Reported Obama-Hamas Contacts Bode Ill
In an interview published Tuesday in the London-based Al-Hayat, Dr. Ahmad Yousef, political adviser to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, said senior Hamas figures had held a secret meeting with advisers to Barack Obama in Gaza before the U.S. elections.
Throughout his campaign Obama's official line was that he would "only talk with Hamas if it renounces terrorism, recognizes Israel's right to exist, and agrees to abide by past agreements."
Yet Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal responded to Obama's win on an optimistic note, telling Australia's Sky News on Saturday that his organization was "ready for dialogue with President Obama and with the new American administration with an open mind."
On Saturday night, though, Obama's senior foreign policy coordinator Denis McDonough seemed to hold the fort, deflecting Mashaal's amiability by reiterating Obama's three-part formula for making Hamas acceptable.
For those who don't want America to have dealings with an Islamist terror organization like Hamas, that may have sounded reassuring. But now it seems it may be too soon to feel reassured.
According to Yousef in the Al-Hayat interview, the Obama-Hamas talks were already ongoing during the U.S. election campaign: "We were in contact with a number of Obama's aides through the Internet, and later met with some of them in Gaza, but they advised us not to reveal this information as it may influence the elections or become manipulated by McCain's campaign."
Yousef also claimed he personally had friendly relations with some of Obama's advisers and that "Haniyeh will draft a congratulatory letter to Obama for his victory."
Yousef added: "The policy Obama will instate in the Middle East will differ from that of his predecessor George W. Bush, although it is clear that the region and the Palestinian issue will not be at the top of his agenda. [Obama] will focus more on the economic crisis, Iraq, and Afghanistan."
A clash between Obama's public, anodyne, mainstream statements and behind-the-scenes activities of a different nature would confirm the fears of those concerned about Obama's history of association with radical people and ideologies.
Hamas was founded in December 1987 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin -- killed seventeen years later in an Israeli raid -- and is the Palestinian branch of the Egyptian-based Muslim Brotherhood. Already in 1988 Hamas began shooting, stabbing, and stoning Israelis to death (incidents are proudly listed in the organization's "Glory Record," a popular document on anti-Israeli websites).
That year Hamas also promulgated its charter, which states: "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it. ... There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through jihad. ... Jihad is [our] path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of [our] wishes."
The deeply anti-Semitic charter also cites the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as "the embodiment of the Zionist plan to usurp Palestine."
Hamas carried out its first suicide bombing in 1994, and is believed to have killed over 500 people and wounded thousands. Israel, the European Union, Canada -- and the United States -- officially boycott it and define it as a terrorist organization. Among its most famous attacks are the suicide bombings of:
- the Dolphinarium Disco in Tel Aviv in June 2001, which killed 21
- the Sbarro Restaurant in Jerusalem in August 2001, which killed 15
- the Park Hotel in Netanya in March 2002, which killed 30
- Jerusalem's Egged bus no. 2 in August 2003, which killed 23
Since Israel's withdrawal of all civilian and military personnel and installations from Gaza in August 2005, Hamas, with some help from other terror organizations, has fired over six thousand rockets at civilian targets within Israel. In June 2006, Hamas raided an Israeli army encampment on sovereign Israeli territory, killing two soldiers and kidnapping another, Gilad Shalit, whom Hamas has held ever since while denying him visits of any kind including by the Red Cross, a flouting of all legal norms.
While some of us have also criticized the Bush administration's close contacts with Fatah -- now the internationally accepted Palestinian Authority leadership -- and especially its glorification of Fatah as a peace-seeker, certain differences between Hamas and Fatah are worth noting:
- Ongoing talks with Fatah leaders like PA President Mahmoud Abbas and top negotiator Ahmed Qureia are now bipartisan Israeli policy, with Likud prime ministerial aspirant Binyamin Netanyahu recently stating that he'll continue these contacts if elected. For better or worse, in dealing with Fatah the U.S. -- whether under Bush or Obama -- is not in principle going farther than Israel goes. The bipartisan Israeli position toward Hamas, however, is that it is a sworn enemy seeking Israel's destruction and that a political process with it is out of the question.
- Whatever their past activities, and despite the official PA's ongoing inculcation of murderous anti-Israeli attitudes particularly through its education system, Fatah leaders like Abbas and Qureia are not currently known to be involved in terror attacks. Terror or "resistance" remains, however, Hamas's raison d'être and its leadership is fully behind, for instance, the ongoing shelling of Israeli civilian targets from Gaza.
- Although there have been reports of Iranian backing and funding for Fatah, Hamas is directly, heavily, and explicitly backed and funded by Tehran and is a full-fledged member of the radical anti-Israeli, -American, and -Western axis that it leads and that also includes Syria and Hezbollah. And while Fatah's supposed "secularism" is exaggerated and it too has adopted Islamist themes, Hamas's expressly Islamist -- albeit Sunni -- ideology makes it a more natural client for Tehran.
All in all, it doesn't add up to an organization the United States should be treating as even a potential friend. If that's what Barack Obama's advisers, with his blessing, have been up to, it's not only an end-run around official U.S. policy but also cause for very serious worry.