CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) – The Bush administration is showing signs of easing its hard-line approach toward Hamas, in response to the militant group’s rising political clout in the Palestinian territories and appeals for flexibility from European allies, officials and diplomats said.
The White House acceded to Hamas running candidates in Palestinian elections, even though the group has refused to disarm and Washington lists it as a major terrorist organization.
Senior administration officials said they may be open to contacts with some of Hamas’ political affiliates, and would not rule out dealings with the group if it gave up its weapons and ended violence.
U.S. officials and diplomats cast any shift as pragmatic: Hamas-funded social services are popular with many Palestinians; it is winning local races and was expected to make a strong showing in newly postponed parliamentary elections, and some Hamas-backed politicians and affiliates are seen as moderates.
The shift also follows a behind-the-scenes push by European allies, including Britain and France, for Washington to drop its call to dismantle Hamas. European diplomats have warned Washington that its hard-line approach could be a “disaster” for Palestinians who benefit from Hamas aid, sources said.
Within the Bush administration, said a European diplomat, “There is now a realization that they (Hamas) do have a role to play … that if you can bring them into the political fold, then you’ll be marginalizing the military elements of those groups.”
Good luck with that. Only if Hamas alters its charter and renounces what has been its goal from its inception — the complete destruction of Israel — would any renunciation of violence on its part be anything but a tactical move to achieve the same goal it has tried to achieve up to now by violence.