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Whether the Prisoners' Letter, which Fatah and Hamas initialed on Tuesday, will end Palestinian infighting remains unclear. As propaganda, however, the document has been an unqualified success.
Both in Israel and abroad, the media (this paper notably excepted) have universally lauded the document for "implicitly recognizing Israel," something Hamas has hitherto refused to do. Even the Wall Street Journal - not usually a Palestinian apologist - credited it with "implicit recognition of Israel" in a June 15 editorial.
Yet in fact, the document does nothing of the sort - and not only is this plain from the text, but Hamas spokesmen have said so explicitly.
To see the document as "implicitly recognizing Israel" requires interpreting its demand for a Palestinian state in "all the territory occupied [by Israel] in 1967" as signifying this territory only, thus implying an Israel alongside. Unfortunately, the text belies this interpretation.
According to a Hebrew translation published by Haaretz, the actual wording is as follows: "The Palestinian people â€¦ desires the liberation of its lands and the realization of its right to liberty, return, independence and self-definition, including the right to establish an independent state with holy Jerusalem as its capital on all the territory occupied in 1967" (emphasis added).
In other words, a state in this territory is merely one part of the broader goal of "the liberation of [Palestinian] lands." Or to put it in historical context, this is a reincarnation of the PLO's 1974 "phased plan," under which any "liberated" territory would serve as a base for pursuing Israel's ultimate destruction.
And, lest anyone misunderstand, both the documents' authors and other Hamas spokesmen have stated this explicitly.
ON JUNE 6, Abdel Khaleq Natsche, who signed the document for Hamas, and Bassam al-Sa'adi, who signed for Islamic Jihad, issued the following clarification: "We scorn the attempts to attach nonexistent content to the document, and therefore, we emphasize that it does not contain any declaration or hint of recognition of the occupation state and does not contain any call for this."
Mohammed Abu Tir, a senior Hamas parliamentarian, also made this point in a subsequent interview with Haaretz (June 8): Hamas, he said, has no problem with the document's demand for a Palestinian state in "all the territories occupied in 1967," but does not accept its "recognition of international decisions that indirectly mean recognition of Israel."
In other words, Hamas does not see the call for a Palestinian state as implicitly recognizing Israel; it if did, it would object to this article, too. Rather, it views such a state as compatible with its goal of Israel's destruction.
BUT THE document also offers additional proof of its nonrecognition of Israel's right to exist: its insistence on a "right of return" for all Palestinian refugees and their descendants, which is a euphemism for eliminating Israel demographically. The 4.3 million refugees and descendents (according to UN figures), combined with Israel's 1.4 million Arab citizens, could democratically vote the Jewish state (5.3 million Jews) out of existence.
Natsche and Sa'adi, incidentally, have since withdrawn their support of document entirely. However, according to Natsche, this was due not to its content, but to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's "abuse" of the document for political gain.
Media outlets have also lauded the document on another score: an alleged Hamas concession on terrorism. Granted, far from renouncing terror, it explicitly urges continued attacks on Israelis in the territories. Nevertheless, say media pundits, confining attacks to the territories, while eschewing them inside Israel, would constitute progress.
However, the document does nothing of the sort: It says merely that "resistance" will "focus" on the territories. In other words, the territories will be the main, but not exclusive, venue for attacks. And this is how Fatah and Hamas both understand it - as proven by the fact that Fatah, according to Haaretz's veteran Arab affairs correspondent, Danny Rubinstein, unsuccessfully urged Hamas to indeed limit attacks solely to the territories by adding the word "solely."
BUT THE document does not merely preserve the terrorist status quo: For the first time, it enshrines terror as official PA policy. Hitherto, while Hamas and Fatah both practiced terror, Fatah at least paid lip service to the need to end it. The document, however, calls for "establishing a unified resistance force, called the Palestinian Resistance Front, which will lead the uprising against the occupation, and also unifying and coordinating resistance operations and creating a unified political authority for the Front."
Since "resistance" is the Palestinian euphemism for terror attacks, this means that terror, rather than being the work of "opposition groups" (as the PA used to claim), would become official policy.
Indeed, the only mystery about this clause is how Abbas, who publicly adopted the document "as is," can still be lauded by the world - including Israel's government - as having "repudiated terror."
Finally, the document has been praised for accepting international agreements, thereby also allegedly implicitly recognizing Israel. Yet as Natsche and Sa'adi explained in their clarification, "the document's reference to recognizing just international resolutions does not mean recognizing all resolutions, but only those that do not harm the Palestinian people."
And, to remove all doubts, Fatah and Hamas agreed in negotiations last week to amend the text to explicitly recognize only resolutions "that serve the Palestinian people."
Hamas, however, does not believe that any existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements serve the Palestinian people; it denounced them all as betrayals, mainly because they recognize Israel. Thus these agreements are clearly not among those that the document recognizes, and this article cannot be read as implicitly recognizing Israel.
The international community set three conditions for relations with the Hamas government: recognizing Israel, renouncing terror and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. The Prisoners' Letter, however, does none of the above: It does not recognize Israel, even implicitly; it does not recognize previous agreements; and far from renouncing terror, it enshrines it as official policy.
Despite this, the media have swallowed Abbas's propaganda wholesale and are touting the document as sufficient to satisfy international demands. One can only hope that world leaders will scrutinize it with greater care and honesty.