Conflict Resolution 101: Talking With Hamas

Posted by Medea -

Tue, Aug 5, 2014

Gaza, Palestine/Israel

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The world awaits with bated breath to see if the interim truce negotiated by US Secretary of State John Kerry will lead to a long-term ceasefire. But if US mediation is to be sincere and effective, the American government needs to take Hamas off its terrorist list and allow Hamas to be fully represented at the table.

For the past month, Secretary Kerry has been traveling around the the Middle East trying to negotiate an end to the violence. He has had ongoing discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. He consults regularly with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He’s convened with the governments of influential countries in the region, such as Egypt, Turkey, and Qatar. But there’s one glaring omission in his efforts as mediator: he doesn’t talk directly to Hamas, which has been on the US terrorist list since 1997.

Conflict Resolution 101 says “negotiate with all relevant parties.” Senator George Mitchell, who successfully brokered the Good Friday Accord in Northern Ireland, said that serious negotiations were only possible once the British stopped treating the Irish Republican Army as a terrorist organization and began dealing with it as a political entity. The Turkish government learned this lesson more recently. After decades of fighting the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan decided to remove the PKK from the terrorist list and began direct negotiations with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan–a move that has given new life to the peace process.

You can’t presume to be a mediator and then exclude one key party because you don’t like them. That lesson surely applies to Gaza. If the position of Hamas is only heard through intermediaries, Hamas is much more likely to refuse the outcome. Look at Kerry’s July 15 ceasefire proposal. It was negotiated with the Israeli government, and Netanyahu boasted about Israel’s willingness to accept the proposal. But Hamas was never consulted and actually heard about the “take it or leave it” proposal via the media. Little wonder they rejected it. Former UN rapporteur Richard Falk called Kerry’s efforts “a diplomatic analogue to the theater of the absurd.”

The military wing of Hamas, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has certainly been involved in terrorist activities–from suicide bombings in the 1990s to launching rockets into civilian areas in Israel. But Hamas has a social welfare wing that has long provided social services oftentimes not provided by the Palestinian Authority. And after it won the elections in 2006, its political wing had to start functioning as a government, overseeing not only security but more mundane institutions such as the Ministries of Health, Education, Commerce and Transportation. The more moderate members of Hamas tend to run the government agencies, oftentimes at odds with the more militant members.

On one of the CODEPINK humanitarian delegations to Gaza, soon after the horrific 2009 Israeli incursion that left over 1,400 Palestinians dead, I had firsthand experience with some of these government officials when they asked for a meeting with three members of our delegation, including two of us who had identified ourselves explicitly as Jewish Americans.

I expected the meeting to be tense, with rancor expressed toward us as Americans–– after all, our government had been funding the recent operations –– and as Jews. We were not only warmly welcomed by the group of about a dozen men, but told repeatedly: “We have no problems with the Jewish religion; in fact, we find it very close to Islam. Our problem is with Israeli policies, not Jews.”

I realized that Hamas, like any political organization, is made up of a variety of individuals with different political perspectives. Some are hard-line Islamists, antagonistic toward the West and bent on the destruction of Israel. Others, like the ones we met with, had earned university degrees in Western universities, appreciated many aspects of American and European culture, and believed they could negotiate with the Israelis.

The following day, the Hamas leaders we met with gave me a letter to take back to President Obama asking for his help. It was signed by Dr. Ahmed Yousef, Deputy Foreign Minister and senior advisor to Gaza’s Prime Minister Ismael Haniya. The language was free of anti-Israel rhetoric and instead infused with references to international law and human rights. It called for a lifting of the siege on Gaza, a halt to all settlement building and a US policy shift that would show evenhandedness based on international law and norms. It stated that Hamas was willing to talk to all parties, obviously including Israel, “on the basis of mutual respect and without preconditions.”

I found it astonishing that these representatives of a government that had been subject to a recent and brutal assault, financed in large part with US tax dollars, were reaching out to President Obama with such a well-reasoned plea to intervene. Even more astonishing is the fact that they gave the letter to me–– a feminist, Jewish, American woman–to try to deliver to the administration.

