Engaging Hamas?

ENGAGING HAMAS?…. As a rule, I’m reflexively skeptical of reports about U.S. policy in U.K. media that haven’t been reported by any major domestic outlet. That said, this new report in the Guardian certainly sounds plausible.

The incoming Obama administration is prepared to abandon George Bush’s doctrine of isolating Hamas by establishing a channel to the Islamist organisation, sources close to the transition team say.

The move to open contacts with Hamas, which could be initiated through the US intelligence services, would represent a definitive break with the Bush presidency’s ostracising of the group. The state department has designated Hamas a terrorist organisation, and in 2006 Congress passed a law banning US financial aid to the group.

The Guardian has spoken to three people with knowledge of the discussions in the Obama camp. There is no talk of Obama approving direct diplomatic negotiations with Hamas early on, but he is being urged by advisers to initiate low-level or clandestine approaches, and there is growing recognition in Washington that the policy of ostracising Hamas is counter-productive. A tested course would be to start contacts through Hamas and the US intelligence services, similar to the secret process through which the US engaged with the PLO in the 1970s.

The New America Foundation’s Steve Clemons told the Guardian, “Secret envoys, multilateral six-party talk-like approaches. The total isolation of Hamas that we promulgated under Bush is going to end. You could do something through the Europeans. You could invent a structure that is multilateral. It is going to be hard for the neocons to swallow. I think it is going to happen.”

Should an Obama administration pursue such an approach, he may have at least some bipartisan cover. In 2007, Colin Powell told NPR unequivocally that the U.S. should engage with Hamas diplomatically. In 2006, none other than John McCain, after noting Hamas’ victory in elections endorsed by the Bush administration, said of Hamas, “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 it’s a new reality in the Middle East.”

Something to keep in mind if Obama engages Hamas and if Republicans become apoplectic.