Se­cret ‘diplo­matic’ over­tures to Ha­mas

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY AN­SHEL PF­EF­FER JERUSALEM

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.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Michael Mel­chior ( left) meets Mah­moud Ab­bas in Ra­mal­lah last year

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