Posted by Joshua on Friday, January 23rd, 2009
James Baker: Obama Has to Get Hamas Involved Peace Process, By Mehtap GUZEL, JTW
James A. Baker, former Secretary of State and former Treasury Secretary, told the Newsweek magazine that new American President Barack Hussein Obama must Hamas involved the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Baker said in the interview “you cannot negotiate peace with only half the Palestinian polity at the table. I would suggest an approach like we used leading up to the Madrid Conference in 1991. For the first time ever we got Israel’s Arab neighbors “all of them” to negotiate face to face with Israel. How? Back then, we nor Israel could talk to the PLO because, like Hamas, it was a terrorist organization. So we negotiated with Palestinians from within the territories whom we and Israel knew were taking their orders from [Yasir] Arafat in Tunis. But we both had deniability, and it worked!”
Baker further advised new president to engage Syria. “Syria’s marriage with Iran is one of convenience, and if we assured them they would get back the Golan and normalized relations with the U.S., we might wean them from Iran. Hamas has its offices in downtown Damascus. The Syrians claim that they can get Hamas to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. If they can do that, you would then have 100 percent of the Palestinian polity, with whom you might negotiate a peace accord” he added.
‘Inevitable’ that U.S. Will Have to Deal with Hamas
Richard W. Murphy, Adjunct Scholar, Middle East Institute
Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, CFR.org
January 21, 2009
Richard W. Murphy, a veteran Middle East expert, says that just as the United States could have accomplished more in peacemaking between Israel and Palestinians if it had not banned talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization for some thirteen years, it is running the same kind of risk in not dealing at all with Hamas.
“I think we are now getting pulled into a more active position on the ground [in Gaza]. Whether this will lead to the opening of political contact with Hamas is the question. I don’t think it will happen quickly but I think it is inevitable. Hamas is, in my opinion, a legitimate representative of part of the Palestinian community.”
One of the problems, I would think, that the United States finds itself in is how to deal with Israeli-Palestinian issues when Washington will not talk to Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls Gaza. Is this problem the same as when you were in the State Department and the United States agreed with Israel not to deal at all with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)?
I do think there’s an analogy. We had explicitly pledged to the Israelis as part of the second disengagement agreement with Egypt in September 1975 not to “recognize or negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization as long as the Palestine Liberation Organization does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and does not accept Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.” That was a mantra which lasted thirteen years. In that time, we had no discussions with the PLO other than on security issues affecting our embassy in Beirut.
Were there efforts to alter the ban?
Throughout those years there were individuals encouraging us to have some contact with the PLO, to explore with them what possibilities there would be to include them in peacemaking. But we stuck very faithfully to that pledge.
“When we start playing intra-Palestinian politics, I believe we’re rather quickly in over our head.”
So did that hurt American diplomacy? Could the United States have done more in that period if we had dealt directly with the PLO?
I normally don’t play the “what if game,” but this is a case in which I’ve come to feel we would have been much better off and the region could have been better off had we engaged with the PLO in those early days. It would have been very controversial with Israel; it also would have been very controversial with Jordan since King Hussein did retain, in the 1970s, the belief that he could reassert his leadership over the West Bank. And the Jordanian option was very highly preferred by the Israelis. But it didn’t work. What happened in those years was the inexorable progress of the settler movement which has hamstrung the ability of the Israelis to make a deal with Palestinians and dented their credibility with the Palestinians. You can ask if there is any Israeli leader who is ready to tackle the settler movement and work out a deal which would meet minimal Palestinian expectations for a state of their own? So I’d say that our not engaging with the PLO delayed or limited our ability to influence it.
Yasir Arafat, the PLO leader, finally did go through the “striptease,” as he called it, and in one concise statement in December 1988 made the necessary statements. Within forty-eight hours, U.S. diplomats were talking to the PLO.
How does that relate to the United States not dealing with Hamas?
On Hamas, a group which has not, to my knowledge, ever launched a deliberate blow against the United States, such as the PLO did–even though some Americans have been killed in Hamas acts of terrorism in Israel. Right now there is a cease-fire. Israelis are determined to do nothing that will allow any degree of legitimacy to Hamas. There is the same strong Israeli opposition to this movement, as there was toward the PLO. But Israel found a way to deal with the PLO. Israeli Prime Minister [Yitzhak] Shamir with great unhappiness put up with the PLO presence within the Jordanian delegation at the Madrid conference in 1992. The PLO today, in the person of President Mahmoud Abbas, has been a favored negotiator. Ironically, in the 1970s, Hamas, which was seen by Israel as a counter to the PLO since Israel believed that Hamas would never have any serious appeal. There is now a defacto cease-fire in Gaza but you have the Israeli military spokesmen saying, “Watch out because it’s not so recently their rockets could reach only twenty kilometers; now they can go forty kilometers.” Israel is going to do it’s damndest to be sure that those tunnels between Egypt and Gaza are closed, and there’s going to be a lot of discussions and movement on the ground to see who will enforce the closing. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt does not want foreign forces on Egyptian territory, and Israel is going to be very insistent that those tunnels not become a conduit for weapons smuggling. Well, is Israel going to open the border crossing points? Is Israel going to open transit for food and medicine without restriction? Can that be done given their concerns about the weapons smuggling? I don’t know how that’s going to work out but I think we are now getting pulled into a more active position on the ground [in Gaza]. Whether this will lead to the opening of political contact with Hamas is the question. I don’t think it will happen quickly but I think it is inevitable. Hamas is, in my opinion, a legitimate representative of part of the Palestinian community.
