UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

March 9, 2009

HAMAS PEACE EFFORTS REJECTED BY OLMERT

Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam - Sol Salbe brings word of a news report from Israel's Galey Tzahal (Army Radio) about a fractious Israel cabinet meeting at which Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak went at each other hammer and tong about the current Palestinian rocket attacks. Here is Sol's translation of the key excerpt:

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A sharp confrontation has taken place around the table at the full Ministry meeting. Discussing the subject of the continual firing of rockets from Gaza. . . Defence Minister [Barak] explained to his colleagues that negotiations are being conducted to ensure an arrangement with Hamas with Egypt acting as the intermediary. He was interrupted by the prime minister who said: "There are no negotiations. Israel does not intend to arrange a "calm" with that organization."

The Defence Minister responded that the firing of the rockets would have stopped had Israel accepted the calm.

"What the Defence Minister proposes proves that there was no value to the whole Cast Lead Operation. You are suggesting that now that we have smashed Hamas, we should accept the conditions that they offered to us before the operation," said the prime minister.

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What Barak and Olmert appear to agree on (though coming at it from different vantage points and for opposite political purposes) is that Hamas presented terms for a ceasefire that could have averted Operation Cast Lead. Barak appears to have either proposed accepting the terms or at least limiting the Operation's duration once Israel decided to reject them.

Hamas' willingness, even eagerness to extend the ceasefire is confirmed by [an] eye-opening Guardian story which reveals that Israeli peace activist, Gershon Baskin relayed peace proposals at least three times between Hamas and an unspecified member of Olmert's family (his daughter, Dana, demonstrated outside the IDF chief of staff's home against the 2006 Lebanon war). The proposals were conveyed to Olmert, who promptly rejected them.

Clearly, it is Olmert who has an ax to grind against Hamas and any serious negotiation with the group. It seems inexplicable to me that he would deny, before his entire cabinet, that there are talks with Hamas when everyone in the room knows that there are. . .

Guardian, UK - Hamas, the militant Palestinian organization, attempted to conduct secret talks with the Israeli leadership in the protracted run-up to the recent war in Gaza - with messages being passed from the group at one stage through a member of prime minister Ehud Olmert's family.

Confirmation of attempts to establish a direct line of communication between Hamas and Israel - and the willingness of senior figures in Hamas to contemplate direct negotiations - fundamentally alters the narrative of the build-up to the war in Gaza which claimed more than 1,300 Palestinian lives and led to about a dozen Israeli deaths.

Most remarkable is the story of the involvement of a member of the prime minister's family in the passing of messages to Olmert about the case of the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Although the Observer is aware of the identity of the family member and full details of the role played, it has agreed to protect anonymity. Gershon Baskin, a veteran Israel peace activist, was at the centre of attempts to open negotiations. Baskin was in touch with senior members of Hamas, Israeli officials and Olmert, via the member of his family. . .

Baskin, who has a long background in encouraging Israeli-Palestinian contacts, believes that the failure to pursue the overtures was a lost opportunity that contributed to the outbreak of conflict.

"Three times since Shalit's kidnapping [in June 2006 during a cross border raid out of Gaza] there has been the suggestion of opening a back channel through me. The first time that Hamas suggested to me opening a secret back channel was not long after Shalit's kidnapping."

According to Baskin, that offer was immediately rejected by the office of Olmert who said Israel did not negotiate with terrorists.


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