The increasing Iranian influence over Hamas has made some Israeli establishment figures think that it’s better to find a common ground with Palestinians than dealing with Tehran.
Some former Israeli intelligence chiefs have long urged Tel Aviv to address the Palestinian conflict sooner rather than later in order to bring a longterm political stability to the country they once served.
Under Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership, relations between Israel and Palestinians have deteriorated further, turning any political resolution to the conflict into a distant possibility. The recent escalations in Gaza and East Jerusalem are adding fuel to the fire.
Israel’s stiff position against Palestine worries people like Efraim Halevy, the former Mossad chief, who has long been a critic of Netanyahu and his policies. In the past, Halevy has clearly stated that if Israel does not treat Palestinians on equal terms and allow them to live in peace, the Jewish state will have no peace at all.
“I do not think we will make any progress until that moment arrives, and I fear that it will take a very long time before it happens, if at all. And if it never happens, there will never be peace between us and the Palestinians,” Halevy said during an extensive interview in 2014.
“And if it never happens, we’re sentenced to a very long term of struggle,” the former Mossad chief added, referring to the fact that Israel’s survival based on oppressing Palestinians will amount to psychological imprisonment of sorts for Israelis. “But what will be the quality of our survival? I don’t know,” the 86-year old spy chief said.
Yoram Schweitzer, a former member of the Israeli intelligence community, who is now in a leading role in one of the country’s think-tanks, agrees with his colleagues like Halevy that Israel needs to find a way to settle down its issues with Palestinians.
“While many Israelis have many views, I think we should try to find a political solution to disputes [with Palestinians], the long-time conflict. I am part of it,” Schweitzer tells TRT World.
But he also adds that Israel could be part of a solution albeit without being threatened by Hamas or other anti-Israeli groups.
While the Israeli analyst says Israel should not be forced to accept a solution with Palestinians, Israel has been trying hard to bully Palestinians into submission for several decades.
Negotiating with Palestinians better than talking Iranians
Although Israel takes pride in its military prowess, its rival Hamas is growing in strength as well and its developing ties with Hezbollah and Iran are proving to be a worrisome aspect for the Israeli establishment.
As a result, fighting Hamas is fast turning into a dangerous business for Israel because it could potentially draw other political actors like Hezbollah into the conflict. Instead of fighting with a wide range of enemies backed by Iran, finding a peaceful resolution with Palestinians, primarily Hamas, sounds like a good idea across some part of the Israeli establishment.
When asked about this aspect, Schweitzer responded that Israel needs to reignite “political dialogue” with the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is currently led by Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).
But Abbas and his authority appear to be in shambles particularly after the Gaza fighting, which has further empowered Hamas and its positions. Schweitzer thinks that Hamas could also join talks if it quits armed struggle. “We should try to reignite the political dialogue. That’s something I totally believe in,” he says.
Halevy, the former Mossad chief, also believed that Israel needs to develop direct connections with Hamas. “My view has been the minority view over the years, but several officials in the General Security Service (GSS) have adopted those views since then,” he said during another interview in April.
Another problem: Palestinian citizens of Israel
The recent escalations showed Israel its limits in different dimensions from Hamas capabilities in Gaza to widespread protests in occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank against expulsions of Palestinian residents from neighbourhoods like Sheikh Jarrah.
But among all, demonstrations of Palestinian citizens of Israel in areas, where they lived with Jews side by side, concerned the Israeli establishment much. There was also some communal strife between Palestinians and Jews across the Green Line Israel.
“All these helped Hamas to position itself as the defender of Al Aqsa Mosque” and also larger Palestinian population, Schweitzer says. The Al Aqsa Mosque is the second holiest site for Muslims.
According to the Israeli analyst, escalations between Jews and Palestinians “calmed down” now in the Green Line areas. There are different reasons for that, but some racist rhetoric coming from Israeli politicians also played a role in the revolt of Palestinian citizens of Israel, he says. There are still continuing tensions, he adds.
While he does not want to underestimate the extent of tensions, he thinks that there are a lot of “complexities” behind “what was seen as the eruption of the Arab rebellion”.
Will Hamas fight alongside Hezbollah against Israel?
The latest Gaza fighting has reportedly strengthened connections between Hamas and Hezbollah even to a degree, where both groups could use a joint operations center in Beirut to coordinate their cooperation.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah thinks that Hamas became part of the Shia-majority Iran-led axis of resistance without even asking the consent of its inclusion to the alliance, according to Schweitzer. If there is another war between Israel and Hezbollah and its Shia allies, it’s not clear how Hamas, a Sunni-origin group, will act, he says.
“We need to see whether Hamas will join [forces of the axis of resistance] or not in the case of some skirmishes or a full-out war in the north. I am not sure about it,” Schweitzer says.
In any case, Hamas wants to use the possibility of this kind of alliance to strengthen its political position across Palestine, the Israeli political analyst says. But “we have to see” whether it will be “materialised in the practical level”, he adds.
If Israel faces an enemy on multiple fronts from Iranian proxies like Hezbollah to Iraqi Shia militias and Yemen’s Houthis, dealing with Hamas becomes “more complicated” for Tel Aviv, says Schweitzer. While Israel should not “underestimate” the capabilities of Hezbollah and other Shia militias, it is also not facing a major existential threat as it is “not dealing with China”, a country with the largest army in the world, he says.
Was Israel defeated in the 2006 war?
In the 2006 Lebanon War, some commentators thought that Hezbollah, an Arab force, was not defeated by Israel for the first time ever. But Schweitzer does not like terms like 'defeat' or 'victory', which according to him suit the Hollywood drama more than real life situations.
“Look! You need to understand something,” the former spy says, claiming that one could not define the end of military engagements as a failure for Israel as Hezbollah fighters fought against Tel Aviv surrounded and defended by civilians. But he is also not so comfortable describing the 2006 war results as something Israel aimed to achieve, due to differences between military and political leadership on the war’s conduct.
He thinks if Israel wants “to get rid of” Hezbollah from Beirut, it could do it while it takes longer than what it could take for Gaza. But he says it would not resolve any problems in the end. Speaking realistically, eliminating enemies totally does not happen much, he adds.
“We don’t want to defeat Hezbollah in this sense,” he says, referring to possible interventions from the international community, particularly from the US and France, against Israeli push. Schweitzer wrote an article for a book about the 2006 war.
Hezbollah describes the 2006 war as “the divine victory”.
While the Israeli political analyst thinks that the 2006 war served to secure the country’s northern border with Lebanon, he says Hezbollah has become a more powerful enemy now than it was in 2006.