The value of talking to Hamas

Gershon Baskin, a columnist for the Jerusalem Post and founder and co-director of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, describes his role in securing the release of Gilad Shalit. But suppose a Post colleague of his such as Caroline Glick had been given the same opportunity. For the sake of upholding the “principle,” we don’t talk to terrorists, Shalit would still remain captive.

Three days after Gilad was abducted in an attack inside Israel, on sovereign Israeli territory, I was contacted by a Professor “M.,” a professor of economics from a Gaza university, a member of Hamas whom I had met six months before at a conference in Cairo.

He was the first person from Hamas I had ever met, and I was the first Israeli he ever spoke to. We spent more than six hours in dialogue during that conference. For me, it was like a time warp – his words sounded like conversations I had with PLO people 25 years ago.

In 1976, I met the PLO ambassador to the UN. I wanted to convince him to recognize Israel and support the two states for two peoples solution to the conflict. The PLO Ambassador responded: Over my dead body. Jews in Israel must go back from where they came and Palestine must exist from the River to the Sea.

I supported the Quartet conditions for talking to Hamas after the Palestinian elections of January 2006. I believe that official contacts between Israel and other governments and Hamas should stand on the three principles adopted that Hamas must recognize Israel, it must adhere to previous international agreements (meaning Oslo) and it must denounce terrorism and violence. I think it is completely reasonable that these demands were made and that they were steadfastly adhered to.

With regards to civil society, from which I come, there is a completely different set of rules. I have always guided my talks with Arabs over the past 30 years by two principles: I don’t enter into arguments about my (national) right to exist, for me there is no question about it; and I am willing to talk to anyone who is willing to talk to me.

When Professor M. approached me to speak with him in Cairo in December 2005, I gladly accepted.

When three days after the abduction of Gilad Schalit Prof. M. called me and said: “Gershon, we are being bombed, we have no electricity, no water and our lives are in constant danger, we have to do something,” I gladly accepted the challenge to try to do something that would bring Schalit home and end the reason for the Israeli attack in Gaza.

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