That was in the morning. In the afternoon, the denials began to flow in. They came from Mahmoud a-Zahar, one of the Hamas leaders in Gaza, from Dr. Salakh Bardawil, the Hamas spokesperson in the Palestinian Legislative Council, and from the most outspoken of all – Khaled Mashal, who heads Hamas’ political bureau from Damascus. In an interview with Al-Hayat, Mashal explained that he is ready to enter talks with every international factor, but “with the Zionist enemy we won’t have contact.” He went on: “Hamas forced the Zionist enemy to withdraw from Gaza, and it has also succeeded in the political arena as well as other arenas. This will be so, as long as it bases itself on the power the people has given it.”
But what is this “power the people has given it”?
When the Palestinians elected Hamas, they were venting their disgust with the corrupt Palestinian Authority. This revulsion had been waiting more than five years for expression. It was one of the two basic motives for the Intifada, although only the second – a backlash against Israel – took center stage. By September 2000, the Palestinian people had concluded that Oslo amounted to nothing but an Israeli ploy for delaying withdrawal and continuing to confiscate land.
The Hamas leaders would do well, then, not to misread the significance of their victory. First, their election does not imply support for a religious agenda. Second, it doesn’t express a Palestinian desire to return to the era preceding PLO recognition of Israel.
The contradictory messages coming out of Hamas do not serve its own best interests, much less those of the Palestinian people. The latter needs a principled leadership, true, but one that is realistic. The verbal somersaults performed by Mashal are an exercise in self-deception. You are ready to talk with any international factor – just not Israel? The US is an international factor. In what way is it better than Israel? Israel never moves an inch without Washington’s approval. Does Hamas believe it can replace Israel in America’s good graces? And why does it let Egypt, of all countries, represent it with the US? Egypt is 100% committed to relations with Israel – and to the Oslo Accords.
If Hamas wants to behave in accordance with the mandate it got from the people, it must stop mixing its brand of Islamic fundamentalism with its political program. On the other hand, it mustn’t go overboard into opportunism, establishing ties with Washington’s Middle East allies, such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
Oslo has indeed ceased to be a political or legal basis for a peace agreement between the Palestinian people and Israel. Apart from the fact that it brought nothing – or worse – to the majority of Palestinians, Israel has, in effect, cancelled it – first, by re-conquering the Territories, then by proceeding unilaterally. But the end of Oslo need not entail an end to diplomacy. If Hamas wants to represent the Palestinian people, it should announce, without ambiguity, that it is ready to recognize the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiation toward a permanent solution.
In this way, Hamas will pull the rug out from under those who want to use the democratic Palestinian decision as a pretext for continuing a punitive campaign. Such an announcement will also disarm those who want to reverse that decision, including former Oslo participants. On February 19, 2006, Uzi Mahnaimi of the Sunday Times reported on secret talks that took place in Houston on February 8 and 9, involving twelve participants: four from Fatah, four from Israel, and four from the US. The meeting was chaired by Edward P. Djerejian, who has served as American ambassador to Israel as well as Syria. It had long been planned for other reasons, but under the new circumstances, the agenda was changed to discuss the question, “What should be done in the wake of the Hamas victory?” Jibril Rajoub, security advisor to Abu Mazen, was quoted as saying that the US State Department knows very well that Hamas can’t deliver.
Rajoub also told the meeting that the “natural” support for Hamas did not amount to more than 15%: “One can understand the elections more as an accident. I think it’s possible to turn the wheel backwards. New parliamentary elections are not out of the question.” Proposals were aired for channeling money not to the Hamas government, but rather to organizations that are under Fatah’s control. Among the participants on Israel’s side was Oslo architect Yair Hirschfeld. The article mentioned that the meeting took place with the knowledge and involvement of Israel’s Substitute Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.
Reports of attempts to destabilize the future Hamas government also appeared in the New York Times. Destabilization is of course a well-known tactic used by all American governments against undesirable regimes – to name a few: the Soviet Union, Nicaragua, Chile and Cuba.
When Israel gets involved, however, we witness a strange twist. Destabilization gets aimed not only at regimes that aren’t to Israel’s liking, but also at those it is supposed to be shoring up. Neither Yasser Arafat nor his heir, Abu Mazen, ever received a concession big enough to stabilize their rule (even a significant release of prisoners, for instance).
Ironically, Hamas owes its early growth to such a destabilization attempt. In the 1980’s Israel nourished the fledgling Islamist organization as a counterforce to the PLO. Now, twenty years later, Hamas owes its victory over Fatah in large part to Israel.
The US and Israel are presently conducting a campaign of financial threats and de-legitimization against Hamas, describing it as a mere terrorist organization – another al Qaeda. Unfortunately, by its contradictory statements, Hamas helps Israel to do this. However, all the negative facts about Hamas don’t turn Israel into a model of good intentions. What, after all, would Israel be willing to give in exchange for Hamas recognition? If it really wants to learn the group’s intentions, it should do what it did in Lebanon: declare that it has no territorial ambitions in the West Bank and withdraw to the international border. Then it would have a basis for checking the intentions not only of Hamas but also of the Palestinian people. But Israel’s zero-sum game will only bring another round of bloodshed, more dangerous than those we have seen.
Stupidity, corruption and greed have led the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a thicket from which there appears to be no escape. The stupidity is that of US President George W. Bush, who pushed the region into extremism. The corruption is that of the Palestinian Authority, which forfeited the enormous trust its people had in it. The avarice is that of Israel, which knows no limit in violating – and refusing to recognize – the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign state in the entire West Bank and Gaza.