Back in Washington DC, I delivered the letter but despite my insistence, the Obama administration refused to even acknowledge its receipt, much less send a reply. It was yet another loss for the Hamas moderates and a win for those who saw armed resistance as the only way to win concessions from Israel.

Like the letter I received in 2009, the counterproposals Hamas has put forth in the last month have been very reasonable, including the following:

-Withdrawal of Israeli tanks from the Gaza border

-Freeing the prisoners arrested after the killing of the three youths

-Lifting the siege and opening the border crossings to commerce and people, under UN supervision

-Establishing an international seaport and airport under U.N. supervision

-Increasing the permitted fishing zone to comply with international norms

-Reestablishing an industrial zone and improvements in further economic development in the Gaza Strip

Not only are these conditions reasonable, they form the basis of a long-lasting truce that gets at the underlying, systemic problems. The only way this will happen is if Hamas is taken off the US terrorist list and given the opportunity–and responsibility–to negotiate these systemic changes the Palestinians so desperately need and deserve.

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human rights group Global Exchange. She is the author of Drone Warfare: Killing By Remote Control.


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  • Michael Goldman

    Are you really taken in by the Hammas claiming they have no problem with Jews?

    Just look at their charter.

    i quote:

    “The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him! This will not apply to the Gharqad, which is a Jewish tree (cited by Bukhari and Muslim).”

  • I Love Zaatar

    I would like to give Codepink credit for advocating peace, but it is hard to take seriously someone who acknowledges Hamas as anything other than a hateful organization. Additionally, your comments fro, your July 10 post in which you mention the dividing wall and BDS add further proof that your allegiance is biased against Israel.

    First, as you have previously mentioned, there were Hamas suicide bombers in the late 90s against Israel. Is a wall that keeps bombers out so that INNOCENT civilians don’t die such a crime? Remember, suicide bombers don’t targets military installations, they target buses, bars, restaurants and the like. You or someone you love could have been an unfortunate victim.

    Second, your comment about BDS. Please. I guess you don’t realize that pretty much every aspect of technology is embedded with Israeli technology and knowhow. Israeli companies constitute the 2nd largest number of foreign companies listed on Nasdaq after China. Every big tech firm has R&D operations here. Intel has its 2nd biggest manufacturing plant here. Teva is the world’s largest generic drug maker. Israeli drip-irrigation technology is used worldwide in dry areas. Boycott. We dare you. But do it for real. Make sure every technology gadget you have is not produced by a company that has Israeli technology inside. The BDS people couldn’t BDS Israel for 5 minutes without running out of the cave in order to make the string longer between the 2 cups they are using for a phone.

  • Tim Reese

    After reading the comments of Medea blog it makes me wonder who the haters are. They have an Old Testament feel in there justification of military brutally against Hamas. It is a situation that Malcolm X would describe as blaming the victim who is being robbed of using violence to protect themselves from the person robbing them. This is what the Israeli government with American government complicity is doing to the Palestinian people, through non-negotiation, preconditions, putting up wall creating a ghetto is robbing them of their democratic rights as well as their land. It seems that once someone is named a terrorist it is ok to bomb hospitals and schools or not even talk to them, or as they used to say in America, lynching is ok, it is only a nigger. It was wrong then and it is wrong now. This not an excuse for the violence of Hamas, it is a plea for a change of policy from excessive force and non-negotiation to one of restraint and negotiation.
    Code Pink is a voice of peace, peace begins with negotiation, and Code Pink at least is trying to get a dialogue going with a letter, a very reasonable list of proposals. Code Pink wants to stop the violence that comes from naming people that makes it ok to hate, and an end to bombs and rockets from both sides, this brings more hate and violence, there is enough of that already, it only leads to an endless loop of violence. Peace and security comes only with restraint and talking to one another, no matter how upset you are. This is what Code Pink is advocating an end to violence, especially police brutally and negotiation with all groups in ways that respect their democratic rights.
    What I want is for President Obama to accept the letter and proposals, begin negotiation with all groups and restrict excess force or give back his Nobel Peace prize. Medea I enjoyed your blog.

