Prominent Middle East studies professors argue that Israel should conduct negotiations with Hamas, a U.S. State Department-designated terrorist organization that controls the Gaza Strip. Thus, they demand that Israel -- a sovereign state -- negotiate with a terrorist organization responsible for murdering and maiming many innocent Israelis and dedicated to Israel's destruction.
Among these professors:
- Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University believes the most serious obstacle to reaching an Israeli-Palestinian final status agreement is U.S. opposition to a Palestinian unity government that would include both Hamas and Fatah. He also says that in order to get an agreement, theUnited States will have to stop siding with Israel.
- Fawaz Gerges (Sarah Lawrence College and the London School of Economics) claims -- against all evidence -- that Hamas has become more moderate. He argues that engaging Hamas would encourage it to continue to moderate, and strengthen moderates in the Palestinian territories and throughout the region. Gerges agrees with Khalidi that there can be no viable, lasting peace while Hamas is excluded from the process and the Palestinians are divided.
- Augustus Richard Norton (Boston University) and Sara Roy (Harvard), in a joint op-ed, also argue that Hamas has moderated. They oppose the policy begun under George W. Bush of favoring the Palestinian Authority while isolating and penalizing Hamas, to encourage Palestinians to choose the moderate path.
- Ian Lustik (University of Pennsylvania) believes Israel can have peace with Hamas even without difficult final status negotiations by simply accepting a 20--to--30-year hudna, or ceasefire, which he says Hamas has offered.
- Lawrence Davidson (West Chester University) seconds the notion of a long-term hudna and explains Israel's failure to accept Hamas's olive branches resulting from what he calls an Israeli mindset that "favors endless war."
- John Esposito, director of Georgetown University's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, advocates treating Hamas, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority evenhandedly and pressuring Israel to enhance America's popularity among Muslims.
These strategies are ill-advised. Hamas has shown no proclivity to recognizing Israel's right to exist or to abiding by previous cease-fires. They are, after all, terrorists who specialize in killing innocent civilians. Their corrupt, brutal rule in Gaza reveals their true nature far more than any apologias from their academic defenders.
Moreover, the Middle East studies establishment has for years held Israel to significantly higher standards of conduct than neighboring Arab states. Amidst their constant criticisms of Israeli policy and society, one hears precious little about the brutality of Arab regimes, the treatment of women in traditional Muslim societies, or other social pathologies common in the region. With such a record, one wonders why Israelis should turn to Middle East studies professors for advice and counsel on what is, for Israel, an existential question: trusting those sworn to killing Israelis and undermining the state of Israel.
This advice, if followed, would weaken Israel in two important ways. First, negotiating with terrorists is generally a bad idea because it legitimizes them and weakens the moderates. Engagement convinces the terrorists that their target state is weak, that terrorism is a successful tactic, and that additional terrorist acts will achieve their goals. In this sense, negotiation encourages terrorism unless a terror group has been defeated militarily. Examples of counterproductive negotiations with terrorists include those with the IRA before their defeat, the Oslo Accords with Yasser Arafat, and those in Fallujah, Iraq, following the April, 2004 siege.
The desire to engage with terrorists betrays a failure to understand either the terrorists or civilized society. It asks the negotiators to overlook the terrorists' convictions, delude themselves into thinking that terrorists are more like them than they in fact are, and blinds the negotiators to their own weaknesses. As Middle East analyst Lee Smith observed, in the Mideast diplomacy is usually an instrument of warfare used to stall, exact concessions, or confuse the other side.
All these professors are united by their failure to recognize (or admit) the true nature and goals of Hamas, a militant Islamist terror organization dedicated to killing Jews and ending Jewish sovereignty and self-determination in the Middle East. Nor do they acknowledge that Israel is a liberal democracy whose exemplary human rights record is all the more extraordinary since it constantly needs to battle the aggression of its neighbors. Urging Israel to hold peace talks with Hamas is yet another example of the poor foreign policy prescriptions that result from the distorted viewpoint that is, unfortunately, so prevalent today among the Middle East studies faculty of our universities.
Janet Doerflinger is a writer whose interests include public affairs and foreign policy. This essay was written for Campus Watch, a program of the Middle East Forum.