The Discerning Texan
-- Edmund Burke
Sunday, September 16, 2007
The Quartet's new envoy to the Middle East, Tony Blair, has long wanted to talk to Hamas. Like Michael Ancram, Blair believes that Britain's experience in Northern Ireland, where former Republican and Unionist wild men who were once deadly enemies now share in governing the province, is the paradigm for success in the Middle East. Just as peace was achieved only once the British government started talking to the IRA, the thinking goes, so peace will only come if Hamas is similarly included.
This analogy is so fundamentally flawed as to be entirely worthless. First, there are obvious differences in the nature of these conflicts. The IRA did not want to Catholicize Britain, nor to replace the government of the United Kingdom by Irish rule. It wanted instead a united Ireland; and while one might disagree with this and deplore the terrorism employed to bring it about, such an aim was itself reasonable. But the core aim of Hamas, to annihilate Israel and destroy every Jew, is unconscionable and should put dialogue with it beyond the pale. After all, what's to discuss?
An even more crucial difference is that the IRA was not invited to join the political mainstream. It itself asked to do so, declaring that the war with Britain was over. That was because the British Army had fought it into a permanent stalemate, forcing it to realize that it could never achieve its aims by violent means.
That is very different from seeking to bring into the political process the terrorists of Hamas, who are still actively engaged in violence against Israel and have no intention of stopping until Israel is destroyed. Treating undefeated terrorists as legitimate interlocutors helps turn them into victors.
As a trained mediator who is well versed on all the various strategies for mediation, arbitration, and negotiation, I see no value whatsoever in giving terrorist organizations instant legitimacy by even showing up for a negotiation with them.
In Dispute Resolution you go into any negotiation with a "given"--that is that each party is civilized, wants to resolve the conflict (instead of inflame it) and has legitimate interests which should be addressed. However, in none of the mediations I have ever been a party to have one of the negotiators represented a group which feels that mass murder is a legitimate way to address conflict; such a position would immediately remove that party from even pretending to have a legitimate voice in a civilized proceeding.
Similarly, for civilized western nations to enter negotiations with "actors" whose primary form of external influence is mass murder would be analagous to sending kind hearted members of the Jewish community in 1930's Krakow,Poland to Berlin to "negotiate" with Himmler or Heydrich--it isn't merely a waste of time; it can also be life-threatening.