There’s a barely concealed wish among many old Mideast hands these days to just walk away from the steadily deteriorating Israeli-Palestinian situation. Armed thugs from Fatah are fighting it out with armed thugs from Hamas. Israel is building unilateral fences and defining unilateral borders. If the two sides do not really want to negotiate with each other, the argument goes, there’s nothing much outsiders can do to help.
That temptation to walk away needs to be strongly resisted. As bad as things are now, they can get a whole lot worse, and almost certainly will if the outside world averts its attention. Already, rockets are raining down again on innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians, inflaming passions on both sides.
And when those passions explode, the deadly consequences won’t be limited to Israelis and Palestinians alone. They never have been in the past, and are even less likely to be in a world of satellite television, ubiquitous Internet access, multinational terrorism and increasingly long-range missiles.
Further, there is something very important that the outside world, particularly the Arab and Islamic world, can do to help. It can make plain to the Hamas-led government of the Palestinian Authority that if it means to become the legitimate international voice of the Palestinian people, and a true government in the community of nations, it will have to accept the minimal international ground rules already in place. These include renouncing terrorism, acknowledging Israel’s existence as a sovereign nation and abiding by formal agreements previously signed by lawful Palestinian negotiators.
Those are ground rules that have already been accepted by Egypt and Jordan and by the Arab League as a whole in its 2002 Beirut peace initiative. They need to be accepted by Hamas, but not as some kind of ideological concession. Hamas must see them as an admission ticket to the real world, a necessary rite of passage in the progression from a lawless opposition to a lawful government.
Hamas has repeatedly heard this demand from the United States, Europe and Israel, and has repeatedly ignored it, even when it has been backed by halts in vitally needed economic assistance. Hearing it from Arab and Islamic neighbors, in the form of friendly persuasion, would be harder for Hamas to dismiss. It also could prove easier for Hamas to accommodate.
This page has not hesitated to call on Washington, as Israel’s most important ally, to encourage Israeli leaders to keep the door open to an eventual negotiated peace. In the same spirit, we call on the leaders of Arab and Islamic states to speak firmly and constructively to Hamas.
No one expects these countries to remain silent about the sufferings of the Palestinian people or abandon them to their now desperate financial plight. But with support comes leverage, and true friends of the Palestinian people need to start using that leverage to talk straight with Hamas.