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Is Hamas Looking For a Two-State Solution? Should We Listen?

April 10th, 2008by Gershom Gorenberg · 20 Comments · Politics and Policy

Last week Khaled Meshaal, the Damascus-based head of Hamas’s Political Bureau, gave an interview to the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam. The choice of venue is significant, since Al-Ayyam is a pro-Fatah paper, linked to the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah, and Meshaal is the presumed leader of Hamas, whose breakaway government rules Gaza since last June. The interview should therefore be read as an act of public diplomacy. In the West, it has hardly been read at all. Ha’aretz ran a short item, which was translated into English, and the Italian news agency AKI published a version of the interview.

Ignoring Meshaal is a mistake, especially given developments I’ll describe in a moment. So I asked a Palestinian journalist to translate some key excerpts of the Al-Ayyam interview. They appear below. Pay particular attention to the last paragraph. First, though a bit of context. (For more context, see my new American Prospect piece.)

In the interview, Meshaal reiterates his commitment to the Palestinian unity agreements of 2006, which were the basis for the short-lived unity Hamas-Fatah unity government last year. On the face of it, he’s suggesting willingness to return to a unity framework. Under the 2006 agreements, Hamas agreed to let Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas negotiate with Israel on a final-status agreement based on the June 4, 1967 lines, Palestinian sovereignty in East Jerusalem, and the right of return. Meshaal is saying he still stands by that, though he’s not willing to recognize Israel formally. In the final paragraph of the excerpt below, the interviewer is essentially asking Meshaal if he isn’t still committed to the Hamas Charter of 1988, which leaves no room for Israel. Meshaal’s answer is: In my heart, of course I believe all of Palestine belongs to the Palestinians. But practically speaking, our political position is a de facto two-state solution.

Let me be clear: Meshaal is still stating a considerably more hardline position than that of Fatah. This isn’t an offer on which any Israeli leader could just sign. Meshaal’s stated conditions for two states falls far short of the Clinton parameters or the Geneva accords. On the other hand, pay attention: The leader of Hamas is saying that the Charter has no practical relevance. He really wishes Israel would vanish, but that’s not his political program. He’d rather take a couple pills against nausea, and accept reality.

I will also stress that I’m not ignoring Hamas’s long record of terror. My mental map of Jerusalem is marked with the places where Hamas blew people up, including the places where I’ve heard the blast and the screaming and seen the blood. These are nasty people. The question, given the current stalemate, is whether it is in Israeli – or American, or moderate Palestinian – interests to continue with the policy of isolating Hamas, or to prefer a Palestinian unity government in which Hamas would have a stake in compromises.

To this I add three more bits of context:

  • The recent Vanity Fair investigation fills out an earlier International Institute for Strategic Studies study on the Bush administration’s bid to overturn the 2006 Palestinian elections by force – a plan that backfired and led to the Hamas takeover of Gaza.
  • The report issued today by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, a research institute with ties to the military, details the Hamas military build-up in Gaza. I don’t have reason to question the report’s facts (except that all info from intelligence sources is by nature suspect). But one must still ask the question that Judith Miller forgot: What’s the political agenda behind releasing the material? At first glance, it’s to dissuade the government from accepting a ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza. An opposite conclusion is also possible: The policy of siege and isolation of Hamas since the 2006 elections has been a catastrophic failure.
  • Jimmy Carter is going to Damascus next week, and may meet Meshaal. One can condemn this reflexively as, say, Marty Peretz predictably does. (The man that Peretz calls the “worst president in American history” produced the Israel-Egyptian peace accord, perhaps the most significant contribution to Israeli security since 1948.) I’d suggest that the US and Israel use Carter’s services to check the possibility of a Palestinian unity government as a way out of the current stalemate.

Here are the excerpts from the Meshaal interview:

Al-Ayyam April 2, 2008

http://www.al-ayyam.com/znews/site/pdfs/2-4-2008/p13.pdf

Meshaal to Al-Ayyam: Tough Israeli Positions Responsible for Hindering Tahdi’a And Exchange Deal

DAMASCUS – Hamas Political Bureau Chief Khaled Meshaal stressed his movement’s consent in principle to a full sovereign Palestinian state on 1967 borders. He denied claims about open or secret talks with Israel and rejected totally the principle of direct contacts with the Israelis…

Meshaal described attempts of Israelis to open channels [to Hamas] through Europeans as a trap…

Meshaal added that Israel knows what it is needed to do. It knows that it needs to end its illegal occupation and to recognize the Palestinian rights…

