Obama is 'prepared to talk to Hamas'

New administration will abandon Bush's policy of isolating group, transition sources tell Guardian.

obama serious 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
obama serious 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The incoming Obama administration is prepared to abandon George Bush's doctrine of isolating Hamas by initiating contact with the terror organization, The Guardian quoted sources close to the transition team as saying. "This is going to be an administration that is committed to negotiating with critical parties on critical issues," one source reportedly said. The Jerusalem Post could not independently confirm the report. On Friday, the British newspaper reported that three people with knowledge of discussions held in the Obama camp said that while the president-elect will not approve direct diplomatic negotiations with Hamas early on, his advisers are urging him to initiate low-level or clandestine approaches, in light of the growing recognition in Washington that ostracizing the terror group is counter-productive policy. The US state department designated Hamas a terrorist organization, and in 2006 Congress passed a law banning US financial aid to the group. Therefore, if the US opens contacts with Hamas under the Obama administration, it would represent a definitive break with the Bush presidency's ostracizing of the terror group. The US intelligence services could initiate clandestine contacts with Hamas, similarly to the secret process through which the US engaged with the PLO in the 1970s. Israel did not become aware of the contacts until much later. "Secret envoys, multilateral six-party talk-like approaches. The total isolation of Hamas that we promulgated under Bush is going to end," Steve Clemons, the director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, was quoted as saying. "You could do something through the Europeans. You could invent a structure that is multilateral. It is going to be hard for the neocons to swallow," he said. "I think it is going to happen." However, one expert close to the transition team said that "It is highly unlikely that they will be public about it." Aaron David Miller, a former state department adviser on the Middle East, told the British newspaper that "We will be perceived to be weak and feckless if we are perceived to be on the margins, unable to persuade the Israelis, unable to work with the international community to end this." "Unless he is prepared to adopt a policy that is tougher, fairer and smarter than both of his predecessors you might as well hang a closed-for-the-season sign on any chance of America playing an effective role in defusing the current crisis or the broader crisis," he reportedly said. Bruce Hoffman, a counter-terrorism expert at Georgetown University's school of foreign service, told the paper that Obama would initiate contacts with the group only if Hamas's military wing suffers "a real, almost decisive, drubbing."