On My Mind: Ignoring Hamas impedes peace

Rather than deal with troubling Palestinian realities, world leaders seem to pay attention to Gaza only when there is a confrontation involving Israel.

Ignoring a bad reality will not make it disappear.
More likely a problematic situation will worsen over time, emerging in ways most inconvenient and harmful. This is the Hamas predicament that world leaders and mainstream media willfully overlook.
Although Gaza will presumably be part of the future Palestinian state that Mahmoud Abbas formally asked the UN to recognize, neither the many countries that endorsed his plan nor the media editorials that have supported Palestinian statehood have mentioned Hamas.
Even the Palestinian Authority president did not utter the name of his partner during his 45-minute address to the UN General Assembly when he cited “achieving national reconciliation.”
Abbas was obliquely referring to the agreement he signed with the Hamas prime minister governing Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, at a Cairo ceremony in May marking Fatah-Hamas unity pact. That elusive unity is still not likely to materialize.
Hamas despises Abbas. He is not allowed to visit Gaza, whose 1.6 million residents he claims to represent.
To implement the unity agreement, Hamas has demanded that Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an Abbas appointee who is favored in the West and has led successful Palestinian institution-building and economic growth, be replaced. The stalemate over creating a new Palestinian Cabinet and setting a date for elections has, in effect, cancelled the effort at Fatah-Hamas reconciliation.
With the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Hamas barrier has been even more detrimental. Days before Abbas left Ramallah for New York, Hamas spokesmen adamantly pointed out that the PA president does not represent Gaza. "Because nobody consulted us, we, Hamas, do not take this issue seriously,” Ahmed Yousef, the deputy foreign minister in Gaza, told Al Jazeera.
OTHER HAMAS leaders were clearer. Salah Bardawil, a Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament, warned that Abbas’s UN bid “will cement the Palestinians’ recognition of Israel’s right to exist.”
Haniyeh, Abbas’s Hamas partner, not only condemned the UN gambit but declared that he seeks a Palestinian state “without giving up an inch of Palestine or recognizing Israel.” The Hamas leader confirmed again that for his organization the occupation began not in 1967, but with the very creation of Israel in 1948.
Ironically, Hamas found itself aligned, if for totally different reasons, with Israel and the United States in openly opposing Abbas’s strategy to secure UN recognition.
While Israel continues to press Abbas to return to direct negotiations, Hamas maintains its commitment to waging a war of terror that undermines any serious effort to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace.
For UN Security Council members, as well as for the rest of the world, this should not be news – except that they collectively choose to ignore the essence of Hamas. There are sound reasons why the European Union and the US have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization.
It could have been so positively different. When Israel totally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, removing all settlers, soldiers, even the graves of loved ones, the Palestinians had a golden opportunity to begin to erect the foundations of a future state. But Hamas was emboldened by its victory in the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006.
As part of the Palestinian Authority government, Hamas was offered a chance to join Abbas in the peace process with Israel. But the radical interpretation of Islam that informs Hamas ideology does not allow for any alterations in its posture of hatred and violence toward Israel.
Hamas refused to accept the Quartet invitation because it would not renounce terror, recognize Israel and accept all previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
The brewing Palestinian tensions erupted in June 2007 when Hamas violently seized control of Gaza in a brief, brutal Palestinian civil war.
It was a tragedy for the Palestinians and for peace with Israel, and lingers as an omen for the putative Palestinian state. UN recognition will not end this internecine Palestinian struggle.
Rather than deal with those troubling Palestinian realities, world leaders seem to pay attention to Gaza only when there is a confrontation involving Israel, such as Operation Cast Lead in 2009 or the 2010 flotilla, without a consideration for Hamas’s role and its ongoing threat to Israel, the PA and regional security.
Hamas, with Iranian support, has amassed thousands of mortars and rockets and continues to fire them at communities in southern Israel. While Hosni Mubarak was in power, Egypt was aligned with Israel in trying to contain Hamas. Now, with a more open border at Rafah, greater lawlessness in the Sinai and an increasingly assertive Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas no doubt sees an opportunity to stand firm.
Unwavering consistency and long-term patience are Hamas hallmarks. But world leaders set to vote at the UN should not be complicit. Continuing to ignore Hamas is an enormous disservice to those who truly seek Arab-Israeli peace.
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.