EDITORIAL: Talking to Hamas

Talking to Hamas

Exchange from a Sky News interview, Davos, Switzerland, January 2006, soon after Hamas had won free and fair democratic elections in the West Bank and Gaza:

James Rubin: Do you think that American diplomats should be operating the way they have in the past, working with the Palestinian government if Hamas is now in charge?

Sen. John McCain: They’re the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice, so . . . but it’s a new reality in the Middle East. I think the lesson is people want security and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that.

As Winston Churchill famously said, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”

Churchill, unlike George Bush, was eminently well equipped to employ the power of language. Churchill understood that negotiation is not the same as appeasement.

If we were able to drill down into the psychological roots of the pathology of the Bush presidency, is it possible that the core fear embedded in so many of Bush’s postures is his awareness that whenever he opens his mouth he risks looking like a fool?

It would hardly be surprising that a president who is so intimidated by words would have a strong preference for violence.

But that’s his failing – it doesn’t have to be everyone else’s.

In 2006 John McCain — perhaps slightly intoxicated by the rarefied atmosphere of Davos — uttered a heretical yet utterly common sense view. In free and fair elections, the Palestinian people had expressed their democratic will. They had chosen Hamas. “Sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them,” McCain said.

The proponents of democracy – and this of course included the Bush administration which in the face of Fatah’s objections had called for Hamas’ inclusion in the election – faced a challenge: they could honor the democratic process and find out whether Hamas was ready to live up to the challenge of governing, or, they could perpetuate a political narrative that precluded the very possibility of a Hamas government.

By choosing to do the latter, Bush sent a clear message across the Middle East: In the eyes of America, terrorism matters more than democracy.

Naturally, under George Bush’s watch, terrorism has flourished much more than democracy.

If an American president isn’t willing and capable of negotiating with adversaries, he or she isn’t fit for office. Bush would have us believe that he has taken a bold stand on principle. In truth he has merely tried to conceal his incompetence.

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