Your Nov. 20 call for the U.S. government to focus more consistently and purposefully on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is both welcome and in need of clarification (“Our View: Gaza crisis deserves steady attention“).
The U.S. can play a useful, indeed a decisive, role in achieving Middle East peace. It will, however, take more than “reaching out to moderate Palestinians,” if we mean only Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, whose credibility with Palestinians has steadily eroded, while that of Hamas has risen.
Hamas is not likely to go away. However much it fits the profile of a “terrorist organization,” the current policy of refusing even to negotiate with it unless it meets requirements that amount to abject public surrender is manifestly bankrupt.
There are moderate elements within Hamas that have in the past offered a long-term cease-fire. They have been increasingly marginalized, thanks in large measure to Israeli and American rigidity concerning terms for inclusion of Hamas in negotiations and governance.
Neither we nor the Israelis have given Hamas any incentive to be anything other than hostile in its behavior. By making illegal any negotiations with Hamas, our Congress has compounded difficulties. Such absurdity must be abandoned, Hamas brought into a realistic negotiating process, and reconciliation between that organization and the Palestinian Authority strongly encouraged rather than obstructed, as it is now.
The U.S., as you say, is committed to a two-state solution. That can happen if the right policy changes are implemented. Achievement of a just and lasting peace would be in the interest of both Israelis and Palestinians, and of the United States.
Ed McCarthy of Vienna is the New England coordinator of Churches for Middle East Peace.