The Hamas image makeover lacks substance

The core goal of Israel’s destruction remains intact; for Hamas and like-minded groups “resistance” is a synonym for violence.

November 15, 2010 23:27
4 minute read.
Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.

3311_Khaled Mashaal face shot. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Ensconced in Damascus, far from Gaza City, Khaled Mashaal must feel pangs of loneliness. The Hamas leader receives occasional Western visitors, most notably former US president Jimmy Carter, who continues to disregard American policy by insisting that a group seeking Israel’s destruction should be brought into the negotiations process. But most of the time Mashaal can only applaud from afar Hamas violence, unlike his counterpart, Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of Gaza, who is on the ground with his people.

Mashaal thus must have been enthralled with Newsweek’s four-page feature, including photos, of him. “No one wants the leader of Hamas at the Mideast peace talks. But everyone needs him there,” proclaims the headline. “Hamas Talks Peace” is the teaser at the top of the October 14 print edition cover.

Really? Nowhere in the interview accompanying the article did Mashaal enunciate the word “peace.” Even when he mentions “negotiations,” the complementary “peace” term is absent. He spoke about Palestinian rights, the need to continue “the resistance” and ending the occupation, which in Hamas’s view began in 1948. For Hamas and like-minded groups “resistance” is a synonym for violence, or what the civilized world would call terrorism. That is precisely why the US government designated Hamas a terrorist organization in 1995, and the EU followed suit in 2003.

HAMAS IS why Hamas does not have a seat at the negotiating table, and Mashaal knows that. To gain entry, all that was asked of Hamas was to recognize Israel, accept existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and renounce terror. That would demonstrate a genuine interest in, and commitment to, peace.

The Quartet – US, EU, Russia and UN – made the offer after Hamas won a majority of Palestinian parliament seats in the 2006 elections. Only five months earlier, Israel transferred the entire Gaza Strip to the PA. President Mahmoud Abbas encouraged Hamas to join him to strengthen Palestinian unity in talks with Israel to achieve a two-state solution to the conflict.

Hamas, however, decided it would not reform itself. The core goal of Israel’s destruction, written into the Hamas Charter when the Islamist group was founded in 1987 as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, is intact, as is the group’s appetite for violence. Hamas, responsible for thousands of rockets and missiles fired into Sderot and other communities in the Negev, continued the attacks after the settlers and military had vacated Gaza. And, in 2006, Hamas crossed into Israel and kidnapped a young soldier, Gilad Schalit, who remains in captivity in Gaza.

Hamas also turned its weapons on Palestinians, seizing control of Gaza in a bloodsoaked coup in 2007, as it violently ousted Fatah and others associated with the ruling Palestinian Authority. An aggressive Hamas had become a still more dangerous threat to Israel, the PA and peace. Numerous efforts by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others to mend the rift, to produce a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, gained a lot of headlines, but yielded nothing substantive.

As the PA continued talking with Israel, it became clearer that a two-state arrangement will likely not include the Gaza Strip. If Mahmoud Abbas and Binyamin Netanyahu are able to reach a permanent settlement, then a three-state solution may be in the offing, since Hamas is firmly entrenched in Gaza. With an unreformed Hamas in power, it will remain an enclave ruled with an iron fist and at odds with Egypt, Israel and the PA leadership in Ramallah.

Shockingly, Newsweek helped Mashaal portray himself as an eminently reasonable character. He told the magazine that he favors a solution based on the pre-June 1967 borders, an approach consistent with the Arab Peace Initiative and with Abbas’s current stance regarding a permanent settlement. Final borders, however, are for negotiations to determine.

But Mashaal’s “moderation” contrasts starkly with the Hamas Charter, not to mention the execution-style murder of Israeli Jews in two terror attacks that coincided with the launch of direct talks in Washington two months ago.

The real Hamas also was on display October 29 at the Islamic Jihad rally in Gaza City, where an estimated 100,000 shouted “Death to Israel, Death to America.” Islamic Jihad officials stood on the stage alongside Hamas leaders. They gave approval for the event, no doubt to assert opposition to peace and to press Abbas to stay away from negotiations, which Mashaal declared in the interview are doomed to fail.

Like Mashaal, the leaders of Islamic Jihad also sit in the Syrian capital, long a sanctuary for terrorist organizations. Hamas has not changed one iota, and those foolishly buying the illusion of a makeover have been hoodwinked.

The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of communications.

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