Dec. 19, 2014 by Darius
Earlier this week, a European court in Luxembourg ordered that Hamas be removed from the EU’s terrorist list. The court order comes as most of the world is coming around to the fact that Hamas belongs at the negotiating table in some form in Palestine. But the truth is, Hamas still *is* a terrorist organization. So why did the EU take it off the terrorist list? Because doing so seems to be the simplest way around the EU’s policy on not negotiating with terrorists. But taking Hamas off the list sends the wrong message about the nature of the organization. There is only one way to eliminate this charade: end the policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists.
Hamas has been and remains a terrorist organization. It has carried out many attacks against civilians in the past, continues to try to do so in the present, and its charter is reprehensible. However, Hamas is also the government of the Gaza Strip and is supported by a majority of Palestinians (or close to it). Thus, Hamas cannot really be left out of negotiations over Palestine’s future. It is possible to be a terrorist organization and yet be a necessary part of the solution.
From elementary school to international politics, the silent treatment has never been a good strategy for getting what you want. Instead, it just serves to force the other side into an even more hard-line stance, prompting ever more drastic action on both sides. The policy of not talking to terrorists simply does not work to force organizations to renounce terrorism, and it also greatly complicates matters if an organization is ready to transition into a more civil body. Take the PLO, for example. Back in the 1970s, the PLO was the vanguard of armed Palestinian resistance against Israel. It was a terrorist organization, and it was considered a terrorist organization by the US. All US official contact with the PLO was completely verboten. A few CIA officers, though, reached out to the PLO and got a relationship started. This relationship ultimately led to the Oslo Peace Accords, where the PLO became the Palestinian Authority and its leader shook hands with a US president on the White House lawn. Or consider Northern Ireland. The Irish Republican Army was also unquestionably a terrorist organization. Yet it was also ultimately a party to the Easter Accords that almost entirely ended a generation of violence in Northern Ireland. If the US and Britain hadn’t “broken” their policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists, that accord would have been impossible, and the violence would have continued.
Being willing to negotiate with terrorists is not the same thing as surrendering to terrorists’ demands or rewarding terrorism. And negotiating isn’t the same thing as reaching a compromise with terrorists. But keeping the door of communication open, even at a very low level, creates possibilities to end a conflict in a way that stony red lines cannot.
If one needed to negotiate only with one’s friends, the world would be a nice place indeed. But that’s not the way the world works. One needs to negotiate with one’s adversaries too, probably even more than one’s friends.
There is no reason why the EU and US cannot simultaneously go after Hamas’s terrorism and realize that Hamas must be included in diplomacy. Instead, taking Hamas off the terrorism list in order to make it possible to communicate with Hamas gives the appearance that Hamas has changed its ways and that its behavior is somehow now acceptable to the EU.
It would be more honest, more practical, and more effective – if less politically expedient – for the EU, and the US, to recognize that the policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists is counterproductive, not to mention ignored when it becomes inconvenient, and abandon it.