Just weeks after Hamas won a surprise victory in the Palestinian elections, former U.S. ambassador Edward “Skip” Gnehm told students at the Elliott School of International Affairs building that the United States is caught in a dilemma of policies.
Gnehm, the Shapiro visiting professor of international affairs, said the U.S. offensive against terrorism, its advocacy for democratic elections and its support of the Arab-Israeli peace process leave America in a difficult position as the international community grapples with Hamas’ legitimate electoral victory.
Murhaf Jouejati, director of the Middle Eastern studies program, and Bernard Reich, professor of international affairs, joined Gnehm to address students’ questions about the election results and the effects they will have on an increasingly unstable Middle East in a discussion Tuesday afternoon.
Gnehm, a former ambassador to Kuwait, Jordan and Australia, acknowledged that the world was “shocked and astounded” when Hamas won 86 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian parliament late last month.
Many world leaders, including President Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have expressed concerns about Hamas’ ambitions, as the election results are widely considered to pose a challenge to the stability of the volatile region.
Jouejati expressed his concern that “the peace process has gone into a coma,” adding that the election of Hamas, officially recognized as a terrorist organization by the international community, “further complicates a complicated process.”
Even though Hamas openly challenges Israel’s right to exist, Jouejati placed his faith in the Palestinian people’s commitment to secularism and a two-state solution in which Israel can coexist with a recognized Palestinian state.
In a marked contrast to Jouejati, Reich insisted that Israel lacks a true partner in negotiations due to the refusal by Hamas to accept Israel’s legitimacy.
“If you do not and cannot exist, there is no place to go,” Reich said. His sentiments echoed Bush’s insistence that Hamas must recognize Israel in order to develop a peaceful solution to the crisis.
The United States and the European Union have threatened to cut off aid payments to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas does not adopt a more moderate platform by renouncing terrorism and recognizing Israel, yet Jouejati warned that “withholding aid payments will drive Hamas into the arms of Iran.”
While admitting that the future of the peace process is still in question, Gnehm applauded the recent progress toward a two-state solution.
“We have come a long way, but . (the election might have) shattered the hopes of the Israelis.”
Jouejati advised students on what the future may hold for American involvement in the region.
“It is critical that we not say it is a lost cause and that (Hamas) are terrorists because the situation becomes only worse if the Palestinians turn toward countries like Iran for support,” Jouejati said. “It is important that we shy away from being too ideological.”
After fielding questions from the audience, compromised mostly of students, Gnehm concluded that Hamas’ victory will be an ongoing issue and especially important as Israeli elections approach in March.
This article appeared in the February 9, 2006 issue of the Hatchet.