Time to Recognize Hamas

An article from this week's edition of The Economist provides a startling look into Hamas's success at providing the Gaza Strip with just about everything it needs. Prices have fallen, businesses have flourished, caf├ęs and universities have re-opened. This adds yet another reason to the list of why the "West," insofar as it has not already done so (I believe Norway already has, for example), should recognize Hamas as the legitimate government of the Gaza Strip. It exercises de facto control over the territory and has apparently succeeded in bringing security and a degree of economic prosperity (when compared with the past few years) to the area. No other group (including the UN and the Israelis) could make this claim. These accomplishments have also made Hamas popular in the Gaza Strip, further diminishing prospects that Fatah could ever enjoy any real influence there again without serious (and deleterious) changes to conditions in Gaza. What are the other reasons Hamas should be recognized and worked with?
  • It has moved away from the West and relies on other contacts for its stability and prosperity. This is working (comparatively speaking). While economic and personal security in Gaza are certainly to be welcomed, from a western political standpoint, this indicates that western influence in Gaza has waned even more than it had previously. If the Israelis and the US hope to have more influence in Gaza, they must engage with Hamas, which has effective control there. Furthermore, trying to force influence by removing Hamas would be transparent (i.e. Gazans would know what was going on and resent the action, making it counterproductive) and would lead to chaos and suffering, while carrying a very high risk of ultimate failure. Keeping Hamas in isolation would only further push it into the arms of other actors the West would rather it not deal with (e.g. Iran).
  • Terrorists and extremest organizations become more moderate when they achieve real power. This could be seen with the PLO as well, which was also initially shunned by the West but was later accepted (albeit too late, I would argue, as its acceptance among the people it claimed to represent was already in decline). Hamas is now responsible for providing not just physical protection for the residents of Gaza, but also for their economic welfare. The constraints of power are already moderating its actions, if not its rhetoric.
  • As The Economist mentions, Hamas may soon be embroiled in competition with Muslim extremist groups in Gaza. This implies that Hamas is a relatively moderate force there now (as would be expected from the logic of the point above). Denying recognition to Hamas will make it more likely that extremer forces will take hold in Gaza, making the situation there even worse for the people of Gaza and further harming any chance at cooperation with Israel and/or the US and their allies. As mentioned, this was the case with the PLO as well.
In conclusion, I am arguing to recognize Hamas not because I am an idealist and believe in the good of all people. On the contrary, I am a realist and believe that recognizing Hamas is in everyone's interests. It's a win-win situation, and Israel, the US, the UK, France, etc. would be fools not to take advantage of it. It is sure to be a short-lived opportunity in an ever-unstable Middle East. True, it is by no means a guarantee of success, but letting idealistic notions like "we don't negotiate with terrorists" get in the way of what is, granted, only a shimmer of hope for progress, would be reckless and unconscionable.

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