One of the professional hazards of columnists is that between the time they submit their piece to the paper and the time it is published, the premises or the reality on which they had based their arguments might have changed, making their column obsolete.
Here was I, for example, writing in my last column that the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas was not only a risk, but maybe an opportunity as well. Hardly was this column published, and three Israelis were abducted, probably by Hamas. Readers didn’t spare me their sarcastic comments: Is this the kind of people you wish to have as partners?
It had happened to me before, some 20 years ago, when as a spokesman of the Israeli government under Yitzhak Rabin, I stood in front of the television cameras and in no uncertain terms told the world that Israel will never negotiate with the PLO, because it was a terrorist organization.
I didn’t have a clue (and nor did any of my colleagues) that as we spoke, representatives of the government of Israel were secretly negotiating in Oslo a peace accord with representatives of the PLO.
Imagine my embarrassment in August 1993, when the startling news broke out, and I had to face the same reporters again, this time explaining with the same unfaltering certainty why the PLO suddenly became kosher, because it had renounced terrorism and recognized Israel. Luckily for me, my personal embarrassment was swamped in the general delirium following the historic Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation.
So back then I was wrong, because I didn’t believe the PLO leopard would ever change its spots. But it did. Maybe today I am wrong again, this time assuming that the Hamas might change, except that it didn’t, clinging instead to its vicious method of kidnapping Israeli civilians?
One lesson I learned for sure, and that is not to jump to hasty conclusions. Served me well in the summer of 2006, when everyone criticized the performance of the IDF in the Second Lebanon War. Israel, as the conventional wisdom went, allegedly failed to destroy Hezbollah, or even to deter it.
I begged to differ, and in a column I wrote for JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) immediately after the war, I said that “(w)e don't have a Six-Day War here, with Arab armies entirely defeated in a matter of hours, or an Entebbe raid, where a problem is swiftly and neatly solved. Israel didn't score a knockout, as its leaders rashly promised at the outset of the war, but it definitely won a victory by points.” Moreover, I cautioned the pundits that the results of the war should only be assessed over time.
Eight years have passed, and our border with Lebanon is extremely quiet. To the best of my knowledge, Sheikh Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, doesn’t dare leave the bunker he has been hiding in since the war. Indeed, Hezbollah has rearmed itself, and maybe another round will be inevitable, but eight years of calm are not something to play down in our troublesome area.
Furthermore, Hezbollah was sucked into the bloody struggle in Syria, fighting for Assad, thus not only losing many of its best fighters, but also raising the wrath and the contempt of many in the Arab world. Lebanon itself, which has been struggling to recover from the war with Israel imposed on her by Hezbollah in 2006, is now agonizing under the burden of thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled from their butcher dictator, the ally of Hezbollah.
In November 2013 Nasrallah declared that Hezbollah fighters had been sent to the neighboring country “to defend Lebanon, Palestine and Syria.” However, many in Lebanon today ridicule his boast of being “the defender of Lebanon,” and blame him for the new miseries inflicted on the country.
Nasrallah may occasionally issue rhetorical threats against Israel, but he is bogged down in Syria, mired in the impossible politics of Lebanon, and, above all, he is being identified by fellow Lebanese as the source of their troubles. Surely, he will never become a lover of Zion, but his own conduct has limited his freedom of action against Israel.
Armed with these insights, I turn back to my last column, in which I suggested that maybe the PLO will drag Hamas closer to its position of accepting Israel as an accomplished fact.
Assuming that it was Hamas that abducted the three Israeli boys, this puts the organization in a precarious situation. Already pressed by the Egyptians from the west and by the Israelis from the east, and having trouble feeding the Gazans, the abduction invoked an unprecedented condemnation of Hamas by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
If in the past, Israelis were complaining that Palestinian leaders spoke one way in English and another in Arabic, this time Abbas attacked the kidnapping in strong Arabic. “If indeed Hamas did it,” he said to a stunned audience of Arab foreign ministers, “then we will speak with them in another language.”
In a subsequent announcement in Arabic, quoted by Reuters, Abbas said that “we are coordinating with (Israel) in order to return those youths, because they are human beings and we want to protect the lives of human beings.” This is a language of a partner.
I don't expect any Hamas leader or follower to ever speak like that. I believe, however, that moving them into a reality where their freedom of action against Israel is restricted is a strategy worth pursuing.