HAMAS….In this week’s Time, Joe Klein describes his experience moderating a panel at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha:

Many of the Muslim delegates seemed stunned, finally, by the rush of history unleashed by the Bush Administration. “Everything the United States has favored is now radioactive, especially democracy,” said Rami Khouri, a Lebanese journalist. The Administration had pushed for elections in places like the Palestinian territories where the essential components of democracy — a free press, a free economy, the rule of law — did not exist. Religious parties had won, or gained momentum, in most of these elections, and the U.S. had backtracked, refusing to accept the Hamas victory in the Palestinian territories, re-embracing autocrats like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. “Our indigenous democratic reformers,” Khouri said, “are in retreat across the region.”

If you say you support democracy, you have to support democracy. And you have to support it even if people you don’t like win elections. Efraim Halevy, former chief of the Mossad and hardly a wide-eyed naif, tells Laura Rozen of Mother Jones that this is one of the reasons that the U.S. and Israel should face reality and agree to negotiate with Hamas:

MJ: Again and again, Israel and Washington too have tried to engineer which Palestinians would come to power, to whom they would speak or recognize, etc. Is this itself problematic? Should the West step back from trying to manipulate internal Palestinian politics?

EH: Yes, for two reasons. First, is the sovereign right of Palestinians to decide who their leadership should be. I think that is the basis of democracy. More than that, it is the best possible way in my opinion for a country or society to determine how it wants to be governed and how it wants to be lead. And second, so far it must be admitted that attempts to do this [manipulate internal Palestinian politics] have not succeeded. After all, in the final analysis, it would not be possible to create and fashion a leadership from without.

Refusing to deal with Hamas hurts the United States — as Klein observes, nobody in the Middle East believes our democracy rhetoric anymore — and it hurts Israel too. Halevy notes correctly not just that Hamas holds effective power in the Palestinian territories, but that it will continue to hold effective power since the only competition is Fatah’s “aging, tired and sad Abu Mazen.” There simply won’t be any progress without engaging them.

Recognizing this is both a practical and an idealistic position. Maybe Barack Obama will help lead us in that direction. It’s a sure bet that George Bush won’t.

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