An Exchange with Uri Avneri

Mousa Abu Marzook’s positive comment that Hamas welcomes dialogue seems to apply only to external political figures and journalists, not the Israeli peace camp (Comment, August 16). This is in contrast to the PLO, which assiduously cultivated first non-Zionist, then Zionist adherents of the Israeli left. A year ago Gush Shalom predicted an imminent meeting between the broad Israeli peace camp and the Hamas leadership – this has yet to take place. Does non-recognition of Israel extend to non-recognition of the Israeli peace camp?In September 2006 the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, said he would not head a government of national unity if it recognised Israel. In view of the attempt by Hamas to heal the rift with Fatah, is this still the position today? Is non-recognition of Israel more important than Palestinian unity? While Hamas still calls for a five- or 10-year hudna (long-term truce), it has yet to call for a suhl (a genuine peace). This distinction was made in 1993 by Hamas’s founder, Sheikh Yassin, because he did not want to permanently surrender parts of Palestine to the Jews.

Just as the vote for Blair in 2005 did not signify support for the Iraq war, the election of Hamas was due to Palestinian anger at the policies of the Sharon government and the incompetence of Arafat’s regime, rather than an endorsement of an Islamist programme. Palestinian opinion polls have consistently shown a desire for a fair settlement based on the right of national self-determination of both peoples. While there is much to criticise in Sharon’s legacy to the Israelis, Hamas seems to be unable to overcome its ideological rigidity.

Dr Colin Shindler
SOAS, University of London

Guardian 17 August 2007
In his letter (August 17), Dr Colin Shindler mentions that Gush Shalom, the Israeli peace movement in which I am active, predicted that the “broad Israeli peace movement” would conduct talks with Hamas, yet “this has yet to take place”. This could mean either that we broke our promise, or that Hamas refused to talk with us. Not so. After the election victory of Hamas, I met one of their outstanding leaders, Muhammad Abu-Ter, when we were tear-gassed together in a demonstration against the separation wall. He invited me to his home in East Jerusalem, where we met several times publicly. Several of his colleagues took part.Abu-Ter and all the other Hamas leaders who participated in these talks were soon after arrested by the Israeli police and are still in prison. We protested in front of the military court during the proceedings. Since the Gaza Strip is hermetically closed, there is no way we could possibly meet with other Hamas leaders. We believe that it is absolutely essential to talk with Hamas – for the good of Israel, Palestine and peace.

Uri Avnery
Gush Shalom, Tel Aviv

Guardian 21 August 2007
Uri Avnery (Letters, August 21) doesn’t seem to recognise that there is a profound difference between meeting a Hamas representative in East Jerusalem and meeting its collective leadership in Gaza. Following his initiated meeting with Muhammad Abu-Ter, Avnery’s own spokesman for Gush Shalom, Adam Keller, commented in May 2006 that he expected “a large delegation of the Israeli peace movement” would meet with the Hamas leadership. Avnery courageously met Arafat during the war in Lebanon in 1982. Why was there no meeting with Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh in the year before the Hamas takeover in Gaza when access was possible? Wouldn’t such a demonstrative meeting have supported Hamas’s campaign against the sanctions imposed by the Bush administration and the Europeans? There were also opportunities for a publicised meeting outside the Middle East. This too never took place.Avnery’s unconditional approach does not seem to be reciprocated by the Hamas leadership, which maintains the rigidity of its ideological stand. Unlike Avnery, most of the Israeli peace camp has severe reservations about Hamas’s Islamist agenda. In addition, Hamas seemingly sets its face against an open display of embracing broad representative groups such as Peace Now, since this would imply a normalisation of relations with Israelis, even though it might be a step towards peace. The inference is that non-recognition of Israel is not a short-term measure to secure an end to the occupation, but something far more fundamental.

Dr Colin Shindler
Soas, University of London

Guardian 22 August 2007

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