Former head of Mossad, Efraim Halevy, has an op-ed up at the New Republic entitled “Why not Hamas?” In it he suggests that the policy of excluding Hamas from the increasingly implausible Israeli-Palestinian peace talks has not only failed but is counter productive. He suggests that Hamas has shown itself to be capable of not only governance in Gaza but of maintaining a strong command over it’s more militant elements:
<blockquote>Hamas has demonstrated a will and a capacity to think and act pragmatically when it believes it useful or necessary. There’s no better example of this than its governance of Gaza. Yes, it continues to play the role of peace-process spoiler when that role suits its interests. But Hamas has also demonstrated a serious capacity to exercise responsibility and restraint when that role suits its purposes. It has demonstrated its ability to control Gaza effectively, to both enforce a long-term cessation of hostilities and to withstand the combined efforts of the United States, Israel, and Egypt to bring it to its knees.</blockquote>
I find Mr. Halevy’s candid pragmatism regarding Hamas refreshing. I think the western diplomatic concept of “we don’t deal with terrorists” might ring well politically and in some cases (al qaeda being the most obvious) be necessary but in others it’s both restrictive and narrow minded. Certainly there’s a marked difference between Hamas and al qaeda, not only in their physical construct but also in how their ideology and their political goals meet. The former is a well organized Islamist/nationalist (or seperatist, if you’d like) movement with a functioning political hierarchy, initially brought to power via popular vote. The latter is a quasi-anarchic, loose network operating to realize the downfall of secular regimes in the middle east and establish a global order under shariah. Indeed, Hamas has violently repressed aq like groups in Gaza in the not so distant past.
This isn’t to suggest that Hamas is somehow a diamond in the rough or to forgive the organization it’s many brutal tactics which earned it the designation of “Terrorist Organization” by the west. Nor am I ignorant of the Hamas charter (which centers on the elimination of the Jewish state) and their subsequent and sustained refusal to recognize Israel accordingly.
The status quo of isolation, the use of both covert and overt violence could be (and have been) excused as measures taken to sustain national security. But these measures have also helped to fracture the Palestinians politically, socially and geographically into two rival bodies. With the Palestinians divided into two virtual non-states the concept of a two state solution seems impossible and the idea of pushing ahead with the Road Map for Peace looks to be little more than rote, geopolitical ceremony. Hamas may have earned its odious reputation but whether Israel and the west like it or not they’ve also become major players within the Palestinian political system and constituency. Any hope of a two state solution has to begin with political reconciliation within the Palestinian territories and I’d say that will require talks directly engaging Hamas.