In Response to "Question of the Week" Regarding Engaging Hamas

Posted by Sean McCormack
March 10, 2008
Palestinian Rally

Should the U.S. Engage Hamas in the Peace Process Between the Israelis and Palestinians?

Apparently, our question of the week has caught the eye of some in the mainstream media. Take a look at today's daily briefing transcript, in which one of our regular mainstream media briefing participants zeroed in on the question to ask whether the government was indicating a change in policy with respect to Hamas. I replied, as I had earlier in the briefing to a separate question not related to the blog, that neither had we changed policy nor were we considering a policy change. Our policy has been that we do not deal with terrorists organization (of which Hamas is classified as one). We have encouraged all in the Palestinian areas to make the choice of renouncing terror, turning away from violence, and recognizing Israel's right to exist. That's our policy.

Now we have asked what some might think are provocative questions before in our question of the week section -- or at least what some might consider provocative coming from the government (see the list at the bottom of the post). We try to make these questions both topical and to ask them in such a way as to generate informed comment, which I see as an important component of making Dipnote part of the foreign policy blog community and to building a community around Dipnote. Today was, however, the first time I had been asked in the briefing about the question of the week, so I thought it was worth noting in a post.

I thought it worth noting for another reason. Whether intended or not, the questioning at the briefing (and afterwards at the background session) left me with the impression that some in briefing room do not understand the idea behind Dipnote, which I outlined in the first post. Not surprising, but at the same time a bit disappointing. Maybe they were checking us out for the first time. Maybe somebody didn't like our question. Maybe they think you need their help in interpreting what you read. Whatever the case, we'll continue trying to push envelope in our own particular way to try to make the blog a better place for discussion about real foreign policy issues, decisions about which have real world implications for people's lives.

Previous Question of the Week Entries:·Do the Palestinians and Israelis Really Want Peace?

·Does New Information Regarding Iran's Nuclear Program Warrant a Change in U.S. Policy?·Does the Popularity of the United States Matter and Should It Affect Policy Decisions?·Does the UN Effectively Fulfill its Mission?·Fidel Castro Resigns... How Can the U.S. Assist Cuba's Transition to Democracy?·How To Convince Nations With Influence Over Burmese Junta To Halt Violence?·Is the Creation of a Palestinian State Feasible? Should U.S. Play a Role?·Is the U.S. Doing Enough to Protect Consumers From Potentially Harmful Imported Products?·Should Promoting Abstinence and Being Faithful be Part of U.S. AIDS Prevention Programs?·Should U.S. Congress Consider Resolution Labeling Ottoman Empire's Massacre of Armenians Genocide?·What Actions Should U.S. Take if President Musharraf Fails To Keep Promises?·What Effect Will Hamas Have on Negotiations Over the Future of Israel and Palestine?·What Tangible Results Are Necessary for the Annapolis Conference To Be Deemed a Success?·What Will Life in Cuba be Like After Castro?·When, if Ever, is the Declaration of a State of Emergency Justified?·Who Should be Allowed To Possess Nuclear Technology?·Will Tougher Sanctions Convince Iran To Abandon Their Nuclear Ambitions?



New Mexico, USA
March 12, 2008

Erc in New Mexico writes:

Dear Sean,

I suppose I could opine that it was a slow news day and leave it at that, but I'd like to offer the press corps some feedback as a "regular" on Dipnote, if you'd be so kind as to pass it on.

See, it isn't possible for you to fully describe the intent of folks that contribute to this fine blog, as that is fully dependant on the mindset of the individual.

Personally, I don't let the press do my thinking for me, as I don't entertain any illusions of doing the thinking for others. I'm not payed to think anyways....(chuckle).

Basicly you have created a foreign policy think tank, or at least the potential for one. So I must push back a bit on the press corp and encorage them to contribute to the debate itself rather than critique it. If you'll pass that on, I'd like a follow up please, ( since I've gone out on a limb this far) and may I be so bold to ask, (if you'll take the question )

Does the fellow that decides foreign policy for the U.S. ever read Dipnote?

If he does, then I would conclude he finds it useful to do so, and logical that some golden notion he may stumble upon here be put to motion. Aye Sean, and a golden notion it was for you to start this blog. You just never know till you try, what effect on the war of ideas will result.

