Last June, after wrapping up the final primary, Barack Obama gave a highly-publicized speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in order to assuage concerns about his views regarding Israel. It was in this speech that he said:
We must isolate Hamas unless and until they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and abide by past agreements. There is no room at the negotiating table for terrorist organizations.
Today, the Guardian reports that the “incoming Obama administration is prepared to abandon George Bush’s doctrine of isolating Hamas by establishing a channel to the Islamist organization, sources close to the transition team say.”
Granted, we don’t know for sure that this report is accurate, and it deserves at least some level of skepticism as with all anonymous reports. But if true, it certainly should not be a surprise to anybody who is a regular reader of this site, which scrutinized Obama’s trail of associations throughout the campaign and examined the broader implications of his pledge to meet with our adversaries. Robert Malley was forced to resign as a foreign policy adviser to Obama when it was revealed that he was meeting with Hamas, and it was perfectly logical to assume that Obama’s rational for meeting with Iran could easily be extended to the Palestinian terrorist group. As I wrote last May, “Why should it be beyond the pale to question the earnestness of Obama’s vow not to negotiate with Hamas, when he has promised, as part of his sweeping program for change, to negotiate with its patron, which shares the same ultimate goal?” Unfortunately, those of us who asked such legitimate questions were dismissed as paranoid along with the rest of the conspiracy theorists and smear artists who sent around emails claiming Obama is a Muslim and that he was born in Kenya.
I don’t want to do too much preaching to the choir. I’m sure there are people reading this who share my mix of anger and sadness at this development. That the American government would want to legitimize a terrorist group that not only is dedicated to destroying Israel, that not only raises its children to aspire to exterminate Jews in Israel, but that has declared all Jews in the world legitimate targets, right down, presumably, to my school-age niece and nephew, is just unconscionable. As much as I saw this coming, I remain heartbroken by the reality.
But I know that there are others who don’t feel the same way as me and who would argue that there’s no harm in merely talking, and that pragmatism requires that we’re in contact with all players involved in this volatile region. Okay, so let me put aside any Israel-centric reasons for isolating Hamas or any moral arguments. What signal does it send to the Fatah leadership in the West Bank if America were to reverse its policy of isolating Hamas? Fatah has suffered internally for its moderation relative to Hamas and the perception that its relationship with Israel and America is too cozy. One of the motivating factors for their relative moderation is that they do not want to suffer the diplomatic isolation that Hamas has, and they hope to be the legitimate government of any newly-created Palestinian state. It would be nothing short of a slap in the face to Fatah, which has participated in the peace process and critcized Hamas rocket fire, if America were to bring Hamas into the fold. From Fatah’s perspective, they have done everything right, and Hamas has been an obstacle to peace. Given that Hamas expelled Fatah from Gaza at gunpoint, I don’t see how America can deal with the terrorist group without completely alienating Fatah and strengthening the more militant wing of the group. The prospect of the U.S. engaging Hamas is a troubling development no matter how you analyze it.
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