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Should the Obama Administration Talk to Hamas?

The Guardian is claiming today, through unnamed ‘sources’ that, Obama will open some kind of dialogue with Hamas.

The Guardian has spoken to three people with knowledge of the discussions in the Obama camp. There is no talk of Obama approving direct diplomatic negotiations with Hamas early on, but he is being urged by advisers to initiate low-level or clandestine approaches, and there is growing recognition in Washington that the policy of ostracising Hamas is counter-productive. A tested course would be to start contacts through Hamas and the US intelligence services, similar to the secret process through which the US engaged with the PLO in the 1970s. Israel did not become aware of the contacts until much later.

One doesn’t want to pre-empt or handicap any diplomatic lee-way for the incoming administration, but as Obama stressed during the whole of last year (to some criticism) he is willingly to talk the head of any state to further American interests, and Hamas – though representing no official state – is not far off.

What do my fellow bloggers here think about this?

My own pennysworth: I spent my childhood and teens with the constant threat of Republican terrorism. People rightly talk about the terror of living in Sderot during Hamas rocket attacks, but apart from the Harrods bomb which nearly killed a friend of mine, there were two real IRA bombs in the last 90s, one huge car bomb a quarter of a mile of where my kids live, and another one outside my ex wife’s workplace.

Throughout the 80s we were told by Thatcher “We don’t talk to Terrorists”. She apparently refused to talk to PIRA or their electoral wing Sinn Fein, and even banned their spokespersons from ‘speaking’ on TV to deny them the ‘oxygen of publicity’. For about two years we were subject to the ridiculous sight of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness talking, not with their own voices, but actors imitating their words in lip synch.

However, for all this hard line approach, it turns out that the most senior cabinet member, Willie Whitelaw, did meet for talks with the IRA leadership, and there were many more intelligence and political contacts made, which eventually led to the Good Friday Agreement and then the Peace Process.

The answer to this analogy could well be; Hamas is not PIRA. Hamas wants the destruction of Israel, and has that written into its constitution.

My answer would be this: there are political manifestos, and there is reality. Though they elected Hamas and its virulent platform, 70% of Palestinians actually favour peace with Israel.

In the 1980s, the Provisional IRA’s main platform was a United Ireland governed by Marxist Principles. It’s main backer and provider of arms was Gadaffi’s Libya. They were prised away from pursuing the goal of a United Ireland through violence, they dropped their Marxist posturing, and McGuinnes and Adams now occupy senior posts in the Northern Ireland Government.

Twenty years ago, Fatah was deemed a ‘terrorist organisation’; ten years later Rabin was shaking hands with Arafat. Do people believe that destroying Hamas (including its civil wing) is the real option, or is the main plan – including the current Gaza invasion – merely a way of drawing them to the negotiating table?  


  1. Whatever your opinion, I’ve been mightily impressed by the lack of flaming on the Moose, on a subject which has incinerated other blogs.

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  2. Strummerson

    Two things separate HAMAS from both PIRA and FATAH: the first is that Iran exercises significant influence over it, despite the Sunni-Shia division, and the second is that many in HAMAS see it as an instrument of apocalyptic struggle with absolutist goals.  (PIRA and FATAH were both engaged in secular conflicts with religious/cultural dimensions, but their GOALS were ultimately secular.)  Both of these factors, the religious orientation and the Iranian connection, make it difficult to engage HAMAS with a belief in the possibility of even intermediate good faith or good will on any particular.

    That said, I don’t think that talking with HAMAS lends them legitimacy they don’t already have and not talking to them does not lessen their legitimacy one iota, it may even enhance it with many supporters (and funders).

    There’s no denying that HAMAS currently holds the keys and occupies the offices.  I don’t see a credible way to circumvent them or to remove them.  So I would support an approach wherein we talk with them to accomplish immediate goals if we can, build credibility by showing we are willing to talk with anyone, and find a better, subtler, smarter and more effective long-terms strategy that seeks to undermine and discredit them.

  3. That’s a very blunt answer to what will by nature be a very complex engagement, but I always believe in talking to everyone, all of the time.  You cannot ever allow your opponents (and Hamas is our opponent, by its very nature even moreso than its entanglement with an ally of ours) to force you to become them.  Shouting “death to XYZ!” and stomping away from reasoned discussion is not (period, done, rinse and repeat) The American Way.

    Frank, intelligent, unblinking, fair discussion.  If your opponent insists on ranting and raving, you continue to state the truth as best you can determine it.  You let your opponent – and anyone considering aligning with them – make their judgments regarding who is being reasonable and who isn’t.

    The specfics of how to talk to them is something I am not qualified to comment on, but for what little it is worth my opinion is that whatever low-level channels we have open with them should be brought up a level into the open.  SoS Clinton meeting with Hamas leadership should be on the table – with conditions that Hamas display more than a shred of sanity – and even with Obama if they prove that they can be allowed into an adult conversation without crapping on the carpet and burning the drapes.

