Barack Obama had plenty of reason to slap down George W. Bush over the President’s claim that “some people” who advocate talking to Hamas are the latterday equivalents of those who tried to appease Hitler.
But while Obama went on the offensive over the Bush foreign policy of empty posturing that has actually empowered the likes of Iran and Hamas, he may, in fact, have dug himself a hole on the substantive question of talking to Hamas. Obama insisted he had stated “over and over again that I will not negotiate with terrorists like Hamas.”
That, of course, is the wrong answer, because as Joe Klein made clear this week, talking to Hamas is nothing less than the duty of the U.S. government. Anyone with any serious grasp of events in the region knows that peace talks with Mahmoud Abbas are not peace talks at all, as Daniel Levy so eloquently explains, because Abbas and Israel are allies, not enemies. Today, it is the Israeli Defense Force, rather than Fatah, that is the principal guarantor of Abbas’s political survival. And any peace agreement between Israel and Abbas will have no impact whatsoever on the ongoing conflict between Isael and the Palestinians. So talking to Hamas, in fact, is the only game in town when it comes to seeking peace. The only alternative to talking to Hamas, or to Iran for that matter, is war. That’s what Obama ought to have made clear. Instead, he seems to have succumbed to the pressure to chant the mantras of the AIPAC crowd, rather than stick to the more thoughtful and critical position he previously adopted, arguing that to be pro-Israel doesn’t necessitate being pro-Likud. Someone ought to tell Obama that two thirds of Israelis support talks between their own leaders and “terrorists like Hamas.”
Moreover, it’s a little off the mark to blame Bush for Hamas’s rise on the grounds that the Bush Administration insisted the Palestinians hold elections. Those elections were a good thing, they simply revealed the reality that the Palestinians had lost faith in Fatah — for good reason: Fatah’s 15 years of negotiating with — and appeasing — the Israelis and Americans had yielded nothing but more settlements for the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. It’s for failing to press the Israelis to abide by international law and end its occupation policies, not the demand for elections, for which the Bush Administration ought to be held accountable.
So, he may have come out swinging, but Obama picked the wrong punches. Instead of insisting he wouldn’t talk to Hamas, he’d have been better off ridiculing the notion that Hamas or Iran are the equivalent of Nazi Germany, and pointing out that Bush — by substituting teenage testosterone for serious policy — is essentially teeing up another war that will not be good for Israel or for the United States.