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Experts Discuss Hamas’ Parliamentary Win

January 26, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT


JEFFREY BROWN: [W]e get two views: Martin Indyk served as assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs and twice as U.S. Ambassador to Israel during the Clinton administration — he’s now director of the Saban Center for Middle Eastern Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington; and Khalil Jahshan, former president of the National Association of Arab Americans — he now lectures in international affairs at Pepperdine University and is a private consultant on Middle East issues. And welcome to both of you.

Let me get something quickly out on the table because every report we just heard, Margaret, Ray, everyone, referred to what a shock this was. Martin Indyk, here in Washington, was it a shock? Do you think the administration was ready for these results?

MARTIN INDYK: No, I don’t think so I think everybody was shocked. I was certainly shocked too. There was an expectation as Ray said that Hamas would do well, perhaps would beat Fatah, but not that it would get such a strong majority and therefore it would have to form a government. Even Hamas, itself, I don’t think expected to be in that position.

JEFFREY BROWN: What do you think?

KHALIL JAHSHAN: Same thing. I think we were all shocked. No one anticipated these results, particularly the margin of victory that Hamas achieved. And I think this is a major political earthquake that registered at least 9.5 on the political Richter scale here in Washington.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, the president says we just saw him say a political party that articulates the destruction of Israel as part of its platform is a party with which we will not deal. Now is he right to say that given that this is now a party that has been elected to power, Mr. Indyk?

MARTIN INDYK: Yes, he has not a choice but to say that. On the one hand he has — we have to result respect the results of a democratic election that the president pushed for very hard. And, by the way, one should say in this regard, that there was an opportunity to postpone the election. Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the PA wanted to do so. But this administration insisted that it go ahead.

So, on the one hand, we have to respect the results. On the other hand, as a sovereign government, we have no obligation to deal with a government that’s committed to — not to peace with Israel but to the destruction of the state of Israel, a government that will be headed by an organization that is on our own terrorism list because of its terrorism and pioneering of suicide bombing.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Jahshan, is the president right?

KHALIL JAHSHAN: I think the president is right in the sense that all parties right now are jockeying for position and trying to pressure each other to take the right path.

The fear that I have is that we do not put ourselves in the same predicament that we did in the ’70s and ’80s, that we become victims to our own pronouncements and we lose political maneuverability in trying to talk to people who are in charge and whose role is vital in continuing some form of peaceful negotiations in the future.

So I don’t take these pronouncements seriously. Unfortunately, though, I feel that the way the president dealt with the issue today was not kind of well-received, I think in the region and was not articulated well.

I prefer, for example, the statement by the secretary of state that she sent via video conference to Davos, where she kind of left more political maneuverability or some space to people who are listening in the region.

The president kind of made it sound like we’re not going to talk to anybody.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what kind of contact or cooperation and with whom, would you see for the U.S. right now?

KHALIL JAHSHAN: Well, the U.S., of course, can continue to talk to all kinds of parties in the region. We do not suffer from lack of allies. The problem is we have taken a policy that started as benign neglect and became purposeful neglect for the past several years with regards specifically to this issue.

And in a way, we have contributed directly to these results or to this political business disaster. But we can talk to many people. We have been talking indirectly. There are all kinds of dialogues with so-called democratic Islamists taking place through many NGO’s here in Europe and in the Middle East. And these are basically leaders of Islamist movements like Hamas but those who have committed in public basically to respect the democratic process.

So we can continue to talk to many of these parties, particularly those alluded to as possible players as third parties in dealing with Hamas.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do you have a problem with those kinds of contacts?

MARTIN INDYK: Look, Hamas now is on the horns of its own dilemma, now that it will lead the government. It will have to decide how it’s going to deal with the issue of the desire of the Palestinian people, the needs that they have for calm and order and economic reconstruction.

At the same time, as it’s going to want to continue with its policy of militant resistance, what we call terrorism, towards Israel and with the objective of destroying the neighboring state. That, we have no interest as an administration in easing that dilemma, so I think it’s very important for the United States and the European governments, for that matter, are very clear at this stage that they are not going to deal with a government that is committed to an anti-peace process because then Hamas is going to have to over time make a decision.

I think Khalil is right in one respect, the Egyptians and Jordanians in particular, as neighbors of the West Bank in Gaza do not want to see a terrorist failed state on their borders. And therefore they are going to be working to try to moderate Hamas’s position as well.

