Owing to my previous post about Roger Cohen’s recent Iran columns, I feel obliged to make clear that his column this morning is way beyond anything I’m comfortable with. Cohen today advocates talking with not only Hezbollah and Iran, but Hamas, without preconditions beyond renouncing violence–not even recognizing Israel. Okay, that’s a tactical call and plenty of Israelis have called for the same thing. (And it’s inevitable: At a recent lecture at Northwestern, Prof. Elie Rekhess made multiple Freudian slips in referring to Israel’s refusal to talk to “the PLO.” Elie laughed about it each time it happened, pointing out that Israel has previously been in the position of refusing to talk to a potential negotiating partner on principle, only to ultimately negotiate.)
But what’s really difficult is this part of the column:
One view of Israel’s continued expansion of settlements, Gaza blockade, West Bank walling-in and wanton recourse to high-tech force would be that it’s designed precisely to bludgeon, undermine and humiliate the Palestinian people until their dreams of statehood and dignity evaporate.
The argument over recognition is in the end a form of evasion designed to perpetuate the conflict.
Israel, from the time of Ben Gurion, built its state by creating facts on the ground, not through semantics. Many of its leaders, including Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, have been on wondrous political odysseys from absolutist rejection of division of the land to acceptance of a two-state solution. Yet they try to paint Hamas as irrevocably absolutist. Why should Arabs be any less pragmatic than Jews?
Of course it’s desirable that Hamas recognize Israel before negotiations. But is it essential? No. What is essential is that it renounces violence, in tandem with Israel, and the inculcation of hatred that feeds the violence.
Speaking of violence, it’s worth recalling what Israel did in Gaza in response to sporadic Hamas rockets. It killed upward of 1,300 people, many of them women and children; caused damage estimated at $1.9 billion; and destroyed thousands of Gaza homes. It continues a radicalizing blockade on 1.5 million people squeezed into a narrow strip of land.
At this vast human, material and moral price, Israel achieved almost nothing beyond damage to its image throughout the world. Israel has the right to hit back when attacked, but any response should be proportional and governed by sober political calculation. The Gaza war was a travesty; I have never previously felt so shamed by Israel’s actions.
Yes, that’s a read. But it utterly fails to take into account Israel’s good-faith negotiations with the PLO and its withdrawal from Gaza, or the fact that there is a good deal of diplomatic activity taking place in the wake of the Gaza offensive. (Do bear in mind, however, that I agree that Israel did more harm than good to its own cause in the Gaza war.) Furthermore, it doesn’t address the serious dilemmas presented by Hamas. I agree with realpolitik up to a point, but diplomacy can’t abandon all sense of principle. Don’t official statements mean anything? The Israeli government has, for fifteen years, officially worked for a two-state solution and negotiated for it. Hamas rejects a two-state solution. Who are the moderates here?