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My talk with Hamas about peace with Israel

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Clearly, if there is to be a Palestinian team at any peace negotiations, its work must be supported by Hamas as well as Fatah. But can Hamas, whose 1988 Charter still rejects participation in peace conferences and calls for an end to the State of Israel, really be judged a valid party to the peacemaking?

The history of numerous other peace efforts indicates it can. Consider the examples of South Africa and Northern Ireland. Nationalist parties there that were once denounced as "terrorist" and hunted down ended up as valued – indeed, essential – participants in the peacemaking.

In both those earlier cases, parties invited to the table were required to verifiably set aside their arms (though not, in the first instance, to disarm completely). They were also required to agree to principles of nonviolent, democratic decisionmaking. It worked.

Stereotypes and challenges

Many Westerners might think of Hamas as only a collection of gun-toting fanatics intent on killing civilian Israelis. But Hamas also has a strong civilian wing that provides valued services in many Palestinian communities.

In 2006 it was that wing that participated peacefully and successfully in the nationwide vote. Meanwhile, Hamas's military wing has shown during several periods that it can exercise full or near-full restraint during cease-fires: That happened in 2005 and 2008, and has generally been the case in recent months, too.

One major challenge for today's peacemakers has been Hamas's refusal to meet the three preconditions that Washington and its allies in the international "Quartet" set in 2006, before they would even start talking to it.

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