Hamas immoderation

Hamas's nod toward moderation is so imperceptible that it barely qualifies as a "charm offensive."

hamas rally hebron 298.8 (photo credit: AP)
hamas rally hebron 298.8
(photo credit: AP)
Everyone knew it was coming; Hamas, following its surprise victory, would attempt to appear moderate in order to retain the flow of Western financial assistance. If there is a surprise now, it is that Hamas's nod toward moderation is so imperceptible that it barely qualifies as a "charm offensive." In an interview with the Washington Post on Saturday, Hamas prime minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh was repeatedly asked whether Hamas would abide by the Quartet's conditions, such as recognizing Israel, renouncing terrorism, and accepting previous agreements. "Which borders and which Israel?" was the best he could manage. "Israel has to recognize first the Palestinian state and its borders and then we will know what we are talking about." According to the Washington Post, when pressed, Haniyeh added, "If Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, then we will establish a peace in stages." But Haniyeh on Sunday distanced himself from even such purported relative moderation, the kind that might signal that Hamas has limited demands which might be fulfilled and still leave room for Israel to exist. "I did not say anything about recognizing Israel," he stressed. He had been misunderstood. And he had not spoken about peace, either, only a "political truce" with a host of pre-conditions. In fact, Hamas is not trying particularly hard to give those who want to believe in its potential moderate credentials enough to hang their hat on. And its leaders are also happy to explain in Arabic to Arab audiences precisely what its stands for strategically. On February 14, Al Jazeera broadcast an interview in Sudan with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal - the one who recently met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Teheran. "We say to the Islamic nation: You want neither to pay charity nor to wage jihad?... How are we supposed to liberate Palestine? How are we supposed to regain the Al-Aqsa Mosque? How are we supposed to be a great nation facing the world? By Allah, we have no choice but to sacrifice our property and our souls... There is no other way." In another interview in Arabic on Dream TV 2 (Egypt, February 13), senior Hamas leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, also didn't mince words, stating "We say that all of Palestine, from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea, belongs to the Palestinians." The interviewer then pointed out, "That's the voice directed at your own people, while the voice directed outside speaks about 1967." Abu Marzouk responded: "We use one voice in all forums. But we also say that we are dealing realistically with the current phase - an independent Palestinian state with full sovereignty over the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. That is what we presented to our people in our election platform." Probing further, the interviewer asked, "Is this a partial or phased solution?" Abu Marzouk confirmed, "Yes, it is a temporary and phased solution. This is not the permanent solution." (All translations by www.memri.org.) In other words, Hamas is happy to play along to a minimal degree with the West's desire to support the Palestinians, on the assumption that the Palestinians have sincerely accepted a two-state solution that includes Israel. But Hamas leaders continue to explain, to anyone who is willing to listen, that their talk of the 1967 borders has nothing to do with an intention to live in peace with Israel. The harsh truth is that the Palestinians have elected leaders who do not believe in the two state solution, except to the degree such a "solution" can be used to advance Israel's destruction. This not only means that the facade of compliance with the Quartet's roadmap held up by Yasser Arafat and then Mahmoud Abbas has been removed, but that it is the Palestinians, not Israel, who are fundamentally opposed to the entire land-for-peace premise that underpins the peace process. On Friday, US President George Bush said, "The international community must continue to make clear to Hamas that democratically elected leaders cannot have one foot in the camp of democracy and one foot in the camp of terror... The leaders of Hamas have a choice to make. If they want the help of America and the international community... they must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism and work for lasting peace." This is exactly the right approach. What remains is for the international community to finally follow its own declarations and hold the Palestinian leadership accountable for its actions, denying it funding if it does not comply - rather than searching for or creating another fig leaf for Palestinian rejectionism.