Friday, January 09, 2009

Obama camp 'prepared to talk to Hamas'.

The Obama camp have signaled that they are prepared to end the stupidity of the Bush style of non-negotiation with Hamas and have hinted that they are prepared to have some sort of negotiation with the people who the Palestinians have elected as their democratic representatives.

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.

The Bush doctrine of never negotiating with people you disagreed with, or only agreeing to negotiate - as in the case of North Korea and Iran - once your adversary had agreed to every humiliating term you had laid down in advance, has been an abysmal failure.

This is a brilliant start to Obama's approach to the Middle East in general and the Israeli/Palestine problem in particular. As John Major showed in his dealings with the IRA, which eventually resulted in Blair's historic peace deal, it is only by talking to people that one can actually make the bombs stop.

The mantra that one "never negotiates with terrorists", made popular by Thatcher in the eighties, was simply a dumb policy, as the Bush administration have amply reminded us during eight years in which diplomacy became a dirty word and problems stagnated and festered with no dialogue of any kind taking place.

Obama promised change and this is certainly a significant one.

Bush and Cheney's policy of non-negotiation led nowhere. It's time to try something new.

"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."

The two weeks since Israel began its military campaign against Gaza have heightened anticipation about how Obama intends to deal with the Middle East. He adopted a strongly pro-Israel position during the election campaign, as did his erstwhile opponent and choice for secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. But it is widely thought Obama would adopt a more even-handed approach once he is president.

Obama could do wonders if he reverses the Bush administrations habit of acting as if the US is practically a client state of Israel, there to rubber stamp and give approval to every Israeli action no matter how much the rest of the planet objects.

However, if yesterday's non binding resolution in the US Senate is any indication, he'll have as much trouble with his own side as he will with the Republicans if he tries to adopt an even handed approach to this situation.

But that's the only way he is going to have any success here. The stupid and immoral Bush mantra of constantly siding with the occupier and attacking the occupied people for their reaction to the occupation has resulted in abject failure.

His main priority now, in the remaining days before his inauguration, is to ensure the crisis does not rob him of the chance to set his own foreign policy agenda, rather than merely react to events.

"We will be perceived to be weak and feckless if we are perceived to be on the margins, unable to persuade the Israelis, unable to work with the international community to end this," said Aaron David Miller, a former state department adviser on the Middle East.

"Unless he is prepared to adopt a policy that is tougher, fairer and smarter than both of his predecessors you might as well hang a closed-for-the-season sign on any chance of America playing an effective role in defusing the current crisis or the broader crisis," he said.

A policy that is "tougher, fairer and smarter than both of his predecessors" is exactly what is needed. I, for one, am simply delighted that the Obama camp are sending out these signals. This is exactly what I hoped he would do.

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2 comments:

RandyMan said...

nice article, but we need to recognize that Hamas is the party with "veto" power. It does not matter what Israel and Abbas/Fatah try to negotiate. Hamas' starting point is that it rejects all agreements made before it.

I believe that Israel would have made peace with Palestinians by now, were it not for Hamas.

Kel said...

Hamas' starting point is that it rejects all agreements made before it.

That's not true. Hamas has said it will accept any deal negotiated by Fatah as long as it is ratified by the Palestinian people in a referendum.

I believe that Israel would have made peace with Palestinians by now, were it not for Hamas.

Well the Saudi Peace proposal has been ignored and that offers Israel full recognition by all Arab states. Even Hamas have said they would accept the Saudi Peace proposal with spokesman Ismail Abu Shanab saying that his organization would accept the initiative: "That would be satisfactory for all Palestinian military groups to stop and build our state, to be busy in our own affairs, and have good neighborhood with Israelis."