“You cannot make peace with half a people”

Israel must give Hamas a chance

Israel is talking to Hamas. For three years Israeli officials have been negotiating the release of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. Yet Israel is not talking to Hamas, and has not been, since it came to power in a democratic election. Israel is boycotting not just Hamas, but the rest of the Gaza Strip along with it. And so are the US, the EU, Russia and the UN. What is considered reasonable for the release of one Israeli soldier is not considered appropriate for promoting peace in the Middle East.

Hamas is not any liberal's cup of tea, in Israel or anywhere else. An organisation based on fundamentalist religious principles, and which does not recognise Israel's right to exist, is not an ideal partner for peace. But whether we like it or not, Hamas is the legitimate representative of at least half of the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. To deny this is to eliminate any chance of peace. You cannot make peace with half a people, and a viable peace must include the extremists. A Hamas government may be good news: in power, the party may well be more moderate, more responsible and less violent than in opposition. Since Hamas took over, the Strip has been far less anarchic than before.

For decades, Israel has discredited and delegitimised any viable Palestinian partner. In the 1970s and the 1980s, a law prohibited Israelis from meeting any representative of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Anyone who dared to call for negotiations was declared a self-hating traitor. In the early 1990s, the policy changed: Israel recognised the PLO and the prime minister signed a treaty with its leader, Yasser Arafat, on the lawn of the White House. But a few years later, Arafat again became persona non grata: the Israelis said he was too strong. His successor, Mahmoud Abbas, was considered too weak. So the PLO was unable to achieve any real progress, and the Palestinians did what any people would have done: they voted for the only meaningful alternative. Israel seemed shocked - Hamas in power? - but for the first time, the world backed Israel, joining the boycott and the siege on Gaza.

Hamas is a fundamentalist organisation; by its nature, it finds it hard to compromise. But within it there are reasonable people who want to move forward. It will be hard for Israel to make a settlement with Hamas, but not impossible. And it is worth a try. If I were the Israeli prime minister, I would be ready to land in Gaza tomorrow morning, to meet Hamas and see if there is common ground. The alternative is much worse. The boycott has not weakened Hamas: it is stronger than ever. And at least Hamas is a national and local organisation with national and local, limited targets. With al-Qaeda or the Taliban there will never be a way to peace; Hamas, it must be emphasised, is not like them.

Negotiating with Hamas may lead nowhere. But wasn't that the result of 15 years of negotiating with the PLO? Perhaps all Hamas wants to see is the destruction of Israel. If so, its position should be challenged. There are historical precedents for the most extreme movements becoming responsible governments, given a fair chance.

The best thing that could happen - for Palestinians, for Israelis and for peace - would be an international effort to re-create a unity government in Gaza and Ramallah. The world and Israel should declare that such a government would be a legitimate partner for negotiations, that it would have full recognition and support. Israel has had a Palestinian partner before; there may be one again. In the current reality, it cannot exclude Hamas.

Gideon Levy is a correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Citizen Ken

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times