Hamas is central to Israeli security and Palestinian politics, yet the international community refuses to work with it. This is a mistake -- Israel, the United States, and others should exploit Hamas' vulnerabilities with a mix of coercion and concessions.
A Palestinian boy watches members of al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of Hamas movement. (Mohammed Salem / Courtesy Reuters)
The November 21 cease-fire that ended the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas left key issues unresolved. Even if calm has been temporarily restored to the area, history suggests that it is unlikely to last. Over the past decade, the absence of violence has not meant peace but merely a temporary lull until the next outburst. Long after any given cease-fire, Israelis and Palestinians do not forget the injustices and killings that incited hostilities in the first place. Absent a political solution that addresses each side's core grievances, a relapse into violence is inevitable.
If Israel and the international community wish to break this pattern, they need to reconsider their strategic approach to Hamas. Historically, Israel has failed to take advantage of the sporadic appearance of potential interlocutors within Hamas, preferring instead to rely on temporary cease-fires coupled with extrajudicial assassinations. "Mowing the lawn" -- the metaphor that a number of Israeli officials have used to describe what they see as a necessary chore of intermittently destroying Hamas' infrastructure in Gaza -- is an unsustainable solution that only perpetuates the cycle of violence. The international community's boycott of Hamas, upheld on the grounds that it is a terrorist organization committed to Israel's destruction, has failed. A new approach is desperately needed.
Hamas is not some marginal resistance organization; it is a powerful political movement that has integrated itself into the Palestinian national fabric. Born out of the social services network of the Muslim Brotherhood, which catered to local needs in the West Bank and Gaza for decades, Hamas garners support from many Palestinians, who believe that the movement is justly fighting for their rights against a brutal occupation. As a crucial player in the Palestinian nationalist movement, it commands legitimacy domestically and among key allies abroad, whether or not the United States, Europe, Israel, or even the Palestinian Authority try to wish it away...