Wow. That’s all I can say. If this Guardian report is true, then in the coming weeks Obama administration policy will completely turn Bush’s Israel-Palestine policy on its head. And about time:
The incoming Obama administration is prepared to abandon President 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 Guardian has spoken to three people with knowledge of the discussions in the Obama camp…
There is growing recognition in Washington that the policy of ostracising Hamas is counter-productive.
First, let’s not overstate things. He’s not recognizing Hamas. He’s not renouncing Israel. He’s merely establishing initial low to mid-level contacts to determine whether Hamas is a party with which it can engage more seriously down the line possibly leading to full-fledged peace negotiations (if Hamas is still running Gaza and/or the PA).
But let’s not also undersell the significance of this. It sends a clear message to the current Israeli government engaged in mayhem in Gaza that this may be their last hurrah. It sends a clear message to whoever wins the next Israeli election (even if it’s Netanyahu) that the U.S. will pursue its own interests even if they include aspects that run counter to established precedent. In other words, if Netanyahu wishes to drag his feet and do everything possible to deny a Palestinian state or comprehensive peace agreement, Obama will go his own way. I don’t mean he will completely divorce himself from Israel. But he will be willing, for example to talk to Hamas and to encourage renewal of the Hamas-Fatah coalition government which was anathema to Bush and Olmert.
There is an old Israeli saying: when the U.S. sneezes, Israel gets pneumonia. That is the impact that this could have on Israel. It could encourage a sea change in policy toward the Palestinians. Note, I said “could,” not “will.” I’d be foolish to speak with such certainty about a region as mercurial as the Middle East.
Jonathan Freedland has summed up the developments best here:
If the latest signals are to be believed, Obama is now ready to soften the edges of those [previous] conditions [for dialogue with Hamas]. For those who believe that, whether we like it or not, Hamas is now part of the Palestinian reality and that no peace can ever come unless all the major players on both sides – Israeli and Palestinian – are included, this is a small, unofficial, unconfirmed but welcome move in the right direction.
This is the pragmatism we expected from Obama when we campaigned and voted for him. It marks the end of the crazy extremism of the Bush administration which cut off its nose to spite its face in terms of the way it dealt with the Israeli-Arab conflict.
I am guessing this will send shivers down the spine of the Israel lobby. In fact, memos and phone calls are probably flying as a type this. Watch for denunciations and warnings from the likes of Aipac and the Conference of Presidents. Israeli politicians will warn how dangerous such a policy change will be and how it will only encourage more terrorism. There will be blowback. I just hope it doesn’t derail these hopeful developments.