Daily Israel Report

Israel Will Find It More Difficult to Justify Ban on Hamas

The Shalit deal is a diplomatic disaster. It revives the Hamas which is being compared to the now accepted IRA.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 10/18/2011, 4:37 PM

The British Telegraph has been comparably favorable to Israel but a perusal of its extensive coverage on the ransom paid for Gilad Shalit to the Hamas should help to illustrate the international pitfalls generated by the Israeli government's decision .

One notion that will be hard to dispel is that if Israel could reach a deal with Hamas over Shalit, it means that an organization dedicated to Israel's extermination is essentially pragmatic and open to hardheaded bargaining. The fact that a German mediator was employed does not effectively sanitize the fact that Israel negotiated with terrorists who now deserve a status upgrade. This is essentially the opinion of the paper's foreign editor Con Coughlin.


Shalit's release breaks one of the great taboos of the Arab-Israeli conflict – that it is not possible for Israel to negotiate with Hamas. For many years successive Israeli governments have refused to deal with Hamas on the grounds that the organisation refuses to acknowledge the Jewish state's right to exist. It is a mantra that is constantly repeated by Israel's current prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu.

But now we know the truth –  that when it is in Israel's interest to do so, it can deal with Hamas – then perhaps now would be a good time for Israel to drop its long-standing refusal to deal with Hamas and have a far more important conversation about ending decades of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. 

Given the tendency for people to situate foreign events in a familiar context, we are seeing yet again an attempt to equate Hamas with the IRA and viewing the deal as a Good Friday Agreement (that ended the fighting in Northern Ireland) in embryo. Mary Riddel latched on to the interview that Shalit was forced to give to Egyptian television where he expressed the hope for the release of all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

"But today, the human conditions for a settlement are moving into place. Just as the release of IRA prisoners proved a necessary precursor to peace in Ireland, so the elation shared by Israelis and Palestinians may do more than any summitry to advance a better tomorrow.
Gilad Shalit has been a fine ambassador for peace and for Israel. His government should follow suit."

The IRA was once considered beyond the pale and now it is a legitimate negotiating partner and even a member of the Northern Ireland government in Stormont. The same could hold true for Hamas.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moo,  employing the exquisite evenhandedness of his organization, channeled the same message. "Shalit's release, should be beneficial for the Middle East peace process," Ban told Reuters at the end of a three-day trip to Switzerland.

"I am very encouraged by the prisoner exchange today after many many years of negotiation. The United Nations has been calling for (an end to) the unacceptable detention of Gilad Shalit and also the release of all Palestinians whose human rights have been abused all the time."

It is difficult to fault foreign commentators and statesmen when Israel itself can supply its useful idiots. MK Dr. Nahman Shai of Kadima, the man who achieved immortality during the first Gulf War by advising Israelis sitting in shelters to drink a glass of water, made the same argument. The "successful" Shalit exchange should be followed up by Israel's leaders, whom Shai advises to rethink Israel's traditional position on Hamas as well as on the Gaza blockade.

"With Gilad Shalit's return home, Israel needs to weigh the possibility that relations with Hamas may be open to change…the blockade on Gaza was, in a significant way, dictated by Gilad's abduction and captivity."

Israeli spokespersons scrambled to explain that the blockade began prior to the abduction and was calculated to prevent a Hamas arms buildup that could threaten Israel's civilians.

Following the deal with "pragmatic" Hamas, their job has become that much more difficult.