What Hamas Believes

January, 15 2009

By Jeremy Gillick

Bombing Gaza might not force Hamas–the Palestinian version of the Muslim Brotherhood that rules it–to moderate its hatred of Israel or its hostility towards Jews, but talking to it won’t either. At least, that’s the dismal picture painted by Jeffrey Goldberg–based on discussions he had with several former Hamas leaders–in his fascinating op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times.

“Hamas is not a monolith,” he explains, “and opinions inside the group differ about many things, including engagement with the Shiites of Hezbollah and Iran.” That said, Goldberg argues, there is a consensus within the group that it should aspire to the ideals and successes of its northern counterpart, Hezbollah. “For Hamas,” Goldberg writes, “Hezbollah is not only a source of weapons and instruction, it is a mentor and role model.”

If Hamas is not as malleable as some on the dovish left like to believe (In his new book, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land, Jimmy Carter writes that “there is a real prospect of Hamas participating constructively in future peace talks.”) then is it worth talking to at all? Or was Hillary Clinton right?

As usual, it depends. The best peace-making scenario would put a non-Hamas government backed overwhelmingly by the Palestinian population in control of both the West Bank and Gaza. This should be the goal of the Obama administration’s policies. Deciding whether or not to talk to Hamas is hardly the most important decision his team will have to make in order to bring that about.

Instead, Obama should focus on issues where the U.S. has real influence, such as exerting sufficient pressure on Israel to stop settlement building, which it looks set to do, and to release Palestinian prisoners and potential political leaders like Mustafa Barghouti. If Israel takes steps towards creating a viable Palestinian state, then either Hamas will moderate its platform (not very likely), or support for Hamas among Palestinians will decline, hopefully paving the way for a strong, less ideological replacement. In terms of creating the optimal conditions for a political solution, that may be about as much as the United States can do.

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