I just got back from the filming of this month's installation of "The Doha Debates" a series of debates held here that are broadcast by BBC World. Each month, a proposition is put forth in the form of a statement. Four panelists, moderated by Tim Sullivan, then debate the proposition and at the end the audience votes to accept or reject the proposal.
This month's proposal was "This House believes that the international community must accept Hamas as a political partner".
I went anyhow tonight, because I wanted to see who was speaking (it's always a surprise), and because this proposal is about something much larger than the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. It's about a core aspect of conflict resolution... being willing to talk to your enemies.
First of all security was very tight, and no photos were allowed this time (sorry folks) except by the official press. There was a failed attempt at a suicide bombing across the border in Saudi a couple of days ago, and the security people have been extra vigilant ever since. One of the queens was in attendance as well, Sheikha Mozah, so they took extra care.
The debate was filmed before a live audience (that would be me!) and the panelists consisted of two Jews and two Muslims, with one member of each faith group arguing for and against the proposal. The panelists were two professors, a lawyer, and David Frum of the American Enterprise Institute, a former Bush speechwriter and neocon minor entity whose greatest contribution to civilization thus far has been to coin the phrase "Axis of Evil".
Frum of course argued against dealing with Hamas. He was actually pretty clever, though slippery. He got slammed hard a few times though, by both the other panelists and the crowd itself at question and answer time. I have to give the guy credit though... it was a tough topic and a tougher audience, but he showed up.
I wanted to bring this up here, because it's about conflict resolution. The proposal was about whether or not to accept Hamas as a legitimate political entity, now that they've won an election. So often on this particular issue and others, people are unwilling to even sit down and talk to the other side.
It's not about whether or not you agree with the other side, approve of them or trust them. It's about whether or not you'll sit down and talk to them, or work together on resolving differences. The premises presented against the proposal, based upon Hamas' known record of violence, failed to take into account the fact that they are the only game in town that counts. If you can't make peace with them, there will be no peace, period.
In any conflict, if we marginalize or ostracize those with whom we most disagree, not much progress can be made, because those are exactly the people with whom we need to be talking.
I won't get into all the arguments presented for and against, you can see it yourself on BBC World March 4th and 5th if you're so inclined. At the end the proposal passed by 88%(for) to 11% (against).
I met Frum afterward, and squabbled with him a little bit myself, but then I cracked a joke, made him laugh, shook his hand and sincerely thanked him for coming to face a tough crowd in the Gulf. I mean afterall, if you can't talk civilly with your enemies, then how can you expect to ever make progress towards peace?