Friday, January 9, 2009

Hamas charm offensive hits the valley

Jeff Goldstein recently graduated from the University of Denver with a B.A. in international relations.


While on his "political pilgrimage" to the Middle East in November, Mr. Liebich, a Hailey resident, sat down and spoke with Hamas (see "A Political Pilgrimage," Dec. 26). Hamas is recognized by Western governments as a terrorist organization led by radical Islamic militants. The U.S. government recognizes Hamas as our enemy.

According to Mr. Leibich, the Hamas representatives he spoke with didn't appear to be "fanatical terrorists that are portrayed in the West." He must have spoken to some extremely polite terrorists because the Hamas I know is certainly "fanatical." Its constitution vows to destroy the state of Israel and all the Jews with it, it continues to use women and children as human shields, and it punishes Palestinians who don't practice Islamic law.

Like the organization that sponsored his trip, I assume Mr. Liebich believes the U.S. should remove Hamas from its terrorist list, recognize Hamas as a legitimate government and work with it to achieve peace. "During discussions with Hezbollah and Hamas ... the words that I heard most frequently were respect, dialogue and the need to solve the Israeli-Palestinian situation in order to have peace and stability in the region," said Mr. Liebich. This is not the Hamas I know. The Hamas I know says that it is "not looking for Israel as a partner for peace now or in the future" and that it is "not going to acknowledge the ownership of any inch of Israel" (Mahmoud Zahar, Hamas leader, AP, 2006). The Hamas I know states that "dialogue with Israel is not on Hamas' agenda" (Ismail Haniyan, Hamas leader, al-Jazeera network, 2006).

Sincerely believing that Hamas seeks "dialogue," "respect" and "peace" is naïve. Hamas claims to be a "resistance movement," but who is it resisting? Israel unilaterally pulled its troops and settlements out of Gaza in 2005. Since then, Hamas has fired more than 6,300 rockets aimed at Israeli civilian targets, forged closer ties with Iran, a government that also advocates the destruction of Israel, continued defying a cease-fire agreement with Israel brokered by Egypt and continued to publicly state that it will never support a two-state solution. Is this the Hamas that America and Israel should trust and respect?

Arab governments, Hamas and Hezbollah are known for duping civilians, journalists and diplomats. They do this by telling them what they want to hear, controlling where they can and cannot go and spreading propaganda that portrays them as victims of Israel's aggression. This is Hamas' "charm offensive," and it has succeeded in convincing Mr. Liebich that Hamas is a legitimate partner to peace talks. For this reason, I suggest that all those who attend his Middle East discussions in January thoroughly question his Middle East position.

As Hamas diplomats and Mr. Liebich spoke during their November meeting, Hamas militants were literally miles away firing rockets into Israel. It is the more than 450 rockets that Hamas fired into Israel in November and December that prompted Israel to counterattack and enter Gaza on December 26. Is this the "stability" that Hamas and Mr. Liebich seek?

"America needs to look out for our interests—a peaceful, stable Middle East that is not at war," Mr. Lieibich said. I couldn't agree more. This, however, cannot mean accepting Hamas' beliefs, falling for its tactics and believing, despite the facts, that it seeks peace and stability.

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