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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Mr. Carter goes to Damascus

    “”The problem is not that I met with Hamas in Syria. The problem is that Israel and the United States refuse to meet these people.””

    So said former President Jimmy Carter on Monday, rebuffing criticisms from Israeli politicians for his several days of talks with leaders from Hamas, the ruling party in the Palestinian territories, and Syria. The meetings were conducted toward renewed efforts to broker a long-sought peace deal between Israel and Palestine. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was quick to characterize Mr. Carter’s visit to Damascus as strictly that of a private citizen; Hamas is considered by both the U.S. and Israel to be a terrorist organization, and they fear formal negotiations would serve only to legitimize it.

    To be sure, Hamas is an organization with a sordid history. From its inception in 1987, it has carried out numerous suicide bombings on both military and civilian Israeli targets. And since 2002, it has regularly rained down homemade rockets upon Israeli settlements. Its charter calls for the destruction of the state of Israel, and its subsequent replacement with an Islamic Palestinian state.

    But in recent years, Hamas has taken on political functions. It won a majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament in 2006, and has won a number of local elections. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Hamas uses much of its $70 million yearly budget to fund an extensive social services network consisting of schools, orphanages, mosques, healthcare clinics, soup kitchens and sports leagues.

    This is why Mr. Carter is absolutely right in his condemnation of the U.S. and Israeli policy of not to dealing with Hamas: To refuse negotiations would only serve to de-legitimize Hamas’ move in recent years towards developing a political branch. Letting such a branch grow and according it legitimacy is absolutely crucial.

    A significant historical parallel is the British government’s dealings with the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland. The IRA, formed in 1967, was a paramilitary

    organization in Northern Ireland that sought to end Ireland’s status within the United Kingdom, and to overthrow the Republic of Ireland in favor of establishing a socialist United Ireland. They struggled for years against the British government and civilians, via bombs and other violent means. The British government of course fought back, but neither side could defeat the other by military means. The IRA had long before established a political wing, called Sinn Féin, but was mostly opposed to using it. As IRA offensives continued against the British, the British decided to try negotiating with Sinn Féin. By conceding demands to Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin could make progress where the IRA proper (by violent means) could not. That progress, and the British government’s continued dealings with them as a political organization, served to legitimize Sinn Féin to the point that militants began laying down their weapons and acceding to the political negotiations. A few stalwarts held out, calling themselves the “”Real IRA,”” but as of 2005 the IRA announced that it would act through “”purely political and democratic programs through exclusively peaceful means.””

    Mr. Carter was careful Monday to emphasize that no breakthrough had been made, claiming that he was no way of knowing whether Hamas will do what it told him it would. As if to underscore this uncertainty, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal held a press conference Monday contradicting many of the things Mr. Carter reported that they had tentatively agreed on, most emphatically in his pronouncement of continued refusal to recognize Israel’s existence. Some observers have noted, however, that Hamas’ willingness to meet some of Israel’s demands and to at least contemplate a ceasefire, means that Hamas is tacitly recognizing Israel’s existence. There is something to that logic, but it’s a tenuous connection.

    Philosopher Michel Foucault, renowned for providing a deeply pessimistic vision of our modern world as it relates to how free we are, remarked towards the end of his life that his analyses of systems of power should be read as presupposing continued faith in enlightenment; his critiques of current practices were to inspire “”work on our limits, that is, a patient labor giving form to our impatience for liberty.”” The history between Israel and Palestine is long and torrid. It is plagued on both sides by legitimate feelings of threats from the other, and the continuing peace effort is filled with starts, stops and reversals. There is no reason to expect easy progress, and progress will not come if we do not work towards it. Even where it may offend sensibilities and lack any clear path away from uncertainty and danger, patient labor is required.

    Matt Styer is an interdisciplinary studies senior. He can be reached at

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