Is Hamas going soft?
Palestinian group Hamas is sending some “not unhelpful” signals about the Middle East peace process but should be clearer on where it stands, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in an interview broadcast on [al-Jazeera] Friday — YNet
Blair did not make a specific reference, but:
The Palestinians are united in seeking a state in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, a senior Hamas leader said in an unusually enthusiastic endorsement of an idea the extremist Islamic movement long opposed.
Moussa Abu Marzouk, a deputy to Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal (residing in Damascus), made the comment in an interview published Saturday in the Hamas-linked newspaper “Palestine.”
Hamas was founded on a pledge to seek Israel’s destruction, but some in the movement have softened their stance as part of coalition talks with the Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority Chariman Mahmoud Abbas. The Hamas-Fatah government’s platform calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the lands Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War.
In the coalition talks, Hamas had presented its acquiescence to the idea as a major concession.
However, in his interview, Abu Marzouk presented a state alongside Israel as an achievement for the Palestinians.
“Now there is one team, one program, one united government … so there is a big chance to reach the goal we agreed upon at this stage, which is a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem,” he said. [my emphasis] — Jerusalem Post
Is there indeed anything new here? Only in a public relations sense.
Hamas has traditionally favored the total replacement of Israel by a Palestinian state. Here is Abu Marzouk last December:
It is not impossible, Abu Marzouk, emphasized, to establish a viable state on the whole territory of Palestine from the river (Jordan) to the (Mediterranean) sea. Not thinking to establish the state in that form represented the first mistake by the PLO when it thought that Palestine could accommodate two states. As to Hamas’s approach, it states that Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians have a historical right in Palestine, and that all Palestinians must be able to return to their homeland . — Ikhwanweb.com (Muslim Brotherhood website)
Arafat’s PLO did suggest, for public consumption, that it would accept a state alongside Israel and end the conflict, although on terms that were always designed to be unacceptable to Israel, such as inclusion of a right of return for refugees and their descendants to Israel, full control of East Jerusalem, etc. However, there is plenty of evidence that the intent of Arafat and the PLO leadership was to consider any Palestinian state that did not stretch from the river to the sea as an intermediate stage, a platform that would make the final re-conquest possible.
The Hamas leadership, unlike Arafat, does not generally lie about their goals, but relies on indirection and Western/Israeli wishful thinking to distract attention from them. So note Abu Marzouk’s inclusion of the phrase “at this stage” in the first quotation above, which I interpret to mean that Hamas would view a Palestinian state in the territories as temporary, and not an end to the conflict.
And indeed, in the Muslim Brotherhood article Abu Marzouk also said,
Even if a Palestinian state comes into existence this doesn’t mean that Israel has become legitimate, because there remain rights for the Palestinians that they must restore, notably the right to return to their homes.
An even more explict statement was made by Hamas co-founder and Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar in July of 2005:
Speaking to the Corriere Della Sera newspaper, al-Zahar said Hamas would “definitely not” be prepared for coexistence with Israel should the IDF retreat to its 1967 borders.
“It can be a temporary solution, for a maximum of 5 to 10 years. But in the end Palestine must return to become Muslim, and in the long term Israel will disappear from the face of the earth.” —YNet
It’s highly unlikely that Hamas has suddenly taken a 180-degree turn and is now even more moderate than Arafat’s PLO, actually prepared to offer peace in return for a state in the territories.
Rather, the statement seems to say that Hamas will go along with its other coalition partners in seeking a state alongside Israel — as a ‘stage’, a short-term goal. It does not negate the longer-term aim, expressed in the Hamas covenant, of replacing Israel with an Arab state.