I must remind the press I guess that this forum is fully in keeping with the President's democracy goals globally.

Thus the global feedback to questions on topics discussed here.

I hope these thoughts help further my intent to elevate the level of thinking on grave matters of the human condition.

Call it politically incorrect as the press will, but they are not the only ones who think they can make a difference.

Best Regards,

Texas, USA
March 11, 2008

Gail in Texas writes:

Dear Mr. McCormick,

Thank you for asking this question. It is very timely and is something that a lot of Americans really care about.

We are really tired of being sucker punched by people who are not and never have negotiated in good faith.

Best regards and keep up the good work.

Tennessee, USA
March 11, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

A cancer cell may be put into remission, but will always be a cancer cell waiting to kill the good cells surrounding it unless it is removed.

We can be builders or destroyers and there are times when something negative to the civilized world needs to be removed or destroyed for the benefit of the whole... Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah represent these examples.

The world is more complicated, but someone, somewhere must draw the line between what is acceptable and not. America has and if we do not, we will suffer the consiquences on our own soil.

New Jersey, USA
March 11, 2008

Laura in New Jersey writes:

Hamas is a genocidal terror group who's aim is the destruction of Israel to be replaced by an islamic sharia state along with the ethnic cleansing and killing of its Jewish population. Of course the U.S. should NOT now or ever engage with hamas. We should be encouraging Israel to destroy hamas instead of urging restraint.

Claudio S.
March 11, 2008

Claudio in Israel writes:

I think yes.

But first, the U.S. president must stay to talk with Al Quaida.

For give example.

California, USA
March 11, 2008

Gary in California writes:

The problem with your question is that it is patently absurd! There is no difference between asking that question and a newspaper asking in 1941 if we should negotiate with the Nazis even though they were exterminating Jews. Why even bother posting such a ridiculously stupid question?

New York, USA
March 11, 2008

Eric in New York writes:

The State Dept. is a dismal failure in Iraq, and you want another bite of the cookie?

How about this: support our allies, spurn our enemies and follow the President's directives. We expect you pinstripers to follow orders as we do our soldiers. Whenever you go poaching with your independent opinions you are not doing what we taxpayers pay you for. You want to freelance? Get off our dime. Besides, after publicly admitting your cowardice about serving us in a time of war you would think you shameful twits would just quit and go away.

A bunch of more useless lumps do not exist in our federal gov't. You don't help Americans in need overseas and you can't distinguish our friends from our enemies. Why do you continue to exist? To go from the U.S. gov't teat to the Saudi teat?

Great, just great.

Maryland, USA
March 12, 2008

James in Maryland writes:

If the U.S. is ever going to be an agent for peace it must deal with the powers that be not the Fatah quislings whom the U.S. has effectively rendered impotent. If you want to end the violence talk to Hamas, they have offered and abided by ceasefires in the past. Israel is to be blame for the start of the latest flare up which led to the deaths of more than 50 Palestinian civilians. No justice, no peace is not empty rhetoric.

California, USA
March 12, 2008

William in California writes:

You have to ask the question?!!! Have you not learned that if you pay people to make bombs you get bombs, if you pay people to be terrorists you get terrorists. Since 1947 we have been paying people to be terrorists and now you want that we should talk with them?

We have an entire nation that lives on Welfare. It produces nothing, Its society rewards thugs. And now you want to reward thugs.

I have a different solution. Cut the dole. Make Palestinians earn instead of extort their living. Force a restructuring of that dysfunctional society by rewarding productive work, like farming or fishing. Fi they cannot adapt, let them starve.

60 years of the dole and we built a nation of child killers, rapists, and bomb makers. It is lunacy to talk with such people.

Florida, USA
March 12, 2008

Jeffrey in Florida writes:

That you would ask an inane question about negotiating with Hamas and find it being taken as a hint of policy changes to come should be a wake-up call for State, but it won't. Many of us hold Foggy Bottom in such low regard because, like the UN, you folks believe that talk and signed documents provide protection from nations led by evil men. Negotiations have their place, but a cold, hard examination of the facts in the Middle East demonstrates conclusively that Israel has no peace partner to negotiate with. Hell, Abbas' PA newspaper ran a front page glorification of the yeshiva murderer last week. That's the government you want Israel to negotiate with? I once held Condi Rice in very high regard; same with Colin Powell. There's something in the water there that turns folks' heads to mush. State no longer represents right thinking Americans. We are truly lost.

