- "Hamas has arrived at the doors
of power through legitimate elections," said Russian President Putin
last Thursday during a joint press conference with the Prime Minister of
Spain. He said that Russia does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
Moreover, he declared that Russia would invite Hamas representatives to
come to Moscow for talks in the future. That presumably would be under
Russia's role in the Quartet with the United States, the UN, and the European
Community that is responsible for navigating the Road Map to Middle East
peace. On Friday France indicated that it supported the Putin plan to invite
Hamas to Moscow.
- Israeli officials uniformly have loudly
protested the Putin invitation, asserting that it threatens peace prospects.
Israelis have been trying to have all governments shun Hamas because its
charter calls for destruction of Israel. Calling the Putin invitation a
"slap in the face" to Israel and to western countries, Israelis
said it was Russia's responsibility to shun Hamas.
- However, according to the New York Times,
a French Foreign Ministry spokesman stated that "We share with Russia
the goal of leading Hamas toward positions that permit reaching the objective
of two states living in peace and security."
- Putin's statements indicated plainly
that Russia has moved to the next square concerning Palestinian politics
and Middle East peace. Putin appeared unmoved by Israeli protests, or by
the probable--behind the scenes--efforts others have been made to make
him change his mind.
- Out of obeisance to Israel, the West
struggles pretty uniformly to figure out what to do about the Hamas political
victory in Palestine. Putin has seen both the reality and the opportunity.
He suddenly is in at least a metaphorical class--one he may not even recall--with
Harry Truman, who was the first to recognize the fledgling self-declared
state of Israel in 1948. France, less closely tied to US positions than
most Europeans, basically followed suit by supporting the Russian position.
- Hamas, ready or not, entered the forever
dicey realm of great power competition for present and future influence,
if not pre-eminence in the Middle East. However it plays out, the pending
visit to Moscow is a very important moment for Hamas.
- It will be, most likely, the first Hamas
toe in the tricky waters of Middle East peace negotiations. When they
are in Russia, as Putin statements already have indicated, the Hamas representatives
will be pressed on the need to recognize Israel.
- Recognition sounds like a straightforward
gesture that contains no complications. Typically, it is a mutual gesture
between two states of equal legal standing whereby each state recognizes
and respects the people, laws, territory and sovereignty of the other.
In this case, however, the West, the UN and Israel are seeking a unilateral
act by Hamas on behalf of Palestine, i.e., recognizing Israel's right to
exist, for which the Palestinian people get nothing in return, because
no Israeli obligations are either stated or implied.
- In fact, getting Israel to define itself,
specify its intentions, and make unequivocal commitments to the peace process,
to the Palestinians, or to the Quartet have been the hardest and most enduring
blocks to successful peace negotiations. Recognizing Israel, warts and
all, therefore, would not be a step forward, either for Hamas or for the
- In short, recognition has to be a product
of common understandings reached on what happens next. And those understandings
have to be backed with concrete commitments on both sides. Otherwise,
the very real prospect is that recognizing Israel, "where is, as is",
will be the start of further endless talks that lead nowhere, while the
area of a future Palestinian state shrinks and disintegrates under Israeli
incursions. Hamas as a political entity will not survive that process,
and neither will Palestine.
- In response to a request to recognize
Israel, even the most forthcoming Hamas team needs a lot of answers:
- Which Israel: The one that is now slowly
devouring the West Bank and reducing the area of any Palestinian state?
- Which Israel: The one that is turning
what is left of a Palestinian state into disjointed Bantustans surrounded
by a prison wall?
- Which Israel: The one that increasingly
blocks any Palestinian access to the sacred city of Jerusalem?
- Which Israel: The one that has confiscated
hundreds of Palestinian farms and villages and continues to confiscate
Palestinian lands without compensation?
- Which Israel: The one that hogs more
and more of Palestine's scarce water?
- Which Israel: The one that even now may
be planning to assassinate more members of Hamas?
- Which Israel: The one that always demands
present and real Palestinian concessions for future and undefined Israeli
- Which Israel: The one that now occupies
the whole of Palestine and day by day makes life miserable for the Palestinian
- OR: An Israel that unequivocally will
pull back to the 1967 truce line to make way for a Palestinian state?
- Every one of these Israels, except the
last, is simply incompatible with any generally recognized concept of recognition
between states. The refusal of Hamas leaders to heed the drumbeat of international
opinion would surely be unpopular in the West and in Israel. But at this
point Hamas recognition of Israel without any commitments on the part of
Israel and/or its international supporters would probably confirm the end
of the line for any Palestinian state. Some Israelis and supporters probably
- It would be only a matter of time before
Hamas would turn into the eunuch that Fatah became, or would revert in
frustration to insurgency. Hamas knows that recognition without conditions
is giving away half of pre World War II Palestine without a struggle or
compensation. That would define the start of future bargaining in the most
awkward manner: Basically "as is, where is", recognition says
for the Israelis: What is mine is mine. Now let us talk about how much
of yours we're willing to let you keep.
- A less definitive Hamas response appears
both possible and constructive: Hamas simply needs to be noncommittal
about such issues as the size and shape of Israel; it will refrain from
making any statements that appear to take the present situation as a given.
Should there be further cracks in the common front of the international
community Hamas might simply say it is prepared to accept Israel as the
partner to a negotiative process designed to reach a two state solution.
And finally, Hamas would make clear that recognition per se would have
to await the results of those negotiations.
- This is a tough landscape for Hamas because
its political personality is not yet fully developed. The present membership
of the Hamas leadership group includes not only those who have chosen the
active political path, but also varying orders of hardliners who see negotiation
as a lost cause and continued armed struggle as a necessity. Membership
also includes a number of fairly senior people who have been living outside
Palestine, surviving mostly on the good will of surrounding families and
governments, and gathering funds, weapons, et cetera to support the cause.
- Getting the Hamas political act together
could involve a virtual repeat of the Fatah experience. Hamas needs both
time and a rationale for getting this disparate membership behind a political
agenda. That may require Hamas leadership to ease out some of the hardliners.
- That task would go a lot more smoothly
if outsiders recognized the complexity of the Hamas position and gave them
the needed room. It will go badly for everyone, especially Israel and
the Palestinian people, if outsiders and Israel do not recognize and accept
this need and cooperate. People simply have to recognize that Hamas won
a fair and free election, and the time for serious negotiation of the real
issues is now close at hand.
- The writer is the author of the recently
published work, _A World Less Safe_, now available on Amazon, and he is
a regular columnist on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service
Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions
were as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counterterrorism, and as
Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War
College. He will welcome comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.