February 14, 2006
Putin's Disturbing Invitation to Hamas
By Richard Cohen

In 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia with what was known as the Grande Armee. The French captured Moscow before the harsh winter and a stubborn Russian resistance forced them to turn back, leaving behind only the inspiration for a bombastic Tchaikovsky overture and the seeds for an irrational foreign policy. Now, both countries -- France and Russia -- agree on Hamas.

Their stance is foreboding. Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was considering inviting the leaders of Hamas to Moscow for talks and almost immediately, and predictably, the French pronounced this a wonderful idea. Putin, I don't think, would have been quite so quick to extend a welcome to the Chechen rebels he considers to be terrorists, but the murderers of Jews are apparently a different matter. This, after all, is a long Russian tradition.

The French, too, have their traditions. One of them -- in fact their sole animating foreign policy objective -- is to make life difficult for the United States. This has been the case since Charles de Gaulle, a man of fixed fixations who resented the fact that France was no longer a great power, just a cuisine or, in some years, a good runway show. It is not surprising that France supported this Russian initiative, although it itself will refrain from such a meeting. Still, you can see which way the French are going.

It is not easy to say what to do with Hamas. It is -- no doubt about it -- a terrorist organization. Yet it won the recent Palestinians elections -- and did so going away. It has vast support in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and in some ways represents an improvement over Fatah, the organization of the late and hardly lamented Yasser Arafat. His collection of kleptomaniacs and thugs was mightily resented by the average Palestinian who now, at least, has leaders avowedly dedicated to honest government -- and, of course, the utter destruction of Israel.

But whatever Hamas' virtues might be, its vices are far, far worse. Just to give you one example: On June 1, 2001, a Hamas suicide bomber killed 21 people and wounded 120 others in an attack on a Tel Aviv discotheque. This was a typical Hamas operation, directed at civilians and involving the use of a suicide bomber, often some addled youth seeking a good time in paradise.

What's more, Hamas is no mere (or understandably) anti-Israel or anti-Zionist organization. It is also deeply, indelibly and quite openly anti-Semitic. Its covenant, adopted Aug. 18, 1988, does not limit itself to the goal of annihilating Israel, but throws in ``killing the Jews'' for good measure. It mentions Jews over and over again and even cites that notorious anti-Semitic forgery, ``The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," as proof of what the vile Hebrews are up to. This includes, and I am not making this up, ``control of the world media, news agencies, the press'' and responsibility for ``the French revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about.''

One thing you might not have heard about: ``They (Jews) were behind World War I'' and, for good measure, ``World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state.'' This is 100 percent, non-alloyed, near-perfect and totally bananas anti-Semitism -- not the work of rational minds.

It is, though, the work of the very people Putin (with French support) would meet with. He would do so, apparently, without one word being changed in this repellent covenant -- or without Hamas renouncing its intention to obliterate Israel. Russia and, in a way, France would overlook this salty language because, as we are so often told, they are realists and we Americans -- chuckle, chuckle -- are dreamers. In the real world, you have to talk to your enemies.

But in the real world, Putin ought to bear in mind the example he is setting. If he can talk with Hamas, why can't others talk to the Chechens? He himself takes umbrage whenever anyone meets with Chechen political leaders -- not, mind you, terrorists -- because he makes no distinction between the two. But when it comes to Hamas, Putin is willing to embrace it all -- political wing, terrorist wing: it makes no difference to him. At least until he shows differently, the only distinction he makes is between the killers of innocent Russians and the killers of innocent Israelis.

In retrospect, Napoleon was lucky to have gotten out.

© 2006, Washington Post Writers Group

Richard Cohen

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