Thursday, April 03, 2008

Adrift (revised)

I once asked a friend, who was then an editor at the NYTimes, to contribute an essay on the foreign policy of the New York Times to a book that I was editing. The editor's reply: "Do you want to get me to get me fired?" Editorial comment by the paper is carefully vetted, especially when the conclusions are likely to controversial. I would like to have been a fly on the wall when "Adrift in the Middle East" was discussed.

You may be sure that there was plenty of internal discussion on this one, in which the paper advises the Bush administration to adopt the December 2000 Clinton parameters and calls for the U.S. and Israel to find ways of talking to Hamas. Where the editorial breaks important new ground is by calling for talks with Hamas. To be sure, it would have been more impressive is the self-regarding Times had adopted this position long ago, and before Israel and the U.S. government began to recognize the obvious. Nonetheless, given the importance of the paper in influencing elite opinion, the editorial is noteworthy.

As readers here know, my position has been that pretending that U.S. diplomacy can expunge, bypass and ignore Hamas is a fool's game. This does not excuse Hamas for the reprehensible things that it has done, but it suggests that a sensible policy would create incentives for Hamas to cease its violence. That is not going to happen without a dialogue. (The U.S. has already signalled it support for Egypt's efforts to construct a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.)

Adrift in the Middle East - New York Times


"If Washington doesn’t make clear its own commitment to this kind of peace, it cannot expect weak Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take the political risks needed for a realistic compromise.

"They, as well as Washington, would also have to deal with the disruptive reality of Hamas, which broadcasts anti-Semitic propaganda and encourages deadly rocket fire into Israeli towns. The essential first step is to encourage efforts by Egypt and other Arab nations to press Hamas toward a complete cease-fire.

"If that can be achieved, the United States and Israel should start exploring the possibilities of talking directly with Hamas, though not in a way that excludes the far more statesmanlike Mr. Abbas.

"Doing so does not imply approval of Hamas’s past methods or future goals. It does acknowledge that Hamas has a strong constituency — and a lasting peace would have to include these Palestinians as well."

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