To those [Israelis] who support dialogue, Meshaal said that their entry to this is to pressure their leadership to stop the aggression, stop its occupation and recognize the Palestinian rights, especially in the light of the Palestinian and Arab consensus on a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders…

Meshaal stated that the talks with Egypt on the tahdi’a – lull or calm – between Hamas and Israel had not yet led to any result till now. To clarify, he said there are two meanings for the tahdi’a: A [short-term] tahdi’a, and a hudna, truce, as suggested by Hamas, which would be discussed or negotiated when the conditions ripen for Israeli withdrawal to June 4, 1967 lines and recognition of the Palestinian rights in Jerusalem and sovereignty and the right of return, and in that case we would be talking about [a truce lasting] years…

Meshaal reiterated his commitment to the Prisoner’s Document, which emphasizes the main lines of the unchanging Palestinian positions, saying: We have the Palestinian Conciliation Document of 2006, in which all the organizations agreed clearly to a state based on the borders of 1967 including Jerusalem, the right of return and full sovereignty. This is the Palestinian position and it is the Arab Position too with some reservations [on our part]. The Israelis should declare their full and strict commitment to it…

As for the claims that Hamas seeks to eradicate Israel, Meshaal said: “We are committed to the political platform on which we agreed with the other Palestinian forces and in convergence with Arab position. Thus all the international parties should deal with this political fact and judge the political platform to which we agreed. The challenge here is not to search in the minds of peoples but [look at] the offered political platform on the table and the American administration and the international community should work to get Israel to be committed to it … This is the way out. After that, whoever wants to recognize Israel or not, that would a matter of his personal convictions.”

Related Posts:

Excuse Me, Ariel isn’t in Israel

A radical idea becomes conventional

First Law of Political Thermodynamics: For every action there is an unequal and opposite reaction

Update: The link originally given for the Arabic text was for the beginning of the article. The full text is here.

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20 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Hamas And The Two State Solution « Terraformed // Apr 10, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    [...] even need the GRID to connect to this very informative post, it is on the old intertubes. Ignoring Meshaal is a mistake, especially given developments I’ll describe in a moment. So I asked Palestinian journalist Ata [...]

  • 2 Y. Ben-David // Apr 10, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    Most Americans consider Carter one of the worst Presidents in history. I think it is rather parochial to give him high ratings because of the peace agreement simply because we may like it…but what about the collapse of the Shah, the rise of Islamic extremism in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian hostage crisis, 10% inflation and stagnant economy in the US, the “killer rabbit”, etc, etc, etc? These are the things that most people remember.

    So Mashaal gives a statement to a reporter that shows he is supposedly becoming more “moderate”. Maybe he is lying. Maybe he wants to thaw out western relations with HAMAS because they want economic assistance in Gaza. Thus, he figures he can throw out a few words to placate western do-gooders like Jimmy Carter. Don’t forget that when Saddam Hussein was bogged down in the 1980′s with his war with Iran, he met Jewish US Congressman Steven Solarz and talked about maybe making peace with Israel. When that war ended, he apparently forgot about what he said, then making his infamous promise that “he would burn half of Israel with chemical weapons” and he then launched his Scud missiles against us. Another Iraqi, Ahmed Chalabi, head of the phony “Iraqi National Congress” which played a significant role in dragging the US into its invasion of Iraq, also promised to “make peace with Israel” in order to drum up support for his mafia in the US. Then it was discovered that he was good friends with Ahmedinejad and the Iranians. Did he really want to make peace with Israel? What do you think?

    I will now list the reasons for everyone to see why there is NO chance of there being ANY peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, of whatever flavor (FATAH or HAMAS).
    These following things make a major impression on the Palestinians:

    (1) Prime Minister Olmert announced publicly that “Israel is tired of fighting”. The Second War in Lebanon confirms that Israel’s army is no longer what it used to be

    (2) Prime Minister Olmert announces that “Israel is doomed unless it quickly arranges the creation of a Palestinian State. Yes, I can see Abu Mazen and his gang saying “you know, we had better hurry up and reach an agreement with Olmert so we can save Israel for him”. Do you think that’s what the Arabs want? After all, Olmert promised them that “Israel is doomed”-isn’t that what the Arabs want?

