Thursday, March 26, 2009

Paul Volcker and the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

Roger Cohen has a piece in today's NYT (it's here) in which he describes a letter from Paul Volcker and nine other "wise men" (and women) that urges Obama to be more proactive in engaging Hamas in the Israeli/Palestinian peace process.

The letter states that "shutting out [Hamas] and isolating Gaza has only made it stronger and Fatah weaker" and argues that the US should "shift the U.S. objective from ousting Hamas to modifying its behavior." The letter goes on to say that the US should "offer inducements that will enable [Hamas's] more moderate elements to prevail and cease discouraging third parties from engaging with Hamas in ways that might clarify its view and test its behavior."

This is interesting -- it seems to me that the possible opening of a dialogue with Hamas is analogous to the possibility of engaging with certain members of the Taliban (about which there were several articles, a couple of weeks ago, in the Times and Post).

Engaging with Hamas would be in keeping with Obama's promise of a renewed emphasis on diplomacy (and fewer "hard and fast rules" about who the US will talk to versus who we won't). However, as a political matter, I imagine that convincing the American public/foreign policy establishment to work with Hamas will be even tougher than doing so with the Taliban, given the US's history of almost-unquestioning support of Israel.

I guess, though, the point of Cohen's piece is that the Volcker letter shows that the perspective of the foreign policy establishment is changing.

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