Should the world talk to Hamas?
A consensus to isolate the group is fraying due to the lack of political results.
(Page 2 of 3)
Intent of the original strategySkip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The main reason for the growing doubts about the isolation strategy is that it has not worked as planned. It was designed to weaken Hamas politically by turning Palestinian voters against it – notably by thwarting its ability to deliver services to the Palestinians of Gaza, which it controls. On the contrary, the plan seems to have largely enhanced Hamas in stature.
The idea of boosting moderate President Abbas among the Palestinian people while encouraging their estrangement from Hamas leaders like Ismail Haniyeh has also failed.
Recent surveys back up that conclusion. Palestinians in the West Bank show a growing preference for Hamas over Fatah, the organization of Abbas, according to a poll by the respected Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. The poll – which showed backing for the shooting attack at a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem this month – suggests that support is increasing for Hamas's rocket attacks and other aggressive means of responding to Israeli attacks.
The poll also shows that two-thirds of Palestinians support a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel. But it indicates that Palestinians would now elect Mr. Haniyeh as president over Abbas – a reversal from a December poll by the Palestinian Center.
This last finding suggests how much the international approach to Hamas has "backfired," Mr. Hulsman says. "This for Europeans was really the wake-up call."
The evolving European thinking was expressed publicly this month by Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema, who noted a survey of Israelis showing support for talks with Hamas. "Hamas controls a very important part of the Palestinian territory, and if we want peace, we will have to involve them," he added.
In response, Israel's ambassador to Italy, Gideon Meir, told the Italian press agency ANSA, "Whoever invites us to negotiate with Hamas is actually inviting us to negotiate on the size of our coffin and on the number of flowers we want on it."
That "whoever" might now be construed to include the United States – which is encouraging Egypt to act as an intermediary between Israel and Hamas in an effort to foster negotiations that would lead to a cease-fire between the two. Also this month, the State Department posted on its Dipnote blog a "question of the week" that asked, "Should [the US] engage Hamas in the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians?"