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My talk with Hamas about peace with Israel

The US should follow the Northern Ireland and South African models – which had principles, not preconditions.

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Since his first days in office, President Obama has defined winning a final peace between Israel and the Palestinians as an urgent US interest.

On Jan. 21 he named former Senate majority leader George Mitchell his envoy to achieve that peace, and Mr. Mitchell has since made four fact-finding trips to the Middle East. But neither has yet said how the administration will grapple with one of the biggest challenges that peace diplomacy faces: the continuing strength of the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas.

Hamas has been on the State Department's "terrorism list" since its founding in 1987. It has steadfastly refused to recognize Israel. But it has also won – and kept – considerable popular support among Palestinians.

In 2006 it won parliamentary elections held in the West Bank and Gaza. More recently it survived the military onslaught Israel launched against Gaza last December – and in the wake of that war, Hamas's popularity among Palestinians increased.

Meanwhile, Washington's ongoing campaign to strengthen the rival Fatah party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has backfired badly. Rather than strengthening Fatah, the aid that Washington and its allies have sent to Mr. Abbas has further fueled the nepotism and corruption within Fatah and hastened its internal decline.

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