Somebody’s listening…and getting angry: an exchange with a British neo-con

Somebody’s listening…and getting angry: an exchange with a British neo-con

I found myself under personal attack last week in Britain’s Jewish Chronicle (JC) by someone named Melanie Phillips. Now I don’t know Ms. Phillips, but from a brief check, it would seem pretty accurate to describe her as a British version of a neo-con and judging by the viciousness of her attack on me, she seemed pretty upset. You can read the full piece here (subscription is free), although here are few excerpts to give you a taste.

Daniel Levy is a fervent advocate of talking to Hamas, along with its parent body, the Muslim Brotherhood…[Levy] seems to be extraordinarily naïve…It is a matter of even deeper concern that the dangerous ideas he espouses are increasingly gaining ground. Support for talking to Hamas has been voiced privately within the Shadow Cabinet — along with the former Tory Northern Ireland minister Michael Ancram, who has now himself talked to it no fewer than three times.

In addition, Phillips called me “dangerous” and an “idiot.”

I responded in this week’s edition of the paper and to my, at least, partial surprise, the paper decided to highlight my pushback on its front page.

Levy has issued a spirited riposte to JC columnist Melanie Phillips, who last week accused him of being “dangerous” and “naive” for supporting engagement with Hamas as part of a peace strategy.

Interestingly, my arguments were echoed today by the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on the Middle East, which criticized the UK government’s policy on the Palestinian issue and specifically on the Hamas boycott. My arguments against Ms. Philip vitriol focused on the substance.

My apparent “crime” is to support engagement with Hamas as part of a strategy for enhancing a ceasefire, security in the region, and ultimately, to advance a peace process that can actually deliver the goods. In being “dangerous” — presumably to Israel and perhaps also Anglo-Jewry — I find myself in not bad company. Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, ex-Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, previous West Bank Divisions Commander and Civil Administration head General Ilan Paz, Gaza Brigades Commander Colonel Shaul Arieli and ex-deputy National Security adviser Yisraela Oron are just a few of the “dangerous” types who support this approach.

To clarify; neither myself, nor I imagine other advocates of engagement, are Hamas enthusiasts or sympathisers. Let’s call it the realist school of Zionism and contrast it with say, apocalyptic Zionism…

Zionist realism accepted the 1948-9 ceasefire lines, preferred Begin’s peace with Egypt over settlements in the Sinai, and today recognises the need for agreed secure borders for Israel that end the occupation of about four million Palestinians…Israel’s destiny for [apocalyptic Zionists] is to live by the sword in perpetuity; generation after generation of warrior super-Jews fending off the invading hordes of Mohammedans. Great as a Hollywood epic, but less so as a lifestyle choice or an Israeli future with any hope on the horizon. For apocalyptic Zionists, settlements, occupation, economic blockade and humiliation are irrelevant. None of it matters. They will always hate us anyway.

Israel can get beyond occupation, beyond its current predicament and on to a more stable, secure, and hopeful footing…This requires smartening-up, not dumbing-down one’s understanding of political Islamists — they are not all the same.

There are political grievances out there that can and should be addressed, and that feed al-Qaedaism. It is worth trying to reach an accommodation with mainstream Islamists, including Hamas and the Muslim Brothers, who are in their own struggle with al-Qaeda and reject the latter’s nihilism.

Israel should continue to talk with the secular pragmatic nationalists of Fatah on a range of issues — borders, security, Jerusalem, etc. But for an arrangement to deliver stability, security, and have broad legitimacy, Hamas should be brought inside the proverbial tent.

In its report, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs argued the following:

We conclude that the decision not to speak to Hamas in 2007 following the Mecca agreement has been counterproductive…We conclude that the decision to boycott Hamas despite the Mecca agreement and the continued suspension of aid to the national unity Government meant that this Government was highly likely to collapse. We further conclude that whilst the international community was not the root cause of the intra-Palestinian violence, it failed to take the necessary steps to reduce the risk of such violence occurring.

Given the failure of the boycott to deliver results, we recommend that the Government should urgently consider ways of engaging politically with moderate elements within Hamas as a way of encouraging it to meet the three Quartet principles. We conclude that any attempts to pursue a ’West Bank first’ policy would risk further jeopardising the peace process. We recommend that the Government urge President Abbas to come to a negotiated settlement with Hamas with a view to re-establishing a national unity Government across the Occupied Palestinian Territories.