In an article for Time Magazine, Tony Karon recently suggested that the US may have to open a formal dialogue with Hamas in the near future. He suggests that this move would be in line with the change in the British stance towards Hizbullah in Lebanon. In this case, the British have concluded that despite Hizbullah’s brutal history, the “facts on the ground” in Lebanon mean that Hizbullah will remain a prominent player in the Lebanese system, necessitating some form of communication with the party.
Undoubtedly, Hamas is a major player in the West Bank and Gaza. While direct talks may prove necessary despite the costs, there remains another potential option. Rather than talking directly to Hamas, it is possible to talk directly to ordinary Palestinians who support Hamas.
It should be remembered that while Hamas originally came to prominence through its military operations, its real power comes from the support it receives from a substantial percentage of the Palestinian population. By comparison, Islamic Jihad and other radical groups have carried out numerous violent operations as well, but only Hamas is viewed by all players as being relevant today because of its mass following.
Overall, Palestinians tend to support Hamas for two basic reasons: anger at Fateh’s corruption and the failure of the Oslo process. The US can decrease support for Hamas by seeking to address these two factors. If this is done and new elections are held, then the new facts on the ground may reveal that talking directly to Hamas is less of a necessity.