A radical idea becomes conventional

In Ha’aretz this morning, eternal pundit Yoel Marcus comes out for including Hamas in peace negotiations:

Abbas and his buddies no longer reflect or represent the Palestinian reality of spring 2008.

…America must initiate and accept a change in the makeup of the Palestinian delegation, namely, the addition of a Hamas representative. This will allow the Israeli side to speak to those who are really running the Palestinian show today. Will Hamas want to? Will it say yes? That is the ultimate test of the Bush administration.

Marcus usually represents stolid, mildly left-of-center establishment thinking, as soporific as a Labor pol’s speech. For him to argue that Hamas must be included in talks indicates that the idea is moving from radical to conventional.

Other not terribly wild-eyed types have been voicing similar ideas. Ex-general Shlomo Brom of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, has been saying that Israel must conduct indirect negotiations with Hamas. Among the myriad ex-officers offering strategic advice, Brom is one of the few who speaks strategically: that is, judging whether military action will achieve a political end, and whether other means might be used.

National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer has called for releasing Marwan Barghouti, the leader of Fatah’s young guard, now serving five life terms in Israeli prison for murder. Ben-Eliezer, another ex-general, a man who pushes journalists to google antonyms for “charisma,” knows that Barghouti has a brutal past. He apparently also knows that Barghouti is the Fatah man most respected by Hamas, and that even from his cell Barghouti has stood behind efforts to create a Palestinian unity government. Talking to a unity government makes far more sense than negotiating separately with the Fatah enclave in the West Bank and the Hamas enclave in Gaza.

Not that such thinking has become an Israeli consensus. Hani Almasri, director of the Badael research center in Ramallah, told me recently that he’d spoken with Khaled Mashal, the head of Hamas’s political bureau in Damascus. Mashal said that Israel wanted Barghouti’s name removed from the list of Palestinian prisoners to be released in return for captive Israeli soldier.

Then again, Almasri suggested that “Maybe some of [Barghouti’s] brothers in Fatah want him to stay in prison.” Almasri said Mahmud Abbas isn’t among those “brothers,” that Abbas does want “Marwan” (always known by his first name) to be released. Whether the cause is Israeli timidity or Fatah infighting, the grand gesture tarries.

The right, and many generals, would like to solve the problem of Gaza with force. The most obvious hole in that plan, as one very nameless source told me, is called “exit strategy.”

There are all sorts of reasons to think talking to Hamas, or to a unity government, won’t work. We know how diplomatically paralyzed Israeli unity governments have been. Reliance on tanks and drones alone is working even less. When everything else fails, human beings consider peaceful solutions as a last resort. If the very well connected, very conventional Marcus is talking about this, it’s possible that some terribly unimaginative people who don’t speak on the record have also fallen back on the last resort.

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