JEFFREY BROWN: What about the question, you raised it earlier, and we saw the president talk about the democratic process. He was very praiseworthy of that, while having problems with the result. Does that lead to — put him in a bind in terms of how he can respond?

MARTIN INDYK: Yes, and I think that there is a big question mark tonight about the whole effort to promote democracy in the Middle East. The president is still clearly as we saw in that press conference very committed to it.

But its consequences are quite dire tonight for the peace process as we’ve known it in the past. I would go as far as to say that the peace process is over, that Hamas will not deal with Israel and Israel will not deal with Hamas; and we are not going to have a negotiating process.

So the whole question of what it is that we’re achieving here by pushing democracy has a big question mark over it tonight. I think that it’s a real gamble to believe that somehow Hamas’s victory will lead to the moderation of Hamas and that everything will be fine in terms of the president’s vision of a two-state solution. What we’re headed towards now is a two-state outcome.

But on the one side is an Israel that will be behind a high wall and fence and on the other side is a Hamas-ruled Palestinian terrorist state and perhaps a failed state.

JEFFREY BROWN: What do you think about the democratic process and following it and following by its results?

KHALIL JAHSHAN: I think the program that the president has been advocating has definitely suffered as a consequence of these elections. There is a big question mark right now on a program that was hastily put together post 9/11 without thinking of the consequences of this type of advocacy of democracy without tilling the ground, if you will, or tilling the soil to allow that type of democracy to grow and to be able to nurture it from a distance. These results, I think, made that criticism a lot more credible and more forceful today than yesterday.

With regards to Hamas, definitely, I mean Hamas cannot have its cake and eat it too. It cannot claim to be a responsible party to govern the state of Palestine in the state that’s in the making, at the same time continue to describe Palestine and its political platform or in its charter as an Islamic waf but Hamas, again, is a lot more pragmatic than many people think, you know, in a way. Particularly the inside Hamas, those who have been involved in the elections.

And given their way, chances are they will look at other options. And my information is they are actually talking to several independent Palestinian personalities as we speak tonight to see if they can pass the buck and allow somebody neutral to run the cabinet rather than a Hamas personality to run the cabinet, of course, with influence by Hamas, but to have an independent personality, academic, respected, recently elected also in the elections yesterday, to be the next prime minister of Palestine.

JEFFREY BROWN: What about Mr. Indyk’s point that the peace process as we know it is essentially over?

KHALIL JAHSHAN: I have declared that long before.

JEFFREY BROWN: You are not surprised?

KHALIL JAHSHAN: Long before Martin — that the peace process has been dead since 2000, it has just been too expensive politically to pay for the funeral.

MARTIN INDYK: But I must say that the peace process may be dead but another process will emerge. And I think on the Israeli side we already saw the beginnings of that with the unilateral disengagement from Gaza.

And I think that the government of Ehud Olmert – assuming that he leads the government after the Israeli elections at the end of March — is likely to say well, we don’t have a partner now with Hamas running the government and we need to take another unilateral step, this time in the West Bank, determine our own borders, and for the interim at least, and let’s get out of there.

And Hamas which will not want to deal with Israel will not mind inheriting 70 percent of the West Bank without having to make any compromises with Israel.

So something else is going to happen here. But it’s essentially that the Israelis and Palestinians are going to go their own way. They’re going to separate. And then Hamas is going to have to decide.

I agree with Khalil that they are pragmatic, that they understand that they have to meet the needs of the Palestinian people. That’s why they haven’t actually conducted terrorist attacks for the last year. And I think that there is a good prospect that because the Palestinians people are exhausted, because they don’t want to see a return to the violence and terror of the Intifada, that Hamas in government will actually maintain the calm and then we will have the ultimate irony, that while they don’t want to make peace with Israel, they may actually have an interest in maintaining the calm and maintaining the peace.

JEFFREY BROWN: And we just have a minute left.

MARTIN INDYK: Basically, look, I agree that recently we’ve heard the last few days some interesting statements from Olmert at the Herzliya Conference, some of the Hamas leaders during the election showing some hope that one could build on. But frankly this is deja vu in the sense that these results I think have set us back probably 20 if not 30 years.

We’re going to go back to again negotiating over charters and negotiating over removing the destruction of this party by the other party. And so there is — the chances of two parties who have conducted ten years of negotiations coming back to the table and restarting their negotiations from where things stopped right now are much dimmer. These chances are much dimmer and much slimmer than anticipated.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Khalil Jahshan, Martin Indyk, thank you both very much.