Thanks to M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum for finding another terrific chestnut of a resource in the ongoing debate over whether the world should isolate Hamas and bring it to its knees; or engage Hamas and put it to the test to determine whether it can modify its positions in such a way as to become a worthy partner for peace. Rosenberg focuses much of his current weekly online column on a report prepared by Brigadier General (ret.) Shlomo Brom, a thirty-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces. The report is titled Hamas Government: Isolate or Engage? (pdf version).
After reading the report summary and Rosenberg’s account of it I can only say that I wish that U.S. intelligence had provided Bush as balanced and probing account of Iraqi WMD before the Iraq war. Before Brom makes clear his own policy preferences he lays out carefully the pros and cons of each of the arguments giving you the right to draw your own conclusion. The following one paragraph summarizes succinctly Brom’s findings:
This paper…assesses the advantages and risks of the two strategies that have crystallized since the election: isolate and undermine a Hamas government, or engage with it in a cautious, selective, and conditional manner. This paper argues that a policy of engagement, if properly executed, could encourage fundamental changes in Hamas’ policies and, eventually, its ideology. Moreover, this approach is preferable to the “isolate and undermine” option because it will be easier to move from a policy of engagement to one of confrontation if it becomes clear that engagement has failed to induce changes in Hamas’ policies and actions. A movement in the opposite direction may not be possible.
Brom points out the draconian nature of Israel’s conditions for engagement with Hamas and how those conditions will likely cause disastrous consequences for the Palestinian people:
Israel has put forward its own preconditions for any dialogue with Hamas, demands that go beyond the Quartet’s. Israeli leaders have said that terrorist infrastructure must be dismantled, and Hamas must repudiate and revise those parts of its covenant that deny Israel’s right to exist. Until these conditions are met, Israel is prepared to cut off relations with the Palestinian Authority by severing economic ties, suspending the transfer of taxes and customs collected on behalf of the P.A., barring the entry of Palestinian workers into Israel, and preventing construction of a seaport and airport in Gaza. Israel has already suspended revenue transfers and intends to implement additional steps following the formation of the Hamas government. These steps will undoubtedly lead to a major financial crisis for Palestinians, if not to a collapse, since Israel’s leverage far exceeds that of Western donors.
The report’s author notes the damage that is likely from a PA collapse induced by Israel and western nations:
…If there is any potential for Hamas to change, implementation of this [pro-isolation] policy forecloses such a possibility. Second, it is more likely to result in anarchy and chaos and possibly a resumption of full-scale violent conflict with Israel. Engineering the collapse of a Hamas government is unlikely to result in greater stability. Furthermore, Hamas will have little interest in keeping even to the limited ceasefire (tahdi’a) it has committed itself to if outside actors are undermining their elected government.
Third, the failures of the Hamas government and the hardships suffered by the Palestinian population will, most probably, not be attributed to Hamas. Instead, Israel and the West will be blamed, and the rift with the Palestinians and the Islamic world will only widen. Fourth, it will be difficult to convince the international community and the major aid providers to maintain such an approach as conditions in the Palestinian territories deteriorate. In fact, such a policy will probably enhance attempts by Iran to expand its role.
He lays out the reasons why it is reasonable to believe that Hamas might moderate its ideology regarding Israel and terrorism:
First, it [Hamas] is not al-Qaeda. Although it is a radical Islamist movement, it is rooted in a national program, not a pan-Islamic cause. Hamas was elected primarily on its promises to provide effective, honest governance. This program depends on wider public support than Hamas currently enjoys, given that only 45 percent of voters chose Hamas in the January election. Moreover, many Hamas voters cast a protest vote against Fatah and what the public perceived as a corrupt ruling elite. The vote was not an endorsement of Hamas’ platform vis-à-vis Israel. Hamas knows the vast majority of the Palestinian public want quiet, law and order, security, good governance, and basic services. It will be up to Hamas to deliver on these expectations…
The behavior of Hamas leaders since the election indicates they are aware of their dependence and have a sober assessment of its implications. This may be why Hamas was initially interested in a coalition government with Fatah headed by a non-Hamas figure. Its own campaign promises, combined with the public’s expectations—not to mention the inherent constraints of the P.A.—may be leading Hamas to acquiesce to more moderate and pragmatic policies.
Brom argues against the Israeli ultimatum approach to Hamas by saying that a less polarizing one would be more effective:
…To succeed, this alternative approach will have to differentiate between what realistically can be expected from Hamas now and what can be expected at later stages. It should be made absolutely clear to Hamas that recognition of Israel is a necessary end following the process of engagement, but it should not be presented as an ultimatum that requires immediate acceptance.
Finally, he sums up the benefits of the engagement strategy:
The main advantage of the engagement approach is that it provides a framework to test the new Palestinian leadership, while at the same time denying it excuses for failure to change its ways. Should Hamas fail because of outside pressure, which remains a likely outcome, it will be more difficult to attribute its failure to its obduracy. They will shift blame to outside parties. Furthermore, this [pro-engagement] approach could widen the Palestinian consensus for a two-state solution without compromising support for Palestinian democracy. It could also create a relatively stable and secure situation on the ground. Past experience shows that cautious, selective, and conditional engagement, when combined with the right mix of pressure, can be productive, particularly in terms of alliance management. Should engagement fail, it will be easier to build a coalition that supports confrontation. The present case of Iran is instructive.
What is especially important about this report is its author, a senior intelligence analyst with the IDF. Here is what how his bio at the U.S. Institute for Peace describes his background:
He most recently served as senior research associate at the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. He was deputy national security adviser under former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. From 1996 to 1998, Brom was director of the Strategic Planning Division in the Israel Defense Force’s General Staff. From 1988 to 1990 he was the Israeli defense attaché in the Republic of South Africa and from 1969 to 1987 he served in the Israeli Air Force, mostly in different intelligence positions. Throughout the 1990s, Brom participated in peace negotiations with Syria, Jordan, and the Palestinians. He also represented Israel in multilateral talks on Arms Control and Regional Security.
I may have little credibility for the full-fledged pro-Israel chicken hawks who frequent this site, but it becomes much more difficult to dismiss the arguments of an Israeli general (though no doubt they will try to find a way to do so).