  4. creamer

     I have been highly critical of Hamas and have some strong doubts on their ability to get beyond their hatred. But you lose nothing by talking. I would hope we find a way to talk to the Iranians also.

    The last couple of days I’ve read a number of articles and op-ed’s on the Israel/Palestinian conflict. I must say that it has helped refresh my memory on the issue. I seeing Israels,Ours and the worlds culpability in this a little more clearly. There are some articles in Newsweek that I found not only helpful but restored some hope for a solution short of all out anhiliation.  

  5. but obama must walk a fine line here.  the problem is in doing so, one legitimizes the use of terrorism – but i see no other choice.  sadly this is who the palestinians have elected to power and there is no one else to talk to.

    and since v. few seem to be reporting it would add that, the UN resolution yesterday came after a day in which 20 rockets and mortars were fired into Israel from Gaza (including 4 Grads and 2 Qassams during the three-hour suspension of military operations for humanitarian purposes).

  6. creamer

     With all do respect to Hllary, the proces will be so intensive that it will poably require a special envoy. Richard Holebrook’s name has been mentioned, but I can see no better way to show our commitment than to send the Big Dog.

    Also I noticed the one underlying theme in everything I’ve read is that Hamas is the key. No matter what side of the fence the opinion comes from any peace has to include Hamas. Maybe its time that Israel give into most of their demands( short of walking into the sea) and gives them a chance to be a responsible partner in peace. If that fails they can always go back to killing them.

  7. fogiv

    I’m not one of these folks who thinks that opening a dialogue with Hamas adds to their credibility, strentghens their position, or bolsters their legitimacy.  Ignoring Hamas won’t make them go away, and it certainly won’t make them stop lobbing rockets.

    Further, I think attempts to “destroy” Hamas via force will fail.  The only way to be rid of them is to remove or change the conditions that empower them.

    What we say, even how we say it, when we engage talks is another matter.

  8. semiquaver

    A lot of the foreign policy debate during the campaign was about Obama talking to our enemies.  The American people voted for his approach.  He now has an opportunity to follow through on a campaign promise, although as a terrorist organization a dialogue with Hamas might be a little different than with Iran.  But they’re still the democratically elected government of Gaza.  I believe the most likely path to a two state system involves US mediation.  Thus if we can’t talk to Hamas, I believe peace will never happen.

  9. spacemanspiff

    … of the lamest neocon talking points ever.

    What bullshit.

    Whatever the fuck we’ve been doing “right” should be flipped on its head immediately.

  10. anna shane

    I don’t care if it’s seen as naive, it’s a sign of respect to those that elected Hamas and who want peace, and respect is in short supply (yet so cheap) all over the world.  

    This loose labeling of terrorism is bushism, and it doesn’t apply to those living under occupation.  It didn’t apply to us when we were trying to shuck of colonialism either.  People have a right to be free, and if they’re not, they have a right to fight for their freedom.  

  11. psychodrew

    And I think this is a WONDERFUL idea.  When I first heard this reported, I was excited about January 21st for the first time since the election.

    Hamas is a movement.  It can’t be crushed.  It can’t be eliminated.  The only way to handle it is to bring it into the process.  Bush tried to do that with elections and


    Bush never would have done something like this.  I really hope the new administration is able to do something.

  12. HappyinVT

    US President-elect Barack Obama “has repeatedly stated that he believes that Hamas is a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction, and that we should not deal with them until they recognize Israel, renounce violence, and abide by past agreements,” said Brooke Anderson in a statement to the Post.

    The Obama spokesperson was responding to an article in Britain’s Guardian daily on Friday, which asserted that three people with knowledge of discussions held in the Obama camp said that while the president-elect will not approve direct diplomatic negotiations with Hamas early on, his advisers are urging him to initiate low-level or clandestine approaches, in light of the growing recognition in Washington that ostracizing the terror group is counter-productive policy.

    “The president elect’s repeated statements [about not dealing with Hamas] are accurate,” Anderson said. “This unsourced story is not.”

    I’m not sure this means he won’t ultimately, maybe secretly, start talks with Hamas.  Probably don’t want to telegraph too soon, though.

  13. GMFORD

    If we refuse to talk to a group or a country’s leaders with whom we disagree then we are just setting up war.  Or worse, a kind of passive-agressive relationship where each party says nothing about the other’s behavior, simply sabotages them at every opportunity.

    We must be assertive.  We must let each side tell their point of view.  Sure, it starts with ‘I hate the other guy’ but once the venting is done, meaningful dialogue can begin.

  14. Reaper0bot0

    I can see very few scenarios in which engagement with Hamas works out.  I can see ZERO scenarios where NOT talking with Hamas works out.

    Seems pretty straightforward to me, gang.  If nothing else, should Hamas reject a reasonable deal then we’ve got more leverage against them.  I don’t want them to reject a reasonable deal, but Hamas being Hamas I’m not too trusting of their sanity.

    We must try.  What Israel is trying now simply cannot work over the long term, not unless they wipe out Gaza, which honestly I do NOT think anybody credible in Israel actually wants to do.

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