Barack Obama, April 2008:
“We must not negotiate with a terrorist group intent on Israel’s destruction. We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist and abide by past agreements.”
“Hamas is not a state. Hamas is a terrorist organization,” he said.
The Guardian, tonight:
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 in his administration, 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.
Richard Haass, a diplomat under both presidents Bush who was named by a number of news organisations this week as Obama’s choice for Middle East envoy, supports low level contacts with Hamas provided there is a ceasefire in place and a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation emerges…
Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism expert at the Georgetown school of foreign service, said it was unlikely Obama would move to initiate contacts with Hamas unless the radical faction in Damascus was crippled by the conflict in Gaza. “This would really be dependent on Hamas’s military wing having suffered a real, almost decisive, drubbing.”
I bet they feel silly now for unendorsing him.
What’s changed in nine months? For one thing, the ceasefire’s come and gone per Hamas’s choosing, reminding the world yet again that they can’t be ignored. Terrorism works, as Alan Dershowitz likes to say, and never more so than here if the crisis they provoked succeeds in landing them a seat at The One’s table. Beyond that, with the election over, Obama no longer needs Hamas as a fig leaf for his policy of dialogue with Iran. I wrote about this endlessly during the campaign: The three reasons he gave in April for not chatting with them — terrorism, rejectionism, and dealbreaking — apply equally well to Iran, but meeting with Iran is the cornerstone of the foreign policy Change he promised. How then to prove his Zionist credentials to pro-Israel voters? Simple — draw a meaningless artificial distinction between Iran and Hamas based on the fact that one’s a sovereign state and the other isn’t. He’ll talk to terrorist states threatening Israel with nuclear weapons, but terrorist groups threatening them with Qassam rockets? Why, he’s far too much of a Likudnik for that. Except of course he’s not, which is why that meaningless artificial distinction is now reportedly — and quietly — being discarded.
Exit question one: Anyone heard recently from our new Secretary of State? She seemed quite troubled during the campaign by the thought of listening to Hamas. Exit question two: Second look at this report from November? Exit question three: He’s not going to try to spin this as okay because it wouldn’t involve “direct presidential diplomacy,” is he? I.e., “When I said I wouldn’t talk to Hamas, I meant *I* wouldn’t talk to Hamas. Hillary, on the other hand…”