A reader sent me this June report on Hamas from the United States Institute of Peace. It’s the kind nuanced understanding of political realities in the region that is sorely lacking from the vast bulk of the establishment:
Discussion in the United States regarding Hamas is usually framed by two somewhat contradictory assumptions: (1) that Hamas is ideologically incapable of evolving to accept the existence of Israel and (2) that isolation and strong pressure are the only tools that may force it to recognize Israel. This controversial report challenges both assumptions. On the one hand, the authors make a case for recognizing that Hamas has already, in certain respects, changed and has sent signals regarding its possible coexistence with Israel. On the other hand, they conclude that Hamas might never “recognize” Israel in the conventional sense and that, since Hamas apparently cannot be eliminated, attempts to engage it must take into account its commitment to the strictures of shari’a.In other words, the report attempts to inject some gray areas into an issue that is often framed only in black and white terms. In a unique approach, the authors do not ask us to necessarily change our conclusions about the value of such engagement. Instead, they invite us to reevaluate our assumptions by providing a new prism through which to analyze Hamas. The authors themselves–one Jewish and the other Muslim–have very different lenses on this conflict. They disagree on the definition of the conflict and have differing views of how it can be resolved, but they share the goal of providing a framework for understanding Hamas, its motivations, and its selfconcept, and of presenting alternative criteria for interpreting the signals that it sends. The authors neither endorse Hamas’s actions or positions nor advocate taking Hamas’s claims at face value, and they certainly do not argue that Israel, the United States, and the West should drop demands for changes by Hamas. On the contrary, they offer a framework to help policymakers develop and deliver such demands more effectively, a framework that takes into account how Hamas views itself and how many in the Muslim world understand the movement. With U.S. allies such as Egypt and Jordan pressing for a Palestinian unity government inclusive of Hamas, it is imperative to consider what kinds of conditions and safeguards would contribute to a successful peace process rather than derail it.