

In an opinion piece published by the Hamas daily al-Resalah on May 25, and titled “Why should there be no negotiations?” Mustafa Sawwaf, who writes a weekly column with the movement’s daily Falasteen, said that Hamas should learn from Fatah and adapt to the changing circumstances in relation to Israel.

“Will the day ever come when we shall see you sitting at the negotiating table with Israel to discuss [our] rights and principles, given the realistic logic of ‘something is better than nothing?'” wondered Sawwaf. “Or will you capitulate to the schemes of our enemies, who will continue their pressure until you wave the white flag and give in to all their demands and end up recognizing Israel’s right to exist?”

Hamas refuses to recognize Israel, calling for its replacement with a Palestinian state spanning from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, according to its 1988 founding charter. The Islamic movement’s publications often do not refer to Israel by name, instead dubbing it “the Zionist entity.”

Israel and many Western countries consider Hamas a terror group for intentionally targeting Israeli civilians in suicide attacks during the 1990s and 2000s, and, more recently, for firing rockets at population centers in southern and central Israel.

According to Sawwaf, the Islamic movement’s unwillingness to acknowledge the balance of power between itself and Israel has brought “the Palestinian cause” to the low it is currently experiencing.

“Is negotiating with Israel prohibited under Islamic law, or is it permissible when realizing [Palestinian] public interests? I am not referring to negotiations on principles and rights, but to the realization of mutual interests. Negotiations on a ceasefire followed by an agreement, negotiations on the release of prisoners followed by an agreement, or negotiations on lifting the blockade and establishing a naval passageway so that no one can overpower our people,” he wrote.

“If negotiations are to realize public interests without recognizing the enemy or conceding to it, why the fear, even from direct negotiations with the Israeli occupation?”

Sawwaf’s closeness to the Hamas leadership could be seen on his Facebook wall, where in March he thanked former Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and other party officials for attending a ceremony honoring his son. A photo posted in December 2011 shows him attending a Hamas rally, wearing a party green baseball cap.

Gaza-based journalist Mustafa Sawwaf shakes hands with former Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh in March 2015 (Mustafa Sawwaf Facebook page)
Gaza-based journalist Mustafa Sawwaf (right) shakes hands with former Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, March 2015 (Mustafa Sawwaf Facebook page)

Sawwaf was not the only Hamas associate to recently advocate for rethinking the movement’s relationship with Israel. In January, Hamas official Ghazi Hamad published an opinion piece criticizing his movement for its uncompromising strategy of armed struggle, though he fell short of calling for direct talks with Israel.

According to Jordanian establishment daily al-Dustour, however, such direct talks over tactical issues are already taking place both in Israel and in Europe — a claim denied by an unnamed Israeli spokesman speaking to The Times of Israel.

Indirect talks did, however, take place between Hamas and the Jewish state through Egyptian mediators following recent rounds of violence, and in order to secure the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Sawwaf did not respond to a request by The Times of Israel for comment.

Last year’s deadly 50-day war in and around Gaza claimed the lives of more than 2,200 Palestinians, according to Palestinian tallies. Israel, which lost 73 people in the conflict, 66 of them soldiers, contends that about half of the casualties in Gaza were combatants, while Palestinians say most were civilians.

Israeli officials have rarely indicated willingness to enter direct talks with Hamas. On Monday, a long-time foreign policy adviser of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated that stance.

Dore Gold, then Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, speaks with reporters at Chesapeake College Monday, October 19, 1998, in Wye Mills, Maryland (AP Photo/Khue Bui/File)
Dore Gold, then Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, speaks with reporters at Chesapeake College Monday, October 19, 1998, in Wye Mills, Maryland (AP Photo/Khue Bui/File)

“There is no question that Hamas is part of the jihadist universe,” said Dore Gold, incoming director general of the Foreign Ministry and former ambassador to the United Nations.

“It is not a candidate to become a political partner,” he told journalists as his conservative think-tank, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, unveiled a study of the 2014 war in Gaza, where Hamas is the de facto power.

Gold was named to the Foreign Ministry post last week by Netanyahu, who has retained the ministerial portfolio himself.

Last week, however, President Reuven Rivlin appeared to challenge a longstanding taboo on talks with Hamas, saying he would talk to anyone.

“It is really not important to me with whom I speak, but rather about what we are speaking,” he said, asked his opinion about talking with the group.

“I have no aversion to holding negotiations with anyone who is prepared to negotiate with me,” he said.

“Hamas has been rigidly ideological and refuses to jettison the Hamas charter and its ideological positions,” Gold said, referring to its founding document which is committed to Israel’s destruction and rejects the idea of peace talks.

“I don’t see them as being a candidate for real diplomacy in the future,” he said.

AFP contributed to this report.

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