Secret ‘diplomatic’ overtures to Hamas
A DIPLOMATIC back-channel is intensifying between Israeli and Muslim religious leaders, including figures identified with Hamas.
The aim of the talks, taking place with the full knowledge of the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships, is to provide a wider consensus at the grassroots for an eventual accord.
While all eyes have been on preparations for this week’s Annapolis summit, talks have continued between senior religious figures on both sides.
Israel has insisted on not talking to Hamas politically until it recognises Israel and renounces violence, but politicians are aware of the need to engage with Hamas on some level.
There is also a need to supply some degree of support for a possible peace deal within the Palestinian public, especially among the more Islamist elements. While a dialogue between Jewish and Muslim leaders has been taking place for over a decade, a senior Israeli government source told the JC this week that “it has greatly intensified over the past six months and is of a much serious order than in the past”.
The Muslim sources involved confirmed the talks but refused to comment openly.
However, Rabbi Michael Melchior, the senior Israeli participant — a former minister and currently a Labour MK — said: “There are talks at all levels with Muslim leaders, including those who have influence over Hamas.
“We all feel that in the end, the success or failure of the Annapolis summit and subsequent negotiations, is tied to the goodwill of the public on both sides.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas needed to gain support also within Islamist circles, he added. “Also, for many Israelis the fact that there is no consensus within the Palestinian people causes widespread scepticism and we are trying to disprove that.”
Rabbi Melchior said that one aim was for a fatwa by senior Islamic clerics to affirm the right of a Jewish state to exist in the region.
Among others, the leadership of Israel’s Islamic Movement and representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are involved. Both have close political and religious ties with Hamas. As Sunnis, they also have a joint interest in minimising Iranian-Shia influence in the region.
Michael Melchior ( left) meets Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah last year