Hamas to Rice: We want dialogue with US

Open letter says if US were even-handed, "chances of peace would dramatically increase."

Haniyeh 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Haniyeh 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
"Many people make the mistake of presuming that Hamas has some ideological aversion to making peace. Quite the opposite; we have consistently offered dialogue with the US and the EU," Ahmed Yousef, a senior Hamas official, said Sunday. In an open letter to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Yousef, who serves as senior political adviser to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, said that his movement did not have any "ideological arguments" with the West. "We are not anti-American, anti-European or anti-anyone," he explained, adding that the time has come for Washington and other Western countries to talk to Hamas. Sources close to Hamas told The Jerusalem Post that Haniyeh and other top leaders of the Islamist movement had given their blessing to the content of the open letter. According to the sources, the letter reflects Hamas's growing predicament under international sanctions and its fear of a massive Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip. But the letter is also seen as a sign of growing divisions inside Hamas, where many officials and activists remain strongly opposed to any form of dialogue with the US. The letter comes against a backdrop of reports suggesting that Hamas had sought to patch up its differences with Fatah. Syrian-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has been summoned to Riyadh for talks with Saudi leaders on ways of ending the Hamas-Fatah power struggle. According to some reports, Hamas has agreed to hand over to Fatah a number of Palestinian Authority institutions in the Gaza Strip, among them the home and office of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. In his letter, Yousef accused the US of "hypocrisy" for refusing to accept Hamas's victory in the January 2006 parliamentary election. Addressing Rice, he wrote: "Meaningful steps toward a resolution cannot take place while the legitimacy of the elected government in Palestine continues to be ignored by your administration. Not only is the policy to isolate Hamas unethical, it is ineffectual as well. Your administration ignores the realities on the ground." "The Change and Reform Party, the name of the new political party we formed for the Palestinian elections, won an overwhelming majority in the occupied territories. To pretend otherwise is not only futile but detrimental to US interests in the region for many years to come and likely to add to the anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East and the Muslim world. You cannot preach about exporting democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan and ignore the democratic process in Palestine." In the letter, which was posted on a number of Palestinian Web sites, Yousef said that even some Westerners had complained about Washington's "narrow-mindedness" in dealing with Hamas. The State Department, he added, "should be looking for new solutions instead of reinforcing old stereotypes. On a personal note, we found it amusing that a black person empathizes with Israeli deaths on the one hand and Palestinian segregation on the other - if media reports are accurate. It is a military occupation, Ms. Rice. Their citizens face insecurity and death because that is the situation they have created for themselves. We do not beg you to recognize us. Our party is the legitimately elected party in the occupied territories. You owe it to your sense of fairness to engage meaningfully with all relevant parties to the conflict." Yousef complained that the Palestinians were being punished for holding a free and fair election and voting for Hamas. "It is hard to get across the appalling level of privation that the Palestinian people, and in particular the 1.3 million Palestinians who live in Gaza, currently suffer from," he said. "Our isolation is complete, confining us in a ghetto (worse than the Jewish ghettos of Warsaw) where our sewage, power and water systems have been destroyed, all normal supplies constrained and even humanitarian aid withheld. Many people have not been paid for nearly two years, over 75% are unemployed and now the Israelis are threatening to cut off fuel and power supplies and to invade us once again." He reminded Rice that her predecessor, General Colin Powell, had stated that the US should find a way to engage with Hamas because it won the election and because it continues to enjoy the support of many Palestinians. "If you were even-handed in this conflict, if you engaged with us openly, then the chances of peace would dramatically increase," he concluded. "As it is, you are setting yourself up for failure and with that failure will come more pain and anguish for the Palestinian people, a further colonization of our lands and a blank space in history for the Bush administration's role in making peace in the Middle East."