From June 2006 until October 2011, Ghazi Hamad, deputy foreign minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, and I, Gershon Baskin, founder of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information conducted a secret back-channel negotiation for the prisoner exchange deal that released Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. After successfully bridging what were thought to be unbridgeable gaps, we continued to talk to find a way of bringing about a long-term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. Our last conversation was over the phone on Oct. 2.
We have conducted hundreds of hours of discussions over these years. I am often asked, “Is there anyone to talk to in Hamas?” Hamad is thought to be one of the most pragmatic leaders in Hamas yet even he cannot accept the idea of recognizing Israel and making peace. Can Hamas lead the Palestinian people to a better future? I tried to learn from Hamad if Hamas has developed a new strategy for dealing with their political isolation. Would the closure of the tunnels and the Rafah crossing and the Egyptian accusations against Hamas of collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood against the Egyptian state create a process of inward searching for new directions?