California, USA
March 12, 2008

Red in California writes:

he only way the U.S. & Israel should engage Hamas is with an unrestricted ROE and ruthless prosecution of any & all targets...... and we should deal with the PLO & Hezbollah the same way

it's the proverbial "win/win": we get rid of genocidal terrorist scum, and they get to be martyrs. the side effect of you foggy bottom boys stroking out is just icing on the cake.

Connecticut, USA
March 12, 2008

Patrick in Connecticut writes:

It would seem to me that engaging any party in a peace process seems like a foolish proposition. If one cannot clearly state and identify the goals of the various organizations, reconcile them against stated issues, come to a resolution, and then verify the terms of that resolution the entire process is worthless. With Hamas we fail at the first step nearly immediately. Anticipating the political beliefs of State Department I would wager that most within the group are not anywhere near uniform as to Hamas goals. Nevertheless, to date Hamas as shown through its actions have shown no means by which to reconcile issues.

I would have to guess that Hamas has states through back channels that they want to talk about issues. It seems to me that the Hamas movement would be pushed further along by a legitimization within the process as it would strengthen their perception of strength within Gaza and the West Bank. This does not mean that Hamas would be seen as a partner for peace (or whatever buzzword is cool) but rather they would look like they are the ones with the hold upon power against those whom are their opponents (Israel and the United States). This is the type of shadow game that seems to entice governmental officials who liked to be liked but if Hamas felt they needed to come to the peace table they would do so in very clear way. Unfortunately we in the west assume that we need to bend to those who we believe are burdened upon so that they can be helped and this shades our view of Israel-Palestine. We think if we find a way to acquiese to Palestine in some manner this would ameliorate some of the listed issues as given by Hamas/Fatah.

I think the real problem is that, noble as it may be, the United States State Department and many people around the world want to achieve peace because it is strongly in tune with their ideals. This desire sacrifices other goals and ideals at the same time such as democracy, rule of law, anti-terrorism, and a host of others I can't think about quickly. The cause of peace in Israel-Palestine is a long battle that is trying to be fought quickly so that the perceived creators of that peace gain in certain political realms in either Israel and the U.S.

If there were a foundational desire to seek peace then what the US Government and others need to do is to either underhandedly or overtly wage an education campaign of the Palestinians. I do not mean psy-ops stuff like the dropping of leaflets but I believe that the Palestinian society becomes more knowledgeable about items of western thought and ideals which specifically contrast with that of the terror-state then traction can be made. There is a danger in this. For every person you educate you might also create a skilled deceptor such as Tariq Ramadan. The Fatah and Hamas movements would certainly prefer these types. Nevertheless if one can create a group of people under their noses which disagree with Fatah's and Hamas's supremacists agendas I think you can make your way to the desired peace. The problem is this takes years... but other options might waste years of naive pandering.

The United States's problem right now in this regard is that it will not state the goals of each group in a succint manner for various well-meaning attitudes of the U.S. Gov't and the State Department which were reinforced by education and socialization. Until the gov't sits down and does a thorough decomposition of the statements, stated goals, stated actions, actual actions, and interia of the players involved peace cannot be achievable except by luck. We know the gov't has skilled people who can break down social movements without inflecting their pre-taught political beliefs and gross biases.

Why does State not know so much and instead has to reach out to the common person either to guage political support or to conduct outreach to convince others out there?

I do not believe in Kucinich's "Department of Peace" but even embedded within that naive idea that would lead to social ruination there is one implicit nugget. The resources need to be brought to bear to speak truth about a situation and to determine how to ameliorate or resolve a situation even if it doesn't end in a blue ribbon ceremony. Your best option for peace is to change the people of Palestine and bypass their leaders. Make moderates of the people and their leaders will have to follow. Making an outreach to Hamas is nothing more than a naive attempt at wishful thinking. If you reach them then what happens next and what does it do within Palestine? If you can't answer that question then State needs a re-shuffle of epic proportions.

