Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Can Hamas be a partner in peace?

One of the larger issues that has been swimming about since the latest round of speeches from Obama and Netanyahu has been that of Hamas. If you didn't know, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have recently entered into an accord, which has made Israel, and its supporters, very nervous. Hamas has been, from its inception, against the very idea of a Jewish state (indeed, dedication to Israel's utter annihalation is the very reason that Hamas was created).

Rabbi David Kaufman has written a blog entry exploring this issue, and it's a very clear, cogent summary of what's going on. On the one hand, Obama asserts that Israel can't be expected to negotiate with Hamas:

And I indicated on Thursday that the recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace. No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. We will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to all existing agreements. And we once again call on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, who has been kept from his family for five long years…

Moreover, we know that peace demands a partner – which is why I said that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist, and we will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their rhetoric.

But, at the same time, he calls on Israel to negotiate with the PA, despite their alliance with Hamas:

And yet, no matter how hard it may be to start meaningful negotiations under the current circumstances, we must acknowledge that a failure to try is not an option.

While I've been defending Obama and his speeches, I've never claimed that they were perfect, and this is one example. There's a contradiction (or, at least a strong tension) here. Either Israel can't be expected to negotiate with those sworn to its destruction, or it can, right? 

Rabbi Kaufman tries to reconcile these two ideas:

I can understand what President Obama is saying, namely that while Israel may not want to negotiate toward creating a Palestinian state with Hamas playing a role, he believes it is in Israel’s interests in the long term to work toward the creation of a Palestinian state. That is what he means by “failing to try is not an option.” However, the long term is irrelevant if the short term cost is too high. A Hamas controlled Palestinian Authority would mean significant suffering both inside the Palestinian Authority and inside Israel at a minimum through terrorism and rockets and at worst the likelihood of warfare that would make previous battles pale by comparison and could threaten the existence of the state of Israel. For Israel, negotiating with Hamas as it is today would be “trying to fail.” 

Work to set the groundwork for negotiations, and for a Palestinian state. But, all along, refuse to work with Hamas, or anyone who only exists to see us die. It might be an impossible balance, in which case we're back to where we started - long-term occupation, and no real peace. But, I'm not sure that careful, cautious negotiations can leave us much worse off than we are now. So long as our friends remember that we really can't be expected to negotiate with those who don't recognize our right to exist...

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

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