My personal feeling (which Gershon Baskin may actually agree with) is that tactical talks with Hamas regarding the situation on the ground are always in order, but not political negotiations, which are the purview under the Oslo Accords for the PLO representing the Palestinian Authority. The following is from Bakin’s Jerusalem Post column (which I invite you to read in its entirety, online, especially for his analysis of Egypt’s role):
…. One hour after the cease-fire was supposed to begin, there were reports of mortar and Kassam rocket fire. I spoke with one of the Hamas leaders … who said to me that all of the Hamas leaders, including Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal, had given direct orders to all of the factions to cease all rocket fire. Hamas strongman Ahmed Jaabri deployed his troops throughout Gaza to stop and arrest any violators of the order.
As strange as it sounds, Hamas has become the moderate force in Gaza today. Yes, Hamas is still ideologically committed to the elimination of Israel. It has not changed its belief in the legitimacy of using terrorism against Israel, but the burden of governing, the need to provide basic services – electricity, healthcare, education, welfare, food, employment, accountability to the public – these have all had an impact on the general outlook of Hamas’s political leadership.
…. The terror attack near Eilat last Thursday was ascribed by Israel to the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), a rogue Palestinian group that has cooperated with Hamas in the past, even in the abduction of soldier Gilad Schalit. The PRC, however, is no friend of Hamas, and quite often over the past two years, Izzadin Kassam, the armed wing of Hamas led by Jaabri, has had to use threatening force against it.
But when Israel retaliated for the terror attack and killed six PRC military leaders, Hamas responded with anger. A senior Hamas leader asked me: Why did they attack and kill them without any proof that they did the attack? More than one Hamas leader with whom I spoke said their group had no prior knowledge of the attack, and if it had, it would have opposed it – not out of ideology, but because of its own current interests. Indeed, Hamas denies that the terrorists came out of Gaza.
I spoke with a senior Egyptian official who refuses to believe that they could have been Egyptians. He did confirm that it was more than possible that Hamas did not know anything about the attack. He said the terrorists could have conducted it without much strategic planning. They didn’t necessarily have allies or formal assistants in Sinai. They could have paid for services there from Beduin, including the use of normal taxis for transportation, with no questions asked. A little bit of cash goes a long way in Sinai.
…. Israel was rightly angry after Thursday’s attack. Its civilians and military personal were killed, and its sovereignty was violated. Israel had a right and a responsibility to respond. There is also little doubt that the six PRC military leaders were guilty of killing Israelis in the past and planning to kill a lot more in the future. There may, however, be no proof that they were responsible for Thursday’s terrorist attack. …
From the very first hours after the terror attack, Hamas declared that it did not want to escalate the situation. Hamas did not fire rockets. There is an argument over four rockets fired on Ofakim on Saturday night and whether or not Hamas militants fired them. What is not in question is that the Hamas political leadership and even the head of the military wing did not give the order. ….
The deadly grads that fell in Beersheba could have been avoided if our leaders had acted with a greater sense that achieving a cease-fire and preventing rockets holds more benefits and strategic interest than creating a “renewed sense of deterrence in the consciousness of the Hamas leadership.”
A senior Israel security official said to me, “They are the sovereign in Gaza; they have to be held responsible.” In principle, that sounds nice, but they are hardly sovereign when they cannot deploy their forces without Israeli agreement, when they have no control over their borders, when they have to rely on tunnels for their economy, etc. …
I have been in contact with Hamas people for more than five years now. Our contact has provided a human face in place of what was an enemy face. There is no love between us, but there is a growing sense that finding a way to live in relative peace next to each other may actually be possible. …