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Contacts with Hamas

Editorial; Ha'aretz, 30.05.06

Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon announced at the end of last week that his ministry had initiated steps to transfer Palestinian Authority funds held by Israel to Palestinian farmers who had been affected by the bird flu virus. Simhon explained that while some 300,000 chickens had been destroyed in the PA, the farmers had not received any compensation for their losses. As a result, the money transfer is essential, because without it, the farmers may not adhere to future Veterinary Services directives to destroy poultry, if required.

The affair illustrates the urgent need, which frequently arises, for dialogue and practical day-to-day coordination between the Israeli and Hamas governments.

One of the first decisions of the Hamas government was to allow Palestinian ministers to maintain contacts on day-to-day issues with Israeli government representatives. In this regard, the Hamas leadership, and PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in particular, has a clear policy - yes to contacts with Israeli representatives on practical needs; and an explicit no to contacts on matters of principle, primarily political matters.

On this same backdrop, the Hamas government is also willing to accept a long-term cease-fire with the Israeli government - on its terms - but not to recognize Israel's right to exist or sign any official peace agreement with it.

The attitude of the Israeli government was and remains a total rejection of all ties with the Palestinian government, except for "humanitarian purposes," such as the transfer of funds for medicine. Those who reject all contacts with the Hamas government assume that a boycott and siege will lead to the downfall of the government, which wants to go on having its cake and eating it, too: on the one hand, to receive assistance from Israel, and on the other hand, to stick to its radical positions and non-recognition of Israel.

It is clear, however, that residents of the territories and Gaza are suffering the most from this. Moreover, it turns out that the siege on the Hamas government is not weakening it - at least not for now. On the contrary, it is boosting support for it. Despite the severe suffering in Gaza, there have been no protest actions or demonstrations against the Hamas government there.

Furthermore, cooperation on practical issues is no less important to Israel than it is to the Palestinian side, since it can be beneficial when it comes to matters like the bird flu, economic affairs, commerce and services. Such cooperation could help gradually normalize Israel's relations with the Palestinian public and its leaders.

On this backdrop, the government of Israel would be well advised to allow its representatives to maintain ongoing contacts with senior Palestinian government officials on practical issues such as water, electricity, health and tourism, the promotion of which could help improve the atmosphere and relations between the two sides.