I apologize for the grammar, I didn't attend an Ivy League school.

Louisiana, USA
March 12, 2008

Fran in Louisiana writes:

The mainstream press thinks they know better than any of us regular folks what the "real deal" is and how best to solve issues. Hamas, as you stated, is a terrorist organization and should not be dealt with and after reading the comments at that question and this one, it seems pretty obvious to me that people reading this blog and commenting have a better sense of what this country needs than the MSM. I also read the transcript - seems to me, sometimes you just need to say, "I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you".

March 12, 2008

Yonaton writes:

THIS is positively disgusting!

How can you "honor" people who advocate the overthrow of America? How can you "honor" someone who is a propagandist for our enemies? What if Roosevelt had "honored" Tokyo Rose for her "accomplishments?"

America's safety is in your hands?! No wonder we had 9/11!

Arkansas, USA
March 12, 2008

Bob in Arkansas writes:

@ Congerssman Kirk -- In response to Congressman Kirk (below), State Dept says it is just seeking comment on questions it is asked by the media and others.

If so, then the advice I would offer is simple: provide the questioner with a copy of the Hamas covenant, tell him to read the whole thing, and then come back if he still has any stupid questions.

Everyone at State has read the Hamas covenant, right ???

California, USA
March 12, 2008

Eric in California writes:

Yes, we should probably engage Hamas.

Preferably with a couple of divisions of Marines with close air support.

Good grief, our State Dept. needs an enema.

United States
March 12, 2008

Joe in U.S.A. writes:

Not no, but HELL NO!

It's time to sit these two brats down and explain to them how this works. They either get along or else. The Israelis play nice or we cut off their funds. And if the "Palestinians" send so much as a bottle rocket into Israel, the Israelis invade like Sherman through the south and the Israel keeps the land forever. The "Palestinians" will never get it back.

Also if the other Arabs are so concerned with the fate of the "Palestinians" they need to step up to the plate with money. Lord knows we've sent them enough money they are now buying up our country.

United Kingdom
March 12, 2008

Simone in U.K. writes:

Has anyone asked Condi Rice if she wants to negotiate with Al Qaeda, even though they're dedicated to the destruction of America?

Would Americans tolerate daily rocket attacks from a neighbouring country without responding? Or would there be a similar response to the atrocity of 9/11 when the US declared war on Afghanistan and subsequently Iraq, without thinking of the civilian casualties, nor showing any restraint?

Another thing to ponder is whether the U.S. would give up land for a temporary ceasefire, which it's demanded Israel does.

We have to ask why the double standards, one for the rest of the world and another for Jews?

Texas, USA
March 12, 2008

Mike in Texas writes:

There is a huge difference between asking a controversial question and asking a stupid one.

As you admitted above - Hamas is a terrorist organization and we do not engage with terrorists. So why even ask the question? If Hamas changes its charter, recognizes the right of Israel to exist, ceases their constant barrage of rocket fire and terrorist activity which purposely targets civilians, then we can consider engaging them. Of course if they did all these things they would no longer be Hamas.

May I suggest a topic for next week's DipNote(appropriately named I might add) blog:

Should the United States Department of State be completely overhauled so that a new morally grounded organization can advance the foreign policy of the United States of America?

Ohio, USA
March 12, 2008

Mark in Ohio writes:

Terrorism? Israel was founded on terrorism! Menachem Begin was involved with the bombing of the King David hotel in 1946 (91 people killed), one of the leading reasons Britain decided to pull out and support the formation of Israel. Not to mention the fact that war and occupation are terrorism, but of course if you drop bombs from planes instead of strapping them on your body somehow it's noble and patriotic.

Hamas is certainly not worse than the Soviet Union, yet engaging with them probably prevented nuclear war.

Hamas has not killed and wounded Americans like the Sunni insurgents have and yet we're paying them off, arming them, and calling it a victory.

Hamas has not threatened the U.S. like Libya and North Korea have, and yet we celebrated out negotiations with them.

There's a name for enemies we don't talk with: enemies. There's a name for enemies we do talk with: former enemies.

