Foreign affairs columnist Roger Cohen, fresh from arguing that Jews have itpretty good in Iran, is trying to convince Israel to make nice to those who fight every day for its destruction while insisting it's wrong to call Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist groups, in Monday's "http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/09/opinion/09cohen.html  " target="_self">Middle East Reality http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/09/opinion/09cohen.html  ">Check."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton grabbed headlines with an invitation to Iran to attend a conference on Afghanistan, but the significant Middle Eastern news last week came from Britain. It has "reconsidered" its position on Hezbollah and will open a direct channel to the militant group in Lebanon.
Like Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah has long been treated by the United States as a proscribed terrorist group. This narrow view has ignored the fact that both organizations are now entrenched political and social movements without whose involvement regional peace is impossible.
Britain aligned itself with the U.S. position on Hezbollah, but has now seen its error. Bill Marston, a Foreign Office spokesman, told Al Jazeera: "Hezbollah is a political phenomenon and part and parcel of the national fabric in Lebanon. We have to admit this."
Precisely the same thing could be said of Hamas in Gaza. It is a political phenomenon, part of the national fabric there.
One difference is that Hezbollah is in the Lebanese national unity government, whereas Hamas won the free and fair January 2006 elections to the Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority, only to discover Middle Eastern democracy is only democracy if it produces the right result.
Cohen didn't address reports of the torture and murder by Hamas of supporters of the more moderate opposition party, Fatah. Cohen even compared Hamas's desire to annihilate Israel (he uses the euphemism "disappearance") with Israel's hesitation to grant statehood to a group led by Hamas, which has shown no ability or desire to conduct themselves in a civilized manner.
With respect to Hamas, the West has bound itself to three conditions for any contact: Hamas must recognize Israel, forswear terrorism and accept previous Palestinian commitments. This was reiterated by Clinton on her first Mideast swing.
The 1988 Hamas Charter is vile, but I think it's wrong to get hung up on the prior recognition of Israel issue. Perhaps Hamas is sincere in its calls for Israel's disappearance - although it has offered a decades-long truce - but then it's also possible that Israel in reality has no desire to see a Palestinian state.
One view of Israel's continued expansion of settlements, Gaza blockade, West Bank walling-in and wanton recourse to high-tech force would be that it's designed precisely to bludgeon, undermine and humiliate the Palestinian people until their dreams of statehood and dignity evaporate.
Cohen downplayed the threat of Hamas's rockets, which have been deadly in the past, and ignored the vile Hamas tactic of hiding behind women and children to conduct their attacks.
Speaking of violence, it's worth recalling what Israel did in Gaza in response to sporadic Hamas rockets. It killed upward of 1,300 people, many of them women and children; caused damage estimated at $1.9 billion; and destroyed thousands of Gaza homes. It continues a radicalizing blockade on 1.5 million people squeezed into a narrow strip of land.
At this vast human, material and moral price, Israel achieved almost nothing beyond damage to its image throughout the world. Israel has the right to hit back when attacked, but any response should be proportional and governed by sober political calculation. The Gaza war was a travesty; I have never previously felt so shamed by Israel's actions.
No wonder Hamas and Hezbollah are seen throughout the Arab world as legitimate resistance movements.