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Middle East Roundtable / Edition 35

An Israeli View:
Recognizing Hamas is irresponsible

by Yossi Beilin

The Oslo agreement was signed in 1993 on the basis of a mutual agreement that political negotiations would replace the use of force. An exchange of letters between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin ensured mutual recognition between the two sides in accordance with this agreement. Negotiations over two years then led to an interim agreement, signed on September 28, 1995, that enabled elections to be held for the Palestinian Legislative Council.

There was concern at the time lest parties not obligated by the Oslo principles would seek to participate in the elections. The principal worry was Hamas. In order to ensure that such parties do not participate in elections and do not abuse the democratic process, it was determined that "The nomination of any candidates, parties or coalitions will be refused, and such nomination or registration will be canceled, if such candidates, parties or coalitions (1) commit or advocate racism, or (2) pursue the implementation of their aims by unlawful non-democratic means."

There can be no doubt that participation by Hamas in elections held in the Palestinian Authority in January 2006 is a gross violation of the Israeli-Palestinian interim agreement. Hamas is a movement that has, through its covenant, raised the banner of incitement to hate and kill Jews. That this military organization, appearing as a political party, is allowed to abuse democracy is a prize for terror and violence.

In a world seeking to combat terrorism and still looking for the right way to do it, it would be surprising indeed if Israel, paradoxically, were to acquiesce in the legitimization of a terrorist organization under its very nose, while the world encouraged it to do so and even encouraged and held secret contacts with that organization. The unilateral withdrawal from Gaza genuinely strengthened Hamas; now its integration into the Palestinian political system would crown it as the most important Palestinian organization.

The leadership of the Palestinian Authority is not integrating Hamas enthusiastically, but out of necessity. Now, with the end of the intifada, the PA is weakened, much of its infrastructure destroyed, and it is unable to act forthrightly against Hamas. Since PM Ariel Sharon demands that the PA fight terror while withholding the means to do so, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has been impelled to reach a ceasefire with Hamas. In return for Hamas' agreement to a ceasefire, Abu Mazen has agreed that the organization can participate in the PA's political system by means of elections.

Instead of assisting the PA to fight Hamas, as it did in 1996, and instead of insisting on invoking the relevant provision of the interim agreement in order to prevent Hamas' participation in elections, the government of Israel remained silent for many months. It was only a few days ago that Sharon finally declared he would "not assist" the holding of elections in the PA if Hamas participated. For Sharon, invoking the Oslo agreements is apparently so abhorrent that he avoided the simplest and shortest way of preventing Hamas from participating in elections.

Israel is paying a heavy price for this policy. By now it is too late to declare that we will not recognize the Palestinian bodies chosen in January because Hamas is participating in the elections: the ceasefire depends on this participation, and we have no interest in canceling it. Now that Israel's silence has facilitated the legitimization of Hamas in Europe and the United States, we apparently cannot admit our mistake. Hamas' entrance into PA institutions is liable to cast a veto on future peace moves, without eliminating the option of violence. I certainly hope and pray that the situation we have gotten ourselves into under the direction of Sharon and Shimon Peres is simply a case of folly rather than a premeditated step intended to prove that there is "no one to talk to".

For long years we conditioned the PLO's entry into negotiations with Israel on the demands for an end to terrorism and acceptance of UNSCR 242. Ultimately these conditions were adopted. Awarding legitimacy to Hamas unconditionally, while that organization continues to embrace its lunatic covenant, is an irresponsible act on our part. There is a debate as to whether Sharon has turned to the left or adheres to his old ways. Indirect recognition of Hamas is not part of a turn to the left; rather, it faithfully maintains a policy whose primary characteristics are superficiality, instinctive responses, and shooting from the hip.- Published 26/9/2005 (c)

Yossi Beilin is chair of the Meretz-Yahad Party. is an internet forum for an array of world perspectives on the Middle East and its specific concerns. It aspires to engender greater understanding about the Middle East region and open a new common space for world thinkers and political leaders to present their viewpoints and initiatives on the region. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at and, respectively. 28-09-2005

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