Is Obama "Prepared to Talk to Hamas"?
by Charles Lemos, Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 09:30:41 PM EST
The UK Guardian is reporting that the "incoming administration will abandon Bush's isolation of Islamist group (Hamas) to initiate low-level diplomacy" according to sources within the transition team.
The move to open contacts with Hamas, which could be initiated through the US intelligence services, would represent a definitive break with the Bush presidency's ostracising of the group. The state department has designated Hamas a terrorist organisation, and in 2006 Congress passed a law banning US financial aid to the group.
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.
Interestingly enough, some of the push for ending Hamas' isolation is coming from major players in the US foreign policy establishment including Richard Haass, the President of the New York-based Council of Foreign Relation and from Martin Indyk, a former US Ambassador to Israel.
There is growing agreement, among Republicans as well as Democrats, on the need to engage Hamas to achieve a sustainable peace in the Middle East - even among Obama's close advisers. In an article published on Wednesday on the website Foreign Affairs, but apparently written before the fighting in Gaza, Haass, who is president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote: "If the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas continues to hold and a Hamas-PA reconciliation emerges, the Obama administration should deal with the joint Palestinian leadership and authorise low-level contact between US officials and Hamas in Gaza." The article was written with Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel and an adviser to Hillary Clinton.
Why talk with Islamists? Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry of the DC based Middle East Institute have dealt with this issue for many years, and they outlined three options facing the West with regards to political Islam: (1) engage them militarily, which has been proven to be ineffective; (2) ignore them, which does not confront the problem; (3) or talk to them, which carries risks, but is the only realistic option available.
Realism in foreign policy, imagine that.