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Gitlin On Hamas

Todd Gitlin has a characteristically smart take on Israel and Hamas:

Those of us who oppose Israel's attack on Hamas in Gaza, who are revolted by the pictures and reports of the mangled bodies and miseries of Palestinian children, dare not let Hamas off the hook because the residents of Gaza are victims. Don't forget what Hamas professes and what it does. Many things are true about Hamas even if you don't like the people who say them. Keep all this in your mind.

I do think, though, that Gitlin leaves a lot unsaid here:

If we want to argue that Israel will have to deal with Hamas, cannot pulverize it at gunpoint, cannot "eliminate" it, and indeed heightens its prestige by piling up the bodies of civilians whether they are deliberately targeted or not--and I don't know any alternative in the real world to dealing with them as a political force--we mustn't think we can win the argument cheaply by pretending that it will be easy. It will not be easy. It's only necessary.

Is it really true that Israel must deal with Hamas? I'm not saying it isn't, or that it won't be eventually if it isn't now. But if Hamas truly is seized by an implacable desire to wipe Israel off the map, then I have trouble seeing what there is to negotiate over. The only thing to do is persuade Hamas to change its goals, or persuade the Palestinians to adopt new leaders. The latter can be done by making territorial concessions in the West Bank and promoting economic development, in order to demonstrate the comparative benefits of non-Hamas government. But the task would also seem to involve some combination of crushing Hamas's power and/or persuading it -- or, more precisely, the Palestinians who follow it -- that Israel cannot be terrorized into making concessions. How a group of Hamas's nature could be drawn in through a purely concilliatory approach escapes me.

Every explanation I've read about how Israel should deal with Hamas sounds extremely naive about the nature of Hamas and its goals. One of Gitlin's strengths as a writer has always been his allergy to such naivete. So I'd be genuinely curious to read his thoughts on how this could be done.

--Jonathan Chait