I know that it is possible to develop a new kind of relationship. I know that quiet will be answered with quiet.
My contacts with Hamas began in April 2006 when I met a professor of economics from the Islamic University of Gaza at a regional development conference in Cairo. I was the first Jew he had ever met and he was the first Hamas member I had ever met. We spent about six hours in Cairo in dialogue and then agreed to try to create an opportunity for other Israelis and Hamas people to join us. Unfortunately, the Hamas political leadership vetoed the talks and we never managed to continue our meetings.
One week after Gilad Schalit was abducted, the professor called me and said Gaza was being bombed and the situation was going to be terrible; we had to find a way to open a channel of communications between Israel and Hamas to bring a speedy end to the hostage situation.
Unfortunately it took five years and four months.
When the unofficial communications I was engaged in for five years became official in May 2011, among the first messages I was authorized to deliver to Hamas was: “When Gilad Schalit is no longer in Gaza, Israel will allow for economic development and infrastructure projects to take place. Israel will remove the economic siege on Gaza.” I thought that was a positive approach for Israel to take and fully supported it. Unfortunately my Hamas interlocutors were not particularly interested in the message – they wanted Palestinian prisoners released, and everything else was window dressing.
Now, nine months after Schalit’s release, it is time to make good on the promise.
Israel has begun to liberalize the flow of goods entering Gaza. Soon a new container scanner will be working at Kerem Shalom which will allow trucks to leave Gaza to the West Bank, taking the first steps towards the reintegration of the Gaza economy with the West Bank.
Israel can leverage its openness to also encourage the new government in Egypt to legalize the underground economy between Sinai and Gaza and bring it above ground with the creation of a cargo transport zone in Rafah. Gazans should be able to enjoy free trade in both directions.
In the days prior to the disengagement and the closing of the Erez industrial zone, thousands of Palestinians were working for Israeli companies in various forms of subcontracting. A lot of Gazan-produced goods were being sold in the Israeli market as well as for export. Putting the people of Gaza back to work is the right thing to do and Israel can have a large positive role in this.
THE HAMAS leadership also has an opportunity to redirect itself and its attention to making the lives of their own people better. Recently I sent a letter to some of the Hamas leaders. This is what I wrote: How many Israelis have you killed with thousands of rockets? The answer is less than the fingers of one hand. How many Palestinians were killed in Gaza during the five years and four months that you held Gilad Schalit? The answer is more than 3,000.
Isn’t it time for your movement to place its energy in something positive? Shouldn’t you be investing in your people, in education, in development, culture, industry? Don’t you want to give your children the kind of life that you never had? Israel does not want another war in Gaza and does not want to kill any people there.
I know that there is no trust between the sides and it makes it very difficult to make changes. It is time to put the war behind us, to end trying to kill each other, to end the armed struggle finally.
Hamas could invest its money in education and development and not in weapons and rockets. You know that there is no possibility to destroy Israel and every time there is a new round of violence it is your people which pay the heaviest price.
I know that it is possible to develop a new kind of relationship. I know that quiet will be answered with quiet. A ceasefire which is a real one, not just a resting period between rounds of violence, will enable the economic development of Gaza, the opening of Gaza to the West Bank and to the world.
If Hamas would stop smuggling weapons and focus on building rather than destroying we could speak about a port in Gaza, and reopening the passage to the West Bank, infrastructure projects, building schools, etc.
I am not saying that you have to recognize Israel and make peace with Israel now. I believe that will come later, but you don’t have to even think about it for now.
What could happen is for you and your leaders to begin to devote their attention and energies to make a positive change for the people of Gaza. Enough language and culture of hate. It is time to focus inwards, to what your people need and deserve.
What future do you offer to your children? Don’t you want their lives to be better than your own? Think about them and offer them new opportunities that you never had.
I know that there are serious leaders in Israel who would respond positively to positive changes in Hamas. This is not just dream a naïve dream. This is possible. This can happen sooner than you believe.
There is no need for big speeches and ceremonies.
It is enough to begin to change directions and for to implement policies of change, development, investment in education, invest in people. No speeches necessary.
You are doing it for yourselves, not for Israel.
It would be nice if the same messages were delivered by friends of Palestine all over the world and even by the leaders of Israel.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.