Hamas did win the Parliamentary election in 2006.
Yes, it made us look foolish to be beating the drums for democracy and elections globally, and then to be turning our back on the Palestinian elections and endorsing a blockade that turned into a siege and forcing down the standards of living in Gaza. We fully endorsed the effort to cut Hamas off, to shut down contacts between American banks and banks in Gaza if they could be shown to be involved in getting money to Hamas. Our people were enjoined to not talk to any ministry representative in Gaza if the minister himself were from Hamas. So we endorsed the Israeli program and life got very hard for the Palestinians, and we’ll see how the story turns out on who broke the cease-fire. Was it Israel in November? What was Hamas’ intent in refusing to renew the cease-fire? They say it’s because the Israelis would not fulfill the commitment they had made last June on opening the border crossing points and allowing the food and medicines in unrestricted. And Israel said it would authorize, I believe, 15 percent of what had been flowing in a year earlier. That was not enough, and Hamas said, “We’re not going to renew the cease-fire.” And Israel said, “In that case, you’re breaking the cease-fire.” And the firing intensified and led to these last three weeks of bombardment.
Should the United States open talks with Hamas?
I don’t think we can, politically, move directly to open contacts with Hamas. What we can stop doing is endorsing a policy deliberately aimed at fighting the Palestinians and weakening Hamas. This is a delicate job because we have pledged our support to the PLO, to the Palestine Authority, we are training–and I gather the program is going quite well–Palestinian security forces in the West Bank. We’re saying Abbas should be accepted back in Gaza as the leader. Can we find a way to stop a devisive policy while not embracing Hamas? Can we manage to work through our role that’s been vilified strongly in a number of Arab states? Cairo got a cease-fire last summer, so it has the patience and it has the skills to get something again, indeed, with our support. But I think there are ways to signal that we’re not going to continue to blackball Hamas as a player in Palestinian politics.
Does that need a statement by the U.S.? That would really touch off a political storm in the United States and Israel, wouldn’t it?…. (Read the rest)
Hamas: Obama does not represent change: A spokesman for Hamas says he expects Obama to fail in the Mideast if he sticks with his current positions.
Obama won’t talk to Hamas – Olmert adviser
“I don’t think that this administration … will deal with Hamas or will talk with Hamas,” the adviser told reporters, a day after Olmert and Obama spoke by telephone.
The adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity on Thursday, did not say whether Obama had told Olmert explicitly that he would not talk to the Palestinian group which rules the Gaza Strip.
“Talking to Hamas is first and foremost a Palestinian problem. If the international community start talking to Hamas, they will undermine the moderates,” the adviser said, referring to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “This is the fight between the moderates and the extremists in the region and I don’t think that anyone has an interest … to do it and will do it,” Olmert’s adviser said.
Incoming administration will abandon Bush’s isolation of Islamist group to initiate low-level diplomacy, say transition sources.
Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian, Friday 9 January
The incoming Obama administration is prepared to abandon George Bush’s doctrine of isolating Hamas by establishing a channel to the Islamist organisation, sources close to the transition team say.
The move to open contacts with Hamas, which could be initiated through the US intelligence services, would represent a definitive break with the Bush presidency’s ostracising of the group. The state department has designated Hamas a terrorist organisation, and in 2006 Congress passed a law banning US financial aid to the group.
The Guardian has spoken to three people with knowledge of the discussions in the Obama camp. There is no talk of Obama approving direct diplomatic negotiations with Hamas early on, but he is being urged by advisers to initiate low-level or clandestine approaches, and there is growing recognition in Washington that the policy of ostracising Hamas is counter-productive. A tested course would be to start contacts through Hamas and the US intelligence services, similar to the secret process through which the US engaged with the PLO in the 1970s. Israel did not become aware of the contacts until much later.
A UN resolution was agreed last night at the UN, calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire between Hamas and Israeli forces in Gaza. The resolution was passed, though the US, represented by secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, abstained.
Richard Haass, a diplomat under both Bush presidents who was named by a number of news organisations this week as Obama’s choice for Middle East envoy, supports low-level contacts with Hamas provided there is a ceasefire in place and a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation emerges.
Another potential contender for a foreign policy role in the Obama administration suggested that the president-elect would not be bound by the Bush doctrine of isolating Hamas.
“This is going to be an administration that is committed to negotiating with critical parties on critical issues,” the source said.
There are a number of options that would avoid a politically toxic scenario for Obama of seeming to give legitimacy to Hamas.
“Secret envoys, multilateral six-party talk-like approaches. The total isolation of Hamas that we promulgated under Bush is going to end,” said Steve Clemons, the director of the American Strategy Programme at the New America Foundation. “You could do something through the Europeans. You could invent a structure that is multilateral. It is going to be hard for the neocons to swallow,” he said. “I think it is going to happen.”
But one Middle East expert close to the transition team said: “It is highly unlikely that they will be public about it.”…
Syrian Leader Reaches Out To Obama, By George Baghdadi
In a congratulatory wire sent to Barack Obama, President Bashar al-Assad voiced his “hope for a constructive dialogue with the United States based on common interests and mutual respect, leading to a just and comprehensive peace in the region based on relevant U.N. resolutions.” United States Committee for a Free Lebanon Logo