Friday, February 10, 2006

How To Deal With Hamas

The on-line version of the New York Times is reporting that France has seconded Russia's plan to invite leaders of Hamas to Russia to discuss the militant groups role in governing the Palestinian territories and advancing the peace process with Israel. Israel is, unsurprisingly, reacting badly to this news, with calls to withdraw the Israeli ambassador to Russia.

I was going to blog about the original piece in this morning's print edition reporting on Russia's plan (before the French got on board) by discussing the irrelevance of Russia on the international stage. Russia's role as a member of the Quartet (the US, EU, Russia, and the UN), like its status in the G-8, is an artifact of Russia's Cold War relevance. Now, as exemplified in Russia's recent failed attempt to leverage its natural gas power over Ukraine, Russia has little real power in international politics. How much difference has Russia made in the Israel-Palestinian peace process? None whatsoever (nor has the UN for that matter).

However, the more I thought about it, the more I think that these initial advances towards Hamas may be the right step. Forget the rhetoric about not rewarding terror: governments negotiate with and reward terrorists all the time. Just look at the PLO. The only relevant question is: What actions are most likely to lead towards a peaceful settlement of the crisis? Shutting out Hamas from the get-go will likely only alienate and polarize the Palestinian people even more. Reaching out to Hamas, combined with swift and vicious punishment and retaliation for any violent acts, can sufficiently engage Hamas and demonstrate the advantages to be gained by peaceful participation in the political process.

Ultimately, what difference does it make to Israel's security if Russia talks to Hamas? None whatsoever. Israel still has the capability to punish Hamas for any acts of terrorism. So who care if a few irrelevant countries choose to meet with them?

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