Haaretz reports today that Bill Clinton was interviewed on BBC TV this weekend (why no link at the BBC site??) speaking of U.S. Mideast policy and specifically about our approach to the new Hamas government. He brought a breath of fresh air to the table compared to the stale stuff the Bush Administration and Olmert government have been expelling on this subject (quoting from the Pakistan Daily Times:
Asked if he would shake hands with Hamas in the name of negotiation as he did with Arafat in 1993, Clinton said: “If they made the same assurances that Arafat did.
“He had made private assurances, and he made public assurances, that he did not support terror any more and would try to restrain it.
“So if Hamas would say, suppose they say, OK, look, we can’t change our theory, we can’t change our document, we can’t change our history, but we’re in government now and the policy of the Palestinian government is no to terror and yes to negotiations. As long as we’re in government, we’ll honour that policy.”
There is one problematic aspect of Clinton’s quote. Arafat DID assure Clinton he would renounce terror. And perhaps he did for a time. But it is clear that sometime after that 1995 handshake Arafat renounced his commitment and pursued terror and other forms of violent resistance through the first and second intifadas. Israelis have every reason to doubt whether Hamas, making such a similar commitment, should be believed considering its history of terror attacks against Israel.
All that being said, I commend Clinton for having the most realistic appraisal of Hamas I’ve read from just about any international leader since Hamas won the election. We should test Hamas’ resolve on issues like this (renunciation of violence, recognition of 2-state solution, etc.). Why can’t Olmert, Bush and Rice see the merits of this approach as well?
Fayyad at Kabobfest has his own view on Clinton’s sentiments that diverges from my own:
If they did that? I guess the president with the newly-found intelligence still does not read the news. Did he hear about Hamas’ offer for a 10-year extended truce Hamas made as part of becoming the ruling party? Or even better, the 30-year truce offer of 1997?
Demands of more than a halt to military action by all parties must not be preconditions for negotiations. One need not make peace with friends, peace is always sought after with enemies. It would be rather foolish to expect both Hamas and Israel to agree to a series of condition that in effect would, if applied, solve the conflict. Now let’s hope the new Israeli government agrees to respect and acknowledge the treaties previous governments reached with the Palestinians.
To which I’d point out that Clinton’s conditions demand that Hamas say “no to terror and yes to negotiations.” So I must be missing something, because Fayyad seems to be agreeing with Clinton when he (Fayyad) accepts (if I read him correctly) the need for negotiations and a halt to military action “by both sides.”
But I might add that Hamas attached its own conditions to such a “10 year extended truce” which included a return to 1967 borders (a policy I approve of by the way). Israel certainly is nowhere yet near supporting ’67 borders as a consensus position. So that means Hamas has essentially put forward a non-starter condition. If Hamas can put an end to terror then I have no doubt that Israelis will come around to accepting ’67 borders. But they will not do so as long as terror continues unabated.