Why the US should talk to Hamas
As the 40th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza approaches, the US must ensure justice for the Palestinians if it is to wrest its image from the dustbin, writes Jamil Dakwar*
The US government has shown wisdom enough in the past to recognise when liberation movements designated as "terrorist organisations" make worthy partners for peace talks. The Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka are two good examples. Now the US has such an opportunity in the Middle East.
Last week, Palestinian Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas asked Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas to form a unity government based on the Mecca Accord under which Hamas has committed itself "to respect international resolutions and the agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation." By accepting the Mecca Accord, which was brokered by America's ally in the region, Saudi Arabia, Hamas is de facto recognising Israel and is showing serious willingness to pursue negotiations to achieve peace in place of armed resistance.
Over the past year, the US and other Western countries have sided with Israel in suspending all contacts with the Hamas- controlled Palestinian Authority, including freezing foreign assistance to the Palestinian people. The result has been a deteriorating economic situation that has worsened the living conditions of the Palestinian civilian population and made the possibility of any political solution more distant than ever.
While European reaction to the Mecca Accord has been by and large positive, diverging from the Quartet's conditions, raising hopes of an end to the political impasse and the economic boycott on the Palestinian people, the US position has unfortunately remained unchanged.
Why does the Bush administration insist on rejecting any political pragmatism from the Palestinians and whose interests are being served by this attitude? Aside from the past few weeks of unfortunate deadly street fights between Hamas and Fatah which claimed more than 100 lives, Hamas has shown a great deal of national responsibility and political pragmatism, starting with its decision to run for national elections under the Oslo framework and ending with the Mecca Accord, despite mounting international and internal pressure that almost led to a coup d'état.
With Hamas as a significant political power, it has become crystal clear that no deal between Israel and the Palestinians can be reached without Hamas. Hamas and its leadership are key players in the success of any future settlement between Israel and the Palestinian people, just as Arafat and the PLO were seen as crucial players in reaching peace between the parties in the early 1990s. Engaging with Hamas and recognising its legitimacy as a crucial player representing large segments of the Palestinian people will not only make a future settlement between Israel and the Palestinians more feasible and long-lasting, but it will also improve America's reputation as a fair broker and improve its standing in the Middle East and in the world at large.
Last December, the bi-partisan Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group correctly asserted that "the United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict." Israelis and Palestinians deserve a more attentive, committed and involved administration; an administration that is not taken hostage by the Christian rightwing and lobbying groups who continue to sound the drums of war and military confrontation, causing harm to both America and the peoples of the Middle East.
This year, the Palestinians will mark the 40th anniversary of the Israeli occupation. America's credibility in the region will remain questionable without a fair and just solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Moreover, America's pledge of freedom and democracy for all will remain hollow as long as freedom and justice are denied to the Palestinians. It will be perhaps the last chance for the Bush administration to reshape its legacy of wars, invasions and support to military occupations with one that respects peoples' dignity and their right to self-determination and to live in peace and security.
* The writer is a Palestinian lawyer based in New York.