As foreign Islamists approach democratic legitimacy, the U.S. government has found them increasingly acceptable (as I documented in "Can Hezbollah and Hamas Be Democratic?" but today the Bush administration put the brakes on this tendency, writes Steven R. Weisman in the New York Times.
A senior administration source said June 6 that the ban on contacts with would remain in place because Hamas is a terrorist organization. "The president has said that Hamas is on the terrorism list, and it's there for a reason. We don't recognize that you have changed your behavior just because a group is running candidates as well as suicide bombers."
In contrast, the Europeans and Canadians are moving toward acceptance of Hamas. Here are some signposts, in reverse chronological order. (June 7, 2005)
United States: "After ruling out talks with Hamas, the militant Islamist group, the Bush administration is using Egypt as an intermediary to open a channel between Israel and representatives of the group, in what some diplomats say could be a softening of the American stance," reports Helene Cooper in the New York Times. "While administration officials still say they do not plan to deal directly with Hamas, the United States has given tacit support to an attempt by Egyptian officials to mediate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza." (March 19, 2008)
Canada: In a parody of Canadian equivocation, Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew said today he will "wait and see" how Hamas fares in the Palestinian elections before figuring out his policy toward the terrorist group. "They've done well in a few municipal elections. I am told these are not necessarily typical of the whole situation. So let's wait and see how things develop." Should Hamas have a role in the elections and benefit from Canadian democracy-building initiatives? "We'll see the kind of role that develops. The political arm has been developing for some time. We will see where it leads us." (May 27, 2005)
United Kingdom: A review is under way at the Foreign Office considering a major policy switch to engage directly and openly for the first time with Hamas and Hizbullah, as they near making significant electoral gains. There is a growing sense that "it would be hypocritical to encourage democracy but refuse to accept the outcome." (May 20, 2005)
Holland: Foreign Minister Bernard Bot said on the European Union must consider revising its relationship with Hamas, which can no longer be ignored if it wins an anticipated 20 to 35 percent of the votes in the July elections, as surveys predict. (April 26, 2005)