Between principle and necessity
July 8, 2009
As Hamas opens up to talk of peace it must honour the suffering of the Palestinian people and not buckle before colonial pressure, writes Ramzy Baroud [The writer is editor of PalestineChronicle.com.]
Much can be said to explain, or even justify, Hamas's recent political concessions, where its top leaders in Gaza and Damascus agreed in principle with a political settlement on the basis of the two-state solution.
On 25 June, Damascus-based leader Khaled Meshaal reiterated Hamas's rejection of recognising Israel as a Jewish state, rightfully dubbing such a designation as "racist, no different from Nazis and other calls denounced by the international community". However, he did endorse the idea of a two-state solution, which envisages the creation of an independent Palestinian state on roughly 22 per cent of the land of historic Palestine.
The announcement was hardly earth shattering, for other Hamas leaders have alluded -- or straightforwardly agreed -- to the same notion in the past. But what was in fact altered is the language used by Hamas's leaders to endorse the illusive and increasingly unfeasible possibility of two states. Meshaal's language was largely secular, while past Hamas references to the same principle were engulfed in religious idiom. For example, in past years Hamas agreed to a Palestinian state in all of the occupied territories, