to bring about its demise. It should be clear by nowthat this policy has only strengthened Hamas, andthat it has retained the ability to torpedo any Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement it is not party to.This view, shared by virtually every MiddleEastern political and security expert, was expressedconcisely as the conclusion of a recent essay onthe subject in Foreign Affairs: “Hamas is here tostay. Refusing to deal with it will only make thesituation worse: Palestinian moderates will becomeweaker, and Hamas will grow stronger. If the Obamaadministration is to move its plans for peace forward,the challenge of Hamas has to be met rst.”
As argued in this paper, a more balanced approach toHamas, addressing legitimate grievances, could leadto its return to a Palestinian coalition government thatwould provide Israel with a credible peace partner. If that outreach fails because of Hamas’ rejectionism,its ability to prevent a reasonable accord negotiated by other Palestinian political parties will have beenseriously undermined.
The misreading of Hamas
Hamas’ democratic mandate
Mahmoud Abbas’s rule does not extend much beyond Ramallah. Although Fatah was unopposed by Hamas (or by any other organized political party) in the local West Bank elections of July 17,the party is so dysfunctional and unpopular that itscandidates were in danger of losing to local unafliatedcandidates, causing Abbas to call off the elections atthe last moment. By contrast, Hamas is not only theeffective ruler of Gaza, but the only political partythat received a democratic mandate for its rule fromthe Palestinian electorate in the 2006 election thatrejected Fatah.The Oslo accords declared Gaza to be an inseparable part of Palestine, and obliged Israel to provide anunobstructed territorial connection linking Gaza tothe West Bank. That provision was reinforced by a
formal Israeli-Palestinian agreement (the Agreementon Movement and Access) in 2005 for the freemovement of people and goods between these twoareas, brokered by James Wolfensohn, then secretaryof state Condoleezza Rice’s special envoy for Gazadisengagement, an obligation Israel violated even before the ink on the document dried.
Hamas was denied its electoral mandate and excludedfrom the West Bank because Fatah conspired withIsrael’s government and the Bush administration tocarry out a putsch by Mohammed Dahlan’s militiaforces in Gaza to overthrow Hamas. The attempted putsch was pre-empted by Hamas in a bloodymanner.
But the way Dahlan’s forces had previouslydealt with Hamas’ members that it had imprisoned(or the way Abbas’ Fatah has dealt with them in theWest Bank since) should not leave anyone with falseillusions about the treatment that awaited Hamas hadDahlan’s putsch succeeded.
Hamas’ obsolete charter
But can Hamas be engaged by Israel, or by the US,while it adheres to a charter that is racist and anti-Semitic, and explicitly commits the organizationto the violent expulsion of Jews within Israel’sinternationally recognized pre-1967 borders?While the government of Israel does not have acharter promising the expulsion of Palestiniansfrom their homes and the conscation of their land, it has been doing exactly that – regularly andsystematically. These conscations and expulsions began even before Hamas existed, yet no one in theWest demanded Israel be quarantined, or even that it be denied continued massive American nancial andmilitary assistance.
2 Shahar Smooha, interview with James Wolfensohn, “Allthe dreams we had are now gone”,
Henry Siegman: US Hamas policy blocks Middle East peace