Surely the one way to prove that Hamas can change is for Hamas simply to halt the terror, its own and that of other Palestinian groups. Cuba was a nuisance but after the missile showdown, no real danger to the United States, unlike the very real threat that Hanas is to Israel and its citizens.
But Lichfield errs when he suggests that Hamas would "hold talks on a Palestinian state confined to the pre-1967 borders". Khaled Mesh'al recently spoke of vanquishing Zionism, inundating Israel with refugees and taking over all of Jerusalem to the exclusion of any Jewish shrine. Ismail Haniye, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister announced that "Negotiations are merely a means, and not a goal."
The most Hamas will offer is a truce and then, after a few years, a renewal of the conflict.
And see this MEMRI search result.
Oops, I wrote this too soon.
Hamas says it won't arrest militants who attack Israel
Incoming Palestinian interior minister Said Seyam, chosen by Hamas to oversee three security services, said on Thursday he will not order the arrest of militants carrying out attacks against Israel.
"The day will never come when any Palestinian would be arrested because of his political affiliation or because of resisting the occupation," Seyam told Reuters in an interview. "The file of political detention must be closed."
Hamas, whose charter officially calls for Israel's destruction, swept to victory in a Jan. 25 election and plans to present its cabinet line-up to a Hamas-dominated parliament for a vote next week.
FOR two months, the world has dithered over how to get a Palestinian authority run by Hamas to recognize Israel and renounce violence, and over how much aid and official contact to maintain until it does. The diplomats' refrain was that once Hamas appointed a cabinet, things would be clearer.
Last weekend, Hamas did name a cabinet. But knowing who has which job has not made things clearer, nor will the Israeli election on March 28. The dispute runs too deep.
American and European bans on aiding or communicating with terrorist organizations, if followed strictly, can stop a lot of money from reaching the Palestinians. But there are creative ways around such restrictions. You can relabel some budget support and development assistance "essential humanitarian aid," send it through third parties like the United Nations or World Bank, or pay it directly to contractors and service providers.
In conversations with officials from various countries, two positions, crudely speaking, emerge. The first, predictably more common among American and Israeli policy makers, says that outside powers should strangle Hamas so that it either moderates or dies. The other, which finds more favor with Europeans, says to keep as much aid flowing as possible, perhaps with incentives for good behavior and sanctions for bad.
Sound familiar? It should. The same debate has been raging for decades about another small, impoverished and controversial place: Cuba. The United States doggedly insists that Fidel Castro's repressive regime must be boycotted to make it collapse. Europeans and Canadians prefer encouraging gradual change through "constructive engagement."
The result is that an unrepentant Mr. Castro is enjoying his 48th year in power, using the American boycott as a political prop and the rest of the world as an economic prop. Talk to Cubans and two things soon become clear: the main reason any of them support Mr. Castro is for his heroic stand against the Yanqui bully, and the main reason Cubans don't starve is that tourists and foreign joint-venture businesses pump money into the economy.
Something similar could happen with Hamas. A poll out this week found that 75 percent of Palestinians want Hamas to "engage Israel in peace negotiations." But even the most moderate will rally to defend their democratically elected government if they see countries that profess to love democracy trying to destabilize it. That will reduce domestic pressure on Hamas to pursue peace. And if aid from elsewhere meanwhile props up the Palestinian Authority, Hamas can carry on this way indefinitely, playing countries off against one another.
Is either approach to Hamas the right one? The first looks like a very long shot. Even if all the financial taps were closed, Hamas's popular support might drain away only slowly, and probably toward even more radical extremists, turning Palestinian areas into something more like Iraq. And because Hamas can call on the Muslim world for help, closing all the taps is well-nigh impossible. Any boycott will therefore probably lead to a Cuba-like situation.
An argument for keeping the aid going is that only a stable and strong authority can impose order on the fractious Palestinian clans and militant groups, and such order is essential to fulfilling the Palestinian side of any peace deal. Hamas has given more hints of its willingness to moderate its positions in the past month than Mr. Castro usually gives in a decade. Last week, Ismail Haniya, the authority's prime minister-designate, said that Hamas could hold talks on a Palestinian state confined to the pre-1967 borders if Israel first committed to those borders.
That, however, is not enough of a guarantee for Israel. If Hamas in fact harbors long-term plans to destroy the Jewish state, as some fear, then such statements are ploys to give it time to build up its strength. In that case, unrestricted foreign aid will make it more dangerous.
There is only way to find out whether and how Hamas can change. Outside powers should design a policy that combines carrots and sticks, offering both Hamas and Israel incentives to move gradually in the right direction, but preserving some safeguards in case they fail to do so.
That is easy to say and extremely hard to do. But the main point is that whatever the world does about Hamas, it needs to do it in unison — or face indefinite deadlock, as with Cuba.
Gideon Lichfield is the Jerusalem correspondent for The Economist.