    (3) Starting with Prime Minister Rabin, the Israel Left has been screaming “we had better reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians before the Iranians get a nuclear bomb”.
    Deputy Defense Minister Efraim Sneh says that it is possible that if Iran has a bomb, Israelis will panic and run away.
    Thus, wouldn’t it be logical for the Palestinians to wait until the Iranians have the bomb which they would believe improve their bargaining position immeasurably? Again, would Abu Mazen say to his peoplel “we had better hurry up and sign an agreement so the Israelis won’t have to worry about the Iranian bomb”?

    (4) Tough general Barak had the IDF run away from the south Lebanon security zone unilaterally, leading to a war with HIZBULLAH under far better conditions than they had before then. Tough general Sharon had the IDF use force to drag Jews out of their homes in Gush Katif and to turn their synagogues over to raging mobs to be desecrated and destroyed, and then had the IDF run away, also unilaterally, leading to a war and the eventual abandonment of security of Israeli communities within rocket range of the Gaza Strip (recall that he told the people of Ashqelon that they had better get used to rocket attacks).
    Why on earth should the Palestinians make any concessions when they think Israel will, in the end, simply run away and give them everything for free?

    (5) Late HAMAS leader Yassin and HIZBULLAH leader Nasrallah both assure their followers that Israel is on its last legs and will disappear soon. Ahmedinejad says the same thing in Iran, and everything Israeli leaders do and say, as I have indicated above, confirms these predictions. Why should the Palestinians make concessions that might open them to charges that they have betrayed the Palestinian cause, when in the end, they will get everything anyway, without making concessions that could literally endanger their lives (brave, strong leader Arafat told Clinton he would be assassinated if he made concessions to get an agreement. Abu Mazen doesn’t have the strength or credibility of Arafat in the ‘Arab street’, so he certainly can’t go farther in making concessions, as he has stated explicitly).

    (6) The US and EU have recently promised the Palestinians $7 Billion to pocket, unconditionally. By doing this, the US and EU have given up any possible leverage they have on Abu Mazen to make concessions necessary to make concessions. That is why I believe that Abu Mazen was secretly glad HAMAS took over Gaza. He can now wave that at the Americans and say “you have to support me no matter what I do because you don’t want THEM in power, do you?”. Mubarak plays the same game with the Muslim Brotherhood which he alternately builds up and then represses in order to get the US to stop making any demands of him in return for the $2 Billion a year or so that he gets.

    I do not believe that the above means Israel is in a hopeless position…I simply point it out that Israel will not be able to obtain contractural peace agreements with the Arabs in the foreseeable future. Israel will continue to build itself with a condition of peace, just as it has for the last 60 years and more.

  • 3 eamonnmcdonagh // Apr 10, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    very interesting stuff. However, this is the killer line

    “After that, whoever wants to recognize Israel or not, that would a matter of his personal convictions.”

    Recognising (which is not the same as approving of or falling in love with) legally constituted states isn’t a matter of personal convictions, it’s a matter of law and, in the this case, recognising the other’s right right to what you seek for yourself.

    Or to put it another way, would the Palestinians be well advised to accept a new state for themselves the recognition and acceptance of which the PM of Israel said was a “matter for each person’s personal convictions”?

  • 4 abunooralirlandee // Apr 10, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    eamonnmcdonagh,

    Certainly there are some Israelis who believe that the whole of the west bank should be part of Israel and any Palestinian state that encompassed that land was not legitimate. Some hold this as a religious belief. Do you think anyone could tell them they have no right to that personal conviction if indeed the government of Israel decided to make a political decision to accept a Palestinian state? The state would be established but of course people’s hearts cannot be so easily commanded.

  • 5 Y. Ben-David // Apr 10, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    After I posted the above comment, I realized what is the probable reason for Mashaal’s “moderate” statement. HAMAS has to worry that its endless provocations like indiscriminate rocket fire into Israeli towns and cross-border terrorist attacks that led to the murders of two truck drivers at a terminal that is used to transfer fuel into the Gaza Strip might lead to an Israel invasion of the Gaza Strip which could lead to the ousting of the HAMAS regime in power there. By throwing out meaningless promises and inviting international fools like Jimmy Carter they figure they can buy immunity for their terrorist regime (“we need to engage them! Isn’t it better to talk than to fight?”, etc)

  • 6 Eamonn // Apr 10, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    Ordinary individual Palestinians and Israelis can, of course, believe and feel what they like.

    Mashaal is not a common or garden Palestinian and I was talking about the policy choices of those who claim leadership roles on both sides of the conflict.

  • 7 george a. hilborn // Apr 10, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    Mr. Ben David: I guess Christians who are for Peace like Jimmy Carter are by your definition ” international fools” Yes ,Carter was not suited to the office of President but he pales when compared to George W. Bush . As I remember he got the old “Stern Gang” terrorist Begin and Sadat together on recognizing Israel and a few other things. Jimmy Carter had the highest I.Q. of any American president in the last 100 years,top of his class at the Naval academy, and an executive officer on a nulear submarine. He helped organize Habitat For Humanity for whom I have physically worked both in the U.S. and outside the country.Mr. Carter is a selfless dedicated humanitarian who although he does not come down to your xenophobic view of the current state of affairs between Israel and the Palestinians will still work for world peace eventhough you and the closet Nazis like John Bolten and Dick Cheney think him a misguided fool

  • 8 george a. hilborn // Apr 11, 2008 at 3:40 am

    Mr.Ben -David I forgot to advise that I a 73 year old combat veteran who has seen buddies who I learned to love as my own family killed and blown apart as a teenager and I have learned also that those who are so intent on getting into the so-called good fight haven’t really spent anytime in combat or are “chcken hawks” like that coward GWB

  • 9 abunooralirlandee // Apr 11, 2008 at 4:02 am

    Eamonn,

    And the point of his statement was that as a policy matter he would be willing to agree to work with the same framework as others who are willing to ‘recognize’ the State of Israel.

    I have my own doubts about the two state solution, but if people want to come to an agreement they will have to be willing in certain ways to allow people to ‘save face’ and phrase things in ways that they do not feel they are betraying their principles even while they are, of necessity, compromising on sensitive issues.

  • 10 DHobgood // Apr 11, 2008 at 5:25 am

    Starting Habitat for Humanity is great, but doesn’t qualify one as a great president. And his IQ being the greatest in 100 years? Do you have a source for that? Carter may be a very decent person, I don’t know him, but he was a terrible president. He responds to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan by banning US athletes from the Olympics. Honestly.

  • 11 Y. Ben-David // Apr 11, 2008 at 7:25 am

    I don’t know about Jimmy Carter’s IQ, but Herbert Hoover was considered the smartest President ever. He was a brilliant mining engineer and an effective organizer of relief efforts in World War I and after. He translated a medieval book on mining from Latin into English. He was also a lousy President.

    George Orwell wrote that if the “intellectuals” had been in charge of Britain in 1940, Britain would have surrendered to Nazi Germany. William F Buckley said something like he would rather be governed by the first 50 names in the Boston phone directory than by 50 Professors at Harvard.

  • 12 Obama, Carter and Meshaal: Campaign rhetoric v. policy « South Jerusalem: Gershom Gorenberg and Haim Watzman // Apr 11, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    [...] from a policy perspective, this is a mistake. As I wrote here yesterday, the current administration’s policy toward Hamas has boomeranged. The US supported Hamas [...]

  • 13 george a. hilborn // Apr 11, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    The trouble with Buckley was that he was an Irish Catholic who had a built -in- bias against the professors at YALE where he went because they were mostly Jewish and blue blood protestants.Mr.Buckley was anti-semetic to the core.He was a big fan of Bishop Fulton Sheen and NewYork Cardinal Spellman who thought Franco and Mussolini walked on water.His claim to fame was pontificating which he was good at although it was99% BS

    The claim that Carter was responsible for the loss of Iran is “clap trap” Read ALLTHE SHAHS MEN, written by an American Jew.The overthrow of the legally elected government in Iran was the master plan of the American CIA and the British Secret Service .The lead guy was Kermit Roosevelt working for Allen Dulles and his British counterpart with the blessing of Winston Churchill .They wanted to install the SHAH and get control of the oil from the Iranians; thus in 1953 this was acheived eventhough the Shah was reluctant but his ruthless sister wasn’t.The government was controlled by the cruel uncontrolled secret police trained by CIA with blessing of the Eisenhower administration.In 1953 the religious “nuts” were a minor iritation but they became focal point for the Iranians’ quest to get their country out of the puppet government of the hands of theU.S.and Britain.So the religious extremists were accepted with open arms. Iran was lost long before Carter came on the stage Carter inherited Nixon’s legacy which was not to interfer with the autocratic,corrupt government of Iran

    Now to take issue with you on other issues :Herbert Hoover ( not of my party) Mr. Hoover a humanitarian and a Quaker was raised in a free market economy and he believed that no eonomic problem could not be solved by the individual , but this country had never had a catastrophic collapse in its history and didn’t have any safety nets as we hopefully have now .So when you use the term”lousy” I can only think of one President who fits that term both as a human being and a chief executive(george w. bush)

