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
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
America will have its hands full in the Middle East for years to come, writes Aaron David Miller.
November 15, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Gene Seymour says it's part of our pioneering makeup to keep exploring the universe
November 14, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the U.S.-China agreement to cut carbon emissions is a big deal, and Republicans should take note.
November 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the Obamacare advisor who repeatedly disses the electorate in a series of videotaped remarks reveals arrogance and cluelessnes.
November 14, 2014 -- Updated 2200 GMT (0600 HKT)
Reggie Littlejohn says gendercide is a human rights abuse against women, with bad consequences for nations.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 1657 GMT (0057 HKT)
The massing of Russian forces near Ukraine only reinforces the impression that Moscow has no interest in reconciliation with the West, writes Michael Kofman.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
It takes a real man to make the moves on the wife of the most powerful man in the biggest country. Especially when the wife is a civilian major general.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1347 GMT (2147 HKT)
Proponents of marriage equality LGBT persons have been on quite a winning streak -- 32 states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 1358 GMT (2158 HKT)
It has been an eventful few weeks for space news.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 2014 GMT (0414 HKT)
It's too early to write the U.S. off, and China's leaderships knows that better than anyone, argues Kerry Brown.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1821 GMT (0221 HKT)
"How can Jon Stewart hire you to be 'The Daily Show''s senior Muslim correspondent when you don't even know how to pronounce Salaam Al-aikum?!"
ADVERTISEMENT