Skip to main content

Opinion: Bring Hamas to the table

By Ed Husain
August 5, 2014 -- Updated 1306 GMT (2106 HKT)
Palestinians in Gaza celebrate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas on Tuesday, August 26. After more than seven weeks of heavy fighting, Israel and Hamas agreed to an open-ended ceasefire that puts off dealing with core long-term issues. Palestinians in Gaza celebrate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas on Tuesday, August 26. After more than seven weeks of heavy fighting, Israel and Hamas agreed to an open-ended ceasefire that puts off dealing with core long-term issues.
HIDE CAPTION
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
Israel-Gaza crisis
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ed Husain: Hamas is not just terror group: It has schools, banks, mosques, doctors
  • Husain: West damages standing in Muslim world as TV shows dead children, blasted schools
  • Peace is not possible without Hamas leaders, he says, who are open to indirect talks
  • Husain: If we don't deal with Hamas, we might have a worse enemy: Salafi Jihadis

Editor's note: Ed Husain is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. The author of "The Islamist" can be followed on Twitter via @Ed_Husain. The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Ed Husain.

(CNN) -- "Who do you want to see?" asked the Salafi Jihadists holding their AK-47s at the gate.

"Hamas leaders," I replied.

"Why Hamas? Why not our Jihadi brothers?" the guard asked.

"Well, Hamas are in government in Gaza."

Ed Husain
Ed Husain

"They won't be in future," he responded. "They have sold out and become agents of the Israelis, and in years to come we will govern Gaza. Be sure to meet our brothers here in the camp, too."

The guard then gave me directions to a safe house where someone could take me to Hamas.

This was last summer. I was visiting a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut for book research. It took me two more days to locate Hamas leadership. Inside the camp, just as in Gaza, Hamas had a wide network of schools, financiers, mosques, makeshift hospitals, readily available doctors, banking services, and support for orphans and widows. We in the West deem Hamas a terrorist organization. Yes, one part of it is committed to terrorism, killing innocent civilians in the pursuit of political aims, but we are mistaken if we continue to limit our definition by one aspect of Hamas.

Unless we better understand Hamas, we cannot help halt the killings of Israelis and Arabs in the Middle East. Hamas is not a monolith, nor is it only a terrorist group: It is a social movement, with a mass membership, a popular message of resistance that resonates across the Muslim world, and a political party with which we must negotiate.

"When the Israelis were fighting Yasser Arafat and the PLO, the Arabs were losing," the Hamas leader -- whose name I must withhold -- told me. "We saw them abandon anti-aircraft missiles here in Beirut in the 1980s. But now, with Hezbollah and Hamas, we fight to die, to kill. We believe in martyrdom. We don't flee from the battlefield."

Hamas leader insists he's in control
Hamas pledges to honor cease-fire, if Israel does
Israel agrees to temporary cease-fire

To my Hamas hosts, Israel's operation in Lebanon in 2006, or its attack on Gaza in 2009, were huge victories. "We are now winning. We fight Israel and want to fight again and again." This strong belief that they are victorious is in itself a loss for Israel: It has failed to weaken Hamas.

Fighting and killing have been a curse to Israel's existence over the last six decades. The trajectory has been to make Israel weaker and more hated around the world; to popularize the ideology of radicalism amid Muslims and fuel anti-Americanism in the Middle East. Israel cannot kill itself into security or survival. It must learn the language of peace and co-existence.

For how much longer will we in the West continue to damage our own standing in the nearly 2 billion-strong Muslim world as our ally Israel delivers dead children and destroyed schools to Muslim television screens?

Israel killed Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in 2004, along with several bodyguards, and then his successors, promising us that this would help reduce violence and terror. Almost a decade later, Hamas is not only strong and vibrant, in government since 2007, but lobbing rockets at Jerusalem and kidnapping Israeli soldiers. In short, Hamas is strong and growing psychologically stronger, while Israel has failed to achieve its peace and security.

Worse, contrary to what many believed, Hamas was not weakened when Egypt's President Mohamed Morsy, a supporter, was toppled in July 2013. Morsy made many mistakes, but President Obama's telephone calls to him helped bring Hamas to the table and secure a cease-fire in 2012 much sooner.

Israel does not deserve all the blame. Arab political and religious leaders, despite historic grievances, have a duty to recognize that Israel is their neighbor. Israel is part of the mosaic of the modern Middle East. A change in tone and tenor and a public embrace of Israel by religious leaders will calm the nerves of an anxious Israeli population.

In the end, Israel has limited options. Peace is not possible without Hamas, and Hamas is not a simple terrorist outfit. Its political arm, its leadership inside and outside Gaza, despite their tensions, are open to indirect talks with Israel.

Just as the British and American governments negotiated peace in Northern Ireland by reaching out to IRA terrorists through their political wing of Sinn Fein, we must tame Hamas through politics, not the failed strategy of war.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad were among the Palestinian groups that met in Cairo Sunday and reached a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire agreement brokered by Egyptian officials.

Here, the European Union and the United States can work through Fatah, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and negotiate along the 2002 Arab peace plan suggested by Saudi Arabia.

Hamas must be brought in. Almost 2 million people in Gaza need our support. If we fail to bring in Hamas and create a sustained peace that leads to prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis, then we must prepare for an enemy who is worse: Salafi Jihadis. And with Gaza, the popularity of the Salafi Jihadi message will spread far and wide.

My guard at the refugee camp insisted I speak with his brothers-in-arms. I did not, but I fear he might be right. Will Israel help itself and us, or hinder?

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2108 GMT (0508 HKT)
The NFL's new Player Conduct Policy was a missed chance to get serious about domestic violence, says Mel Robbins.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the CBO didn't provide an accurate picture of Obamacare's impact, so why rehire its boss?
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 0040 GMT (0840 HKT)
Russian aggression has made it clear Ukraine must rethink its security plans, says Olexander Motsyk, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
The Senate committee report on torture has highlighted partisan divisions on CIA methods, says Will Marshall. Republicans and Democrats are to blame.
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
It would be dishonest to say that 2014 has been a good year for women. But that hasn't stopped some standing out, says Frida Ghitis.
ADVERTISEMENT