  • bob rivers

    Awesome idea, when you come up with a way to deal with hamas, its sworn commitment to murder all jews (as listed in its charter), its tunnels, its rocket-fire and artillery into civilian neighborhoods, and its breaking of every cease-file, let us in the adults section know.

  • bob rivers

    Your points are well taken, but what is the most hilarious thing about the idiots and their “BDS” moronic movement is that it would screw over the arabs in the west bank the most – who do these people advocating the boycott think work in these factories? It is typical far left lunacy; impoverish those who are trying to better themselves so they will be even more dependent on handouts, and do stupid things like this without knowing 10% of the facts.

  • Tim Reese

    Hello Bob I would like to hear your adult suggestion for ending the violence on both sides. If it is just more airstrikes, blockades, walls, refugees living life in a ghetto, I don’t think these are working to well, little wonder some fight back with violence and some no doubt were using the tunnels as a prison break. You cannot bomb them into submission, that was tried in Vietnam, it didn’t work then and it won’t work now. That leaves restraint and negotiation and learning to live together as people do in democracy. But that takes courage, to go into the lion’s den to achieve peace using non-violent methods, by showing restraint, talking and willingness to try to live together and help each other be secure and free as they do in democracies. What do you think Bob, can you join me and say no to violence and yes to negotiation, no to military strikes and yes to humanitarian aid as a way to peace. If not what is your suggestion?

  • bob rivers

    Who are the ones fighting? Is it overlaid, artificial entities like hamas, stuck onto the palestinians by external powers like iran using them to obtain a forward power base, or is it the indigenous arabs living in gaza trying to earn a living and feed their families? As long as external powers like qatar and iran with their current diseased, cancerous regimes exist, peace is impossible, practically anywhere in the mideast.

    As for your ludicrous comments, go do some research to the events from 1948 to 1967, when israel was NOT in the west bank or gaza.

    Further, research why the west bank is thriving economically, and why gaza isn’t. Couldn’t be the violence now, could it?

    As for “negotiation” with hamas or groups like it (ISIS), why don’t YOU offer how you would negotiate with those whose sole existence is predicated on your destruction. These are not people with which negotiation or diplomacy can work, you need to accept reality.

  • Tim Reese

    Hello fellows there are extremists on both sides, one of the blogs I responded to someone was asking for God’s help to destroy Hamas. We can’t let extremists sidetrack the peace process. If you examine the proposals mention in Medea’s blog these are reasonable requests from some members of Hamas and a good place to start negotiation. That means talking to them, even if some of them fire rockets. !00 rockets have been fired, in response Israel has killed 2100 people, that is 21 per rocket, Israel cannot win this way and has to show restraint otherwise it is a continuous loop of violence as the current escalation proves. As I said it takes courage to use non-violent democratic methods instead of imperialistic violence.
    Yes ISIS leaders are criminals as is Boko Hokum in Nigeria and they need to be arrested. But who can do this? It can’t be the US or Israel, it has to be the UN. It is time for the US to go to the UN and admit the failure of their policy in the Middle East and ask for help in solving this problem and that means talking to people even Iran.
    If we are to look at history we need to farther back to when Britain took control of this area from Turkey after WW! and with some Zionist used force to displace Arabs so Jews fleeing from pogroms in Europe had a place to go and it has been a fight ever since. Pogroms another sad commentary of how people can’t get along, it is time we move past this hating of someone that is not in our group. In democracy all groups are respected. In my opinion peace in Israel will not be achieved with two states, but one Israel/Palestine State where moderates work together and say no to extremists.

  • Kevin McAvoy

    Hamas has no intention of a two state future for Israel. This is evident by word and deed on the part of the hate filled criminal yahoos in ‘Palestine’.
    Israel’s only path to security is to expunge and remove the filth occupying Israeli land. Send the militant morons back to their true homeland in Jordan.

  • Kevin McAvoy

    One hundred missiles?? You have not been paying attention.

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