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Last Updated: 08/07/2008Hamas: Behind the masks
Key Words: Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Terrorism, Hamas, Negotiation, International Law, Peace, security, Coexistance
Israel, the United States, and some other countries reject dealing with Hamas because they see it purely as a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel's destruction. The reality is more complex.
Hamas certainly has committed acts of terror against Israeli civilians, and it must be held accountable for them — in a context in which all who commit murder and terror in the Middle East are similarly held accountable, including Israelis, Arabs, Iranians, Americans and Britons.
Hamas argues that its actions are legitimate resistance against a much more brutal Israeli war against Palestinian civilians — a war that uses terror, assassination, kidnapping, starvation, imprisonment, colonization, apartheid-like segregation and more. We remain stalemated, but also at war.
This important issue may hold the key to peace. To make progress toward true peace, the world should judge and engage Hamas on the same basis used in the case of other militant or terrorist groups around the world, including the Irish Republican Army, the Viet Cong, the African National Congress, Namibia's SWAPO, and, more recently, the Taliban and "insurgents" of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
This approach typically comprises four critical components: Talk to the group in question rather than shunning it; make clear the objectionable and unacceptable actions that must stop; identify the legitimate demands that can be met; and negotiate as equals to achieve a win-win situation. This stops the terrorism, removes the underlying reasons for it, satisfies all sides' minimum demands and achieves peace and security.
The key to achieving this is to analyze and deal with Hamas in the total context of its actions, not just through the narrow lens of its terrorist acts. This means understanding and addressing the six R's that Hamas represents: resistance, respect, reciprocity, reconstruction, rights, and refugees.
These six basic aspects of Hamas's world view and political program should be appreciated more clearly by those who claim to seek to promote an Arab-Israeli peacemaking process. They form a coherent foundation for potential negotiations, peace, security and coexistence — but only on the basis of respect, reciprocity and a single rule of law that applies to all.
Rami Khouri, editor-at-large of The Daily Star in Beirut, is also director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.