Talk to Hamas!
I read French papers because I actually learn things from them.
Hubert Védrine: Talks must be held with Hamas
Q. Does France consider Hamas to be a terrorist movement?
I no longer know what the official position of France is. But I think such categorizations do not make much sense because they are proposed by the United States, which wants to stand in the way of dialog with many organizations.
I’m not saying that we should talk to just any organization whenever we please, but these types of blacklists are usually the wrong approach.
Q. Does Hamas accept the three condition imposed by the international community for the resumption of talks: recognize Israel, renounce violence and ratify existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements?
First, the so-called “international community” is usually the United States and Israel. Let’s call things the way they are: there are 5 billion other people in this world who are not Westerners and who challenge the right of Westerns to speak for the whole world. As to these three “conditions”, they have been invented to prevent dialog. Israel once even passed laws forbidding any Israeli citizen from talking to any member of the PLO using the same reasoning. It’s always a struggle to understand who comes up with these conditions and why.
Former President Carter has had recent contacts with Hamas and obtained only vague answers but that’s not surprising.
A recent survey shows that 63% of Israelis accept the idea of direct or indirect talks with Hamas, including former members of the military and the clandestine services, such as Ephraim Halevy, who has publicly stated that no issue can be resolved without eventually entering into dialog with Hamas.
Q. Is Hamas the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people?
You cannot say that Hamas is the only legitimate representative because there are other legitimate representatives: the PLO and President Mahmoud Abbas.
It is totally contradictory that the West on the one hand demands free and fair elections, which were carried out by the Palestinians, and then turns its back on them and declares an embargo, as if it were the Middle Ages, on the pretext that the Palestinians did not vote the way they were supposed to vote.
[What the United States and Israel are] trying to do is to destroy the notion of democracy in Arab public opinion and to discredit any Westerners who want to act differently. This is all the result of completely incoherent policies.
The Palestinian Authority find itself in a kind of trap and is forced to ask Westerners not to talk to Hamas.
The Arab governments in the area who are worried about Iranian threats through Hezbollah and Hamas are going along.
However, everyone knows that sooner or later Hamas will have to be made part of the process. Everything depends on when and how.
Q. Will contacts with Hamas de-legitimize Mahmood Abbas in the eyes of his people?
We have to overcome these contradictions. The West and Israel have to talk to Hamas but they have to do it in a way that will not further weaken Mr. Abbas. But what is weakening Abbas right now is not marginal contact with Hamas but failure to make serious progress in the peace process. Indeed, Abbas’ lack of success could be his moderation. And it is the United States and Israel, who, by failing to restart serious talks, are the No. 1 reason why Abbas is being undermined.
This imbroglio is the direct result of recent Western policies -more precisely, the political alliance formed in the early 1990s between US Neocons, southern evangelicals and Likud as Richard Perle, an influent Neocon responsible for this line, has explained.
According to Perle, it was necessary to convince the world that the Palestinian issue was marginal, that they should not talk to the Palestinians and that it was urgent to change Arab countries by will or by force.
Now we see that this policy, implemented by the Bush Administration, has delivered. It is the worst US foreign policy since the end of WWII, at least in the Middle East.
Q. Should France talks to Hamas?
I think that we should not rule out contact with Hamas. We should all remember that diplomacy has been around since the dawn of history to deal with matters other than war. Diplomacy is not about mutual pats on the back....
Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, the West refused all contacts with the Soviet Union and imposed boycotts right and left. Naturally, they did not last.
Following the Communist Revolution in China, the West boycotted Red China until France changed that in 1964; the United States followed suit in 1972.
During the post-colonial wars, in the end, the United States initiated contacts with the North Viet Nam. The French finally started talking to the National Liberation Front and the British began negotiations with Indian nationalists.
Itzhak Rabin held talks with Yassir Arafat when the position of the PLO was hardly different from that of Hamas today. Rabin made Arafat a partner in negotiations. which contributed to the development of the PLO.
Such examples abound.
We must discard this backward thinking imposed by the Bush administration according to which you cannot talk to your enemies.
Talking does not equate approving. To the contrary, it is a means defending your vital interests.
France should not impose such dogmatic interdictions, whether talking with Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas.
I recall that from time to time in the Israeli press, important Israelis defended talking because they have a different viewpoint on protecting Israel’s vital interests.
However, there are diplomatic implementation questions regarding when to talk; what is the right moment? At what level should talks be held? What outcomes should be expected? But these implementation matters do no contradict the principle of talking.
Q. But Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the European Council!
A member state has the perfect right to say, “We have this common position and we want to change it.” This happens all the time. There’s nothing shocking about that.
But a former ambassador who is now an academic could have private contacts with Hamas. If such a meeting were to take place, I would celebrate it. I find the premise of not talking is absurd.
Unfortunately, we all have to wait for the Israeli’s to come around (and the Israeli intelligence community is talking to Hamas); perhaps a new American President can change things. Then the Europeans, who are a bunch of sheep and afraid to have their own opinions, will follow.
Q. If France talks to Hamas, will that affect relations with Israel?
Everyone recalls that Mitterrand went to Israel in 1982 yet still supported a Palestinian state. It was Begin who then said that support for Palestine what the only factor preventing perfect harmony.
But everyone nowadays supports the idea of a Palestinian state, even President Bush, although he talks and acts as if he thought just the opposite.
Q. How would the United States punish France if it were to talk to Hamas?
If France were to contact Hamas in view of changing European policy, then perhaps the United States would come around as well. But there would have to be a strategy behind talking to Hamas. However, French diplomats are scared to death.
Q. Is a two-state solution the best solution?
If a two-state solution is not found, Israel will continue to occupy the West Bank and will never be fully accepted in the region. Such a situation would poison Europe’s relationships with the Arab world as well as those between Islam and the West.
Q. But isn’t Jerusalem an obstacle to the two-state solution?
The question is not insurmountable but guarantees from the Saudis, who are the defenders of holy sites, are needed.
Q. Would the election of Obama change anything?
If Obama is elected, the world will breathe a sigh of relief. Obama will galvanize the rest of the world, because he will be the first American president to understand them. If Obama wins, it will be an earth-shaking event and we should hope for it. The election is the most important US election in 30 years.