As for everyone here advocating more violence against the Palestinians: good plan! It's worked ssssoooo well over the last 40 years! Look at the peace and stability it's brought!

If the Palestinians had a decent quality of life 95% of them would care less about Israel. But is anyone here going to seriously argue that life in the occupied territories is something they'd be happy with? If your wife died in an ambulance because they were stuck at check-point traffic for three hours, might you hold a little grudge? If your olive grove - your sole source of income - was bulldozed by Israelis for security reasons, would you be bitter looking across the valley at the verdant orchards of Israeli settlers who get a much larger allotment of water than you do?

It broke my heart when they elected Hamas, but it's understandable. When there is a boot on your throat, you tend to support the people who say they'll get the boot off your throat, regardless of the tactics. Not to mention that Hamas provided many social services that the painfully corrupt P.A. didn't/couldn't provide (the U.S. and Israel didn't really care if they were doing a good job for the Palestinians, as long as they towed our line - we see how well that worked out)

Oh, and for all those comparing Palestinians to Nazis, the Palestinians aren't occupying other people's land like the Nazis did. The Palestinians aren't controlling another people's fate like the Nazis did. I'm not saying the Israeli government's actions are much like the Nazis, but they're closer (say 5% Nazi-like) than the Palestinians.

Palestinians didn't drop 4 million cluster bomblets on Lebanon - how about Israel? Oh, sorry, it's only terrorism if your arm gets blown off by an inexpensive bomb.

State M.
District Of Columbia, USA
March 12, 2008

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack writes:

Whoa, lots of personal attacks. While criticism comes with the territory of jobs like mine, I hope we can use this public forum for discussion of foreign policy related issues. That's important, not what someone thinks my IQ might be.

Back to the issues, let me ask you to consider for a moment something interesting about many of comments on last week's question of the week. The overwhelming number of responses in some form or another support our policy of not dealing with Hamas. In asking the question on Dipnote, we did not include our policy views as part of the question because they are well understood and readily available to even casual readers of news reports out of the Middle East, as well as on our web site. Simply stated, Hamas is a terrorist organization and we do not deal with them. You can search for the numerous times we -- Secretary Rice, David Welch, me, and others -- have made clear our policy. Dipnote is also not intended as a forum in which we are in send only mode, issuing talking points outlining our policies. We have plenty of other media and fora in which we can hammer home policy messages. However, as part of a discussion, people posting to the blog don't shy away from explaining U.S. policy or, where appropriate, sharing their personal views -- for example, concerning the issues of directed assignments to Iraq or our policy toward Hamas.

As for asking the question in the first place, I consider it a strength that we encourage responses to such a question even though, as in this case, we could not be more opposed to the underlying policy prescription. I've read on the blog where others disagree with that view. My view is that I am proud and grateful to live in a country where we can have this public discussion free from censorship or fear of coercion, the fact of which also serves as a reminder of the tens of millions around the world who are denied their fundamental rights.

Syrian P.
March 13, 2008

SNP in Syria writes:

@Sean -- ....Tens of millions around the world who are denied their fundamental rights...

That is just one or two country in the Middle East, more like couple billions around the world. I think for such heavy hitting question next time try multiple choice format. This will soften the negative response to the heavy hitting singular option by offering the opposite and equally heavy to select and respond to.

Kansas, USA
March 19, 2008

Bea in Kansas writes:

There are a few facts that most of the posters here seem unaware of:

First, Hamas won a plurality in the last Palestinian elections. Therefore, if we support democracy in fact, not just in theory, we should respect the choice of the Palestinian people and recognize the legitimate Hamas government instead of demanding its overthrow by Abbas's faction, which lost because of its reputation for corruption. When the IRA/Sinn Fein won elections in Northern Ireland, it got seats in Parliament and the right to participate in the government. What is different about Hamas? Just not white enough for us to accept? Too Muslim? Or are we just scared silly to take a chance on real peace and democracy in the Middle East?

Second, Hamas has once again offered a cease-fire (the most recent of many such offers) and Israel has once again rejected it, immediately invading Bethlehem and killing 3 or 4 people. If the Government of Israel really wanted to stop the rockets, why not accept the cease-fire, stop the blockade, end the incursions, and get serious about negotiations?

