Talk to Hamas now or fight new radicals indefinitely
Obama can't afford to let history repeat itself in the Middle East.
History is repeating itself in the Palestinian territories. Washington refuses to engage a right-wing Palestinian group – and so spawns organizations that are even more extreme.Skip to next paragraph
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It happened in the 1980s, when the US balked at recognizing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and hesitated to seek a resolution to the Middle East conflict through the creation of a Palestinian state. Those long delays helped propel the rise of the hard-line Islamist party Hamas.
Today, the lack of US dialogue with Hamas and the group's moderation are leading to the formation of new, more dangerous rejectionist groups.
If the US were serious about engaging Hamas, it would acknowledge three things:
2. Hamas has said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas can continue negotiations with Israel, and that it would abide by any peace agreement he signs if it is ratified by a referendum of the Palestinian people.
3. Hamas has observed several cease-fires with Israel and has offered decades-long truces in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza.
In December 1988, President Reagan authorized dialogue between the US government and the PLO – 14 years after the Arab League designated the PLO the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," and 13 years after the United Nations General Assembly made the PLO an observer organization. Even Mr. Reagan's step conferred no official US recognition, though the PLO had some form of relations with at least 70 countries and was widely recognized by the Palestinians as their legitimate political leadership.
Reagan's decision came one year after the founding of Hamas, established as an Islamic armed force to counter Israel at the beginning of the first Palestinian uprising in 1987. Hamas's political platform calling for the destruction of Israel was in part a response to the gradual moderation of the PLO, which adopted the position of accepting a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza in 1988.
Back then, Hamas gave new voice to the rejectionists, while centering itself ideologically in the budding Islamic political revival that flowed from the Iranian revolution and the successes of the mujahideen in Afghanistan.
And now it appears that though Hamas's charter remains the same, like the PLO before it, Hamas has moderated its views substantially. In a July 31 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal reiterated acceptance of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza on the 1967 lines. "This is the national program. This is our program."