No way to avoid Hamas now
Excluding the militant group won't secure peace in the Middle East.
(Page 2 of 2)
Meanwhile, the longstanding military tit for tat between Israel and Gaza-based militants from Hamas and other groups has continued. Israel's extremely well-armed military has killed more than 800 Gazans, including 379 civilians, in the past two years. The Gaza militants have hit Israel with primitive and virtually untargetable rockets that have killed 18 Israelis since June 2004. Civilians on both sides live in fear.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
On Jan. 16, I interviewed Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in his well-guarded office here in Damascus. He told me Hamas is interested in reaching a cease-fire with Israel, though he said Israel still rejects this idea completely. He said that Hamas – which has a long and close relationship with Egypt's main political opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood – considers its support within the Arab countries an important asset. While we talked, Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, called. During their five-minute conversation, Mr. Meshaal asked President Saleh to work hard to help lift the siege on Gaza.
Meshaal said Hamas seeks a better relationship with the US. "We are not against the American people, but against this administration. We are not against American interests. Every state has the right to have its own interests – but not at the expense of other peoples."
The State Department's designation of Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization had caused big problems for the organization, he admitted. But "American policy is also affected badly," he argued, "because it finds itself fighting the wrong wars."
As several past Hamas leaders have done before, Meshaal expressed Hamas's willingness to engage in a multidecade "truce" (hudna) if Israel agrees to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders, including in Jerusalem, and respects the rights of Palestinian refugees. These are not easy conditions to fulfill, and no Israeli leader is likely to fulfill them anytime soon.
Hamas has a greater chance of success winning a more limited cease-fire in the ongoing military exchanges with Israel. Any such cease-fire would have a strong positive impact on Gaza (and on southern Israel). Also, if Gaza's people can start connecting more freely with the world economy through Egypt, their situation could be further stabilized.
During Mr. Bush's recent trip to the Middle East, he said some welcome things about his desire for regional peace. But no one can build such a peace while continuing to exclude (and energetically combat) a large, well-rooted political movement such as Hamas.
Washington needs to find a way to talk to the leaders of the movement. Longtime friends in Egypt can help establish a channel. The war-shattered peoples of Gaza and of southern Israel need Washington to help, not hinder, the reaching of a cease-fire.