Third, Israel accepted the Road Map/Annapolis conditions to freeze settlements, remove outposts and reduce roadblocks. But it continues settlement building, continues to ignore illegal outposts and has actually increased roadblocks. Then it instituted a total blockade of Gaza which the 'terrorists', uncomfortable with watching their children slowly starve to death before their eyes, broke through and re-stocked on groceries and gas with the help of their legitimate government, Hamas. This was enough of an excuse for the Israeli army to invade Gaza again, using US weapons to kill over 120 people including about 40 children of whom 2 were infants under a year old. One US drone bomber sent a missile into a group of kids playing soccer, killing 4 of them and seriously injuring the rest.

In spite of all this, after the Israelis withdrew from Gaza, Hamas again offered a cease-fire. Who is really trying for peace and who is blocking it?

March 20, 2008

Dover in Israel writes:

Firstly, I'd like to complement you Mr. McCormack for initiating this blog. There are more than enough babblers on the web engaged in personal attacks and ad hominem debates that are simply a waste of time. I also advocate constructive discussion, and I welcome this important and relevant discussion about Hamas.

It wouldn't be right to ignore the democratic choice of the Palestinian people. Actually it would be quite hypocritical for that matter, seeing as the U.S. pushed for elections in the first place. (Though since being elected, Hamas has hardly run a free, fair and lawful democracy) We must look at the realities on the ground however, and I don't think that this discussion is about Hamas's electability, as any Middle East expert will tell you that this is not what matters right now. Hamas is in power, albeit enforcing its rule by brutality and lawlessness. The fact is that Abbas is nearly powerless in Gaza, and attempting to impose his rule by force (i.e. wipe out Hamas) would be nearly as ironic as it would be futile. No Palestinian entity would ally itself with Israel and the U.S.

That said, engaging a terrorist organization in direct dialogue would be wrong. It sets a dangerous precedent for U.S. diplomacy and for the battle against terrorism and its sponsors. I don't believe this is the only solution however.

I would propose something along the lines of the back-channel engagement now taking place with Egypt. It seems the negotiating parties accepted that Hamas is not going anywhere for now, and reaching for a long term cease fire is instrumental. (NY Times - "U.S. May Relent on Hamas Role in Talks") Abbas needs to be strengthened, and most importantly, in the eyes of the Palestinian public. Putting Abbas in control of crossings into Gaza is the first step. I propose a short term diplomatic solution, and long-term public diplomacy:

Short Term

  1. Strengthen Abbas - Involve him in negotiations and uphold his presence. Show the Palestinians, and Arab countries for that matter, that Abbas is capable of delivering. Once the negotiations can be safely uncovered, emphasize the success of moderate constituency's in achieving a solution. This goes also for Israel. Even though Hamas is a central player, try and dilute their involvement. This might be easy as the negotiations aren't actually 'formal.'
  2. The Road Map - Put more pressure on Israel to halt settlement building. There is enough political bickering in Israel to keep Olmert in a powerless cycle. Yet nobody in Israel has the guts to stand up to the U.S., it has too much to lose. Put your foot down.
  3. Define terrorism - Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip, and was rewarded with 7 years of over 7,000 rockets and mortar shells. Terrorist organizations (Hamas, Islamic Jihad) utilize the Palestinian population has human shields and launch rockets at Israeli civilian centers. Set off for the UN and determine a definition for terrorism. Policy is not enough, the media propagates the stalemate in the Middle East and the international community does little to stand up to it's moral obligations. A multilateral effort is essential to setting the stage for moderates to manage and transform the conflict.
  4. Engage Egypt - Condition USAID to Egypt on the demanding accountability in the war on terror. Part of the reason why Hamas mobilized was due to Egypt lack of border security and the black market smuggling industry from Sinai to Israel.

Long Term Public Diplomacy

Re-introduce U.S. institutions in Israel and the West Bank: Sponsor cultural initiatives like public events and concerts. Promote educational initiatives like student exchanges and academic conferences. Part of the reason why Hamas was elected was because liberty and freedom were never internalized values in Palestinian society. Introducing democracy without preparing the landscape has failed, and the Palestinians are not the only example.


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