So finally we can all stop pretending. Israel does negotiate with terrorists, albeit indirectly.
The deal hammered out with Hamas this week — in which neither side got quite what it had wanted — was always the only realistic way Israel had of stopping the rocket-fire from Gaza.
Of course, both the blockade of the Strip and the operations the IDF has carried out over the last year strengthened Jerusalem’s hand in these negotiations. But the only other alternative would have been a full-scale, scorched-earth military operation in Gaza.
Not only would this have resulted in a heavy loss of life on both sides and been ruinous for Israel’s international image, but it was also strenuously opposed by Israel’s military echelons, not to mention the Americans.
But agreeing a ceasefire is very different from direct negotiations over a peace agreement. Few have any great hopes for the durability of this truce. And while Israel has shown how weakened Hamas has been by the blockade on Gaza, this agreement also shows Hamas’s strength politically and practically. International leaders might be happy to stage a grip’n’grin with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but the Islamist group is the address which can deliver the ceasefire. No wonder Abbas is due to head to Gaza for his first direct talks with Hamas leaders there since their coup a year ago.
Hamas did not get Israel to agree to a cessation of activities in the West Bank, highlighting the limits of its power. Israel has not yet reached an agreement over the return of captured soldier Gilad Shalit, although that is near.
And yet, after a long time of apparent diplomatic stalemate, Israel is now simultaneously pursuing talks on varying levels with Hamas, Hizbollah, Syria and the PA. No-one should be under any illusion that peace is on the verge of breaking out; but talking on four fronts is better than fighting on them.