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What it means to talk with Hamas

Engaging it is fundamentally about accepting (perhaps uncomfortable) facts.

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March 2009 may come to be seen as a critical month in the ending of the international community's isolation of Hamas. Finally engaging Hamas would spell the end of hypocritical Western policy and bring the peace process in line with the realities of the Middle East.

First, a group of high-level US foreign policy officials, past and present, went public with their recommendation that the Obama administration talk to Hamas. Coincidentally, European politicians who visited Hamas officials in Syria about the same time echoed that view.

Typically, meetings between European lawmakers and Hamas leaders are conducted discretely, if not entirely in secret. Now, the trips have begun to be publicized: In March there were trips by a cross-party group of British and Irish members of parliaments, as well as their counterparts from Greece and Italy.

There was also an open letter to President Obama, published on March 10, and signed by more than 120 experts and academics. The letter urged a change of US policy in the Middle East. Significantly, the signatories advocated an end to the US "fear of Islamist parties coming to power," and also urged prioritizing human rights over supporting the region's autocrats.

Originally, the rationale behind isolating Hamas (a social and political movement condemned by many in the West as a terrorist group) was to weaken the organization and force a change in policy vis-a-vis the armed struggle and Israel, while simultaneously supporting the Ramallah-based leadership of Mahmoud Abbas. The international boycott emerged in parallel with the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip that began post-Palestinian parliamentary elections in early 2006. The aim: Punish the civilian population into rethinking their choice, and make a Hamas government untenable.

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