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Gaza Memo to Congress: Talk to Hamas

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This week, former United States Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) reached out to me regarding a Dear Colleague letter that he wanted to circulate to his former colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Kucinich, like many of us deeply frustrated by the international community's recalcitrance when it comes to stopping the bloodshed in Gaza, was clearly keen to leverage his voice, his contacts, and his capacity to save lives and prevent further casualties.

A move like this takes courage, especially when it comes to anything dealing with Palestine, since much of the U.S. Congress is often reluctant to challenge Israeli policy. Kucinich, however, went further than the humanitarian and civilian protection language that the United Nations and others have raised recently. In his letter to Congress, appended below, Kucinich challenged the very premise of U.S. foreign policy that prevents and precludes opportunities for negotiating with adversaries.

This new American status quo of refusing to talk with "enemies" -- and I say "new" because previous White Houses had less of a problem doing so -- is deeply problematic and stems from inherently flawed thinking. It fetters U.S. capacity to resolve and prevent violence here and abroad.

As long as we refuse to afford human rights to entire populations (whether the basic rights of safety, food, water, and shelter, or the equally-important rights of recognition), there will be a risk of violence. It is imperative, then, if we care at all about the prospects of peace, to ensure everyone has a seat at the negotiating table and everyone's basic rights are protected. This letter addresses these issues and is why I felt compelled to publish it here.

Dear Colleague,

As someone who through 16 years in the House served with most current members of Congress, I urge you to help end the grave humanitarian crisis of death and destruction, which is threatening the lives of 1.8 million Gazans with collective punishment, and seriously damages the long-term security of Israel, while undermining its reputation in the world community.

In 2006, Congress passed S. 2370, which in Section 9 established conditions which Hamas must meet in order for the US to negotiate with it:

(1) Recognize Israel's right to exist.
(2) Renounce aggression.
(3) Dismantle the infrastructure used to carry out attacks against Israel.
(4) Accept previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

A new Palestinian national unity government was announced on June 2, 2014, which accepted those identical conditions. However, ambiguity about Hamas' role in the new unity government has led the media and some members of Congress to assume that the United States remains barred from negotiation with Hamas.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government and Hamas are at an impasse over Hamas' status. Hamas is the democratically elected, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Failure to accept the election which brought Hamas to leadership closes a path toward resolution of the current crisis and violates the civil and political rights of Palestinians, protected by international law, to elect the representatives of their choice.

In Gaza, civilian deaths in a situation of apartheid occupation, characterized by complete power asymmetry, can be described as a crime against humanity. As of today, over 1262 Palestinians, and three Israelis have lost their lives.. More than 240 Palestinian children have been killed. In the early hours of this morning, while a ceasefire was being negotiated, Israel hit a UN girls' school, killing 20 refugees.

The US, given its longstanding support of Israel and its $3.2 billion annual aid ($8.5 million per day, $114 billion since 1949), including provision of military weapons, is in a singular position to put an end to the slaughter through openly entering into negotiations with Hamas.

Congress must clarify S.2370, Section 9, amending it to direct the Administration to enter into such negotiations with Hamas, as to assure recognition of Israel's right to exist, renunciation of aggression and those other concerns which Congress has delineated in its legislative enactments.

Any negotiations must countenance, among other essential points, the concerns of Palestinians that Israel equally recognize the Palestinians' right to exist and to live free of forced poverty and ill health; end the occupation; stop the blockade; end the boycott; cease the illegal settlement building and secure Palestinian rights to their own land and to their natural resources such as water and natural gas supplies.

If the US is prevented by law from negotiating with Hamas, or fails to intervene to secure Palestinian rights, or stands by as the Israeli government escalates the killing of thousands more Palestinians, the conflict and its consequences may soon beyond our ability to control. There is a need for a breakthrough.

Congress must step up and take a leadership role to prevent further harm to innocent Palestinians and Israelis. In his 1961 Inaugural Address, President John F. Kennedy said, "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate."

At this critical moment in world history, America must have the ability and the willingness to negotiate in service of the cause of peace and security, for our allies and their neighbors. The US can and must directly mediate an end to this violence.

I urge you to amend S. 2370, Section 9, and any other legislation which restricts our nation's ability to negotiate a peaceful resolution.


Dennis J. Kucinich
Member of Congress 1997-2013

I encourage people to send this Dear Colleague to their Member of Congress. Today.

Michael Shank, Ph.D., is associate director of legislative affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation and adjunct faculty at George Mason University's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.