Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bringing the Hamas Question into the Spotlight

Once again, we must turn to Al Jazeera English to satisfy our need for a context-based account of our alleged "vigorous engagement" towards peace in the Middle East, particularly as regards whether or not Hamas will be allowed to participate in that engagement. The basis for their latest report began with the morning papers:

Several ex-senior officials in the US government have written to Barack Obama, the president, urging him to seek dialogue with the Palestinian Hamas movement, a newspaper report says.

The Boston Globe on Sunday reported that the group has called on the White House to hold talks with Hamas leaders to persuade the Palestinian group to lay down arms and join the rival Fatah in a unity government.

Specific names cited in the Al Jazeera account include Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Paul Volcker, hardly the sort of names one would associated with the accusations of Chamberlain-like appeasement that the Bush Administration was so quick to flourish. Just as surprising as the signatories, however, was the amount of time it took for this story to surface:

The letter was handed to Obama just days before he took office in January, the newspaper reported.

Where Al Jazeera could go beyond the Boston Globe was in seeking out a source who could address both sides of this Hamas question and its potential for impeding any serious engagement. They found such a source in Marl Lynch, Associate Professor of Political Science at George Washington University:

I think that there is a group of people who think that it is necessary. Hamas controls Gaza, you can't get aid into Gaza without working with Hamas and they represent a large portion of the Palestinian people.

On the other side you have a lot of people who say that the international community has a series of conditions. They haven't met those conditions, they have blood on their hands and there are a lot of people who have deep qualms about talking to Hamas.

Al Jazeera also provided a European perspective in the form of Clare Short, a former British Labour Minister, who just led a delegation of six European politicians to Damascus to meet with Hamas officials:

The Europeans seem, at least to my eye, more open to the possibility of working with Hamas towards meeting those conditions rather than having them as preconditions.

I found this a discreet way to address the current American position. Neither the Al Jazeera staff nor their sources would come out and say that there was one factor in the United States with which European politicians would not have to contend, that factor being the significant lobbying power of AIPAC. We need to remember that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were courting AIPAC energetically at the organization's last convention; and we know that all-too-many decisions in Washington are biased by "deals that dare not speak their name." Recall that Obama's AIPAC speech was, to put it politely, conciliatory, while my reaction to the review of Clinton's Secretary of State nomination by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee described AIPAC as "the greatest threat to Clinton's effectiveness" as an "honest broker." It may be that, if Europe is making progress towards being such an "honest broker," then the wisest thing the United States might do is to withdraw from the negotiations, recognizing the suspicion with which our country continues to be viewed by all Middle East countries except for Israel. The Bush Administration would never have considered such a possibility. Would Obama be audacious to entertain it as a means to an end that is as important to us as it is to the European Community?

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