- “We plan to eliminate the state of Israel and establish a purely Palestinian state. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion. . . . We Palestinians will take over everything, including all of Jerusalem.”
- “Peace for us means the destruction of Israel. We are preparing for an all-out war, a war which will last for generations.”
- “The victory march will continue until the Palestinian flag flies in Jerusalem and in all of Palestine.”
- “Continue to press on soldiers of freedom! We will not bend or fail until the blood of every last Jew from the youngest child to the oldest elder is spilt to redeem or land!”
How can any reasonable person meet with Hamas after one reads such statements? The only catch is that these statements were made by the late Yasser Arafat in years prior to the 1993 Oslo agreement! It took Western leaders to engage Arafat and his terrorist PLO to bring about his recognition of the State of Israel and his renunciation of terrorism, necessary preconditions for the Oslo Peace Agreement.
Why, then, all the political uproar about former President Jimmy Carter’s meetings with Hamas officials last week? The answer has much more to do with questions like “Is Carter the right person” and “did Carter do it properly” rather than “Is engaging Hamas the right thing”.
The current policy of imposing total isolation on Hamas has produced the following unintended consequences:
- Weakening of the Palestinian Authority (PA): with the Palestinian leadership divided and the United States unwilling to engage Hamas, the PA finds itself in an untenable position. In order to steer Palestinian sympathies away from Hamas, the PA needs to produce better living conditions and point to the light at the end of the tunnel. In order to achieve that, the PA must reach a viable settlement to the conflict with Israel. The PA, however, enjoys no leverage over Hamas and cannot, therefore, bring about the needed peace. Result: the PA is being increasingly perceived as incapable of bringing about the change demanded by the Palestinian population thus endangering its already fragile standing in the West Bank.
- Strengthening of Hamas: The inability of the PA to produce peace coupled with the conviction of Palestinians that they are now living in a state of siege imposed upon them by Israel and the United States has increased the popularity of Hamas. Palestinians are being asked to choose between the PA, which in spite of being a “partner” in peace with Israel seems impotent when it comes to the lifting of the Israeli siege, and Hamas, which is resisting the siege by firing rockets at Israel. If free elections were held today in the West Bank, Hamas would most probably come out as the victor.
- Boosting Iranian Influence: the current policy of total isolation pursued by the United States against Hamas is effectively enhancing Iranian influence and soft power in the region. The more isolated Hamas feels the greater becomes its dependency on Iranian support. In addition, the constant barrage of images on Arab satellite television networks portraying Palestinians as the innocent victims of an inhuman Israeli-American policy of siege is making it much harder on Arab governments weary of Iranian ambitions in the region to take a stronger stand against Iran. Let me explain. By ably exploiting the effects of current US policy towards Hamas, Iran has succeeded in presenting itself to Arabs and Moslems alike as a true champion of their interests in Palestine. This strategy has effectively increased Iran’s soft power in the region and stopped Arab regimes in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia from adopting a tougher stance against Iran.
In conclusion, current US policy towards Hamas is boosting Iran’s standing and influence in the Middle East, increasing the Iranian threat to Israeli security, neutralizing American efforts to contain Iranian ambitions, and endangering the long term interests of the United States in that region. The question that should be seriously debated in Washington still stands: should the United States talk to Hamas?