    Intellectuals ,my,my, my, Albert Einstein I think he changed the world forever.
    Intellectual “relating to the intellect””rational rather than emotional” “appealing to engage the intellect”

    Finally George Orwell A/K/A Mr.Blair;his real name.I suggest you read Paul Johnsons’Intellectuals’ He has a whole chapter on Orwell ,not a nice guy. And my pacifist relatives were attending the victims when they by were let in by the likes of Gen. George Patton who declared that the Jews in the concentration camps disgusted him because they let this happen to them( implying they were cowards) Never fear big mouth George got his when his “limo”got hit in the rear and he suffered a”hangmans ” fracture at c2-c3 and died on a respirator

  • 14 Abe Bird // Apr 12, 2008 at 8:34 pm

    abunooralirlandee

    The “some Israelis” who believe that the whole of the west bank should be part of Israel are not the majority and out of the coalition. The “some” Palestinians that think and they have voted for the HAMAS to lead them in their war against Israel.

  • 15 Abe Bird // Apr 12, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    Two states solution should contain all mandatory Palestine and it means also the eastern bank of Jordan River. Palestine is quite very small place to share with 3 “peoples”. While Jews accepted the idea to give up their inspiration to dominant the eastern bank in the 40th, the Arab Palestinians still don’t except the very idea that Jews can live in a Jewish entity in some part of the western bank.

    Arab Palestinian already has a state called Jordan. I don’t see any hope in creating a small tiny second Arab state next to Jordan and Israel, rather than to keep the hostility alive in order to lengthy the battle until victory over the Jews and conquer all Palestine.

  • 16 Y. Ben-David // Apr 12, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    Herbert Hoover, as I pointed out, was a great humanitarian, and he set in motion some of the things that led to an improvement in the economic situation after he left office, such as the Reconstrution Finance Corporation (RFC). However, that does not change my assessment of him as a “lousy President” because he lost of confidence of a large majority of the population, the banks were closing when he left office, etc.
    A President who can’t govern is of no use, no matter how smart he was.
    I am an admirer of Orwell (Eric Blair) even though he was an anti-Zionist because he described things as they are. His experience in the Spanish Civil War opened his eyes to the foul nature of Communism. He realized that “intellectuals”, although no doubt important in the realm of science and the arts, have proven themselves to be terrible in politics and in understanding how human societies work.
    He wrote an article saying how modern education (at least in the mid-20th century) was good at filling students head with facts, was failing miserably in teaching people to think critically.
    I’ll give an example:

    In the Oslo Agreements, Peres and Rabin came to the Israeli people and said “we are going to bring to Israel a vicious antisemite mass murderer (Arafat) and his terrorist gangs who have killed many Jews and many more Arabs (and I, with my own ears heard, a Labor Party Knesset Member who supported Oslo use terms like this to describe Arafat and his FATAH gangs), we will then arm and finance them and then put them in charge of protecting Israelis, even though he says openly that he still views us as the enemy. Sure enough , as we who opposed Oslo predicte, Arafat cut loose an unprecedented wave of terror, killing or wounding thousands. Now, does this make sense? Do you know how many “smart” people and “Intellectuals” fell for this? Anybody who was able to think critically understood the folly of this.

    Another example: The Marxists spent decades honing an entire philosophy of government and economics “proving” that it was a better way to run a country than Western capitalism. Many “geniuses” like Satre, Marcuse, and thousands of others signed on and believed it. How did that system work out?
    Just because Einstein understood physics better than everyone else didn’t mean he understood politics. There is no connection whatsoever.

  • 17 masdar // Apr 15, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    Great blog. Keep up the good work. Meshal may have said what he is reported to have said but he didn’t say in the Al Ayyam article that you’ve linked to.

  • 18 Commentary » Blog Archive » The P.R. Difficulties of Jihad // May 13, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    [...] the defense against the Israeli settlements and cities around Gaza.” (Someone please alert Gershom Gorenberg.) Ah, yes–occupied Sderot! Just a little south of occupied West [...]

  • 19 Quote of the Day « The Heathlander // Jun 1, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    [...] chief Khaled Mesha’al, in an interview with the pro-Fatah Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam in April. He continued: “We have the [...]

  • 20 Spot the rejectionist « The Heathlander // Jun 21, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    [...] statements from Hamas indicating the organisation’s acceptance of a two-state settlement. In a recent interview with a pro-Fatah Palestinian newspaper, for example, Hamas chief and traditional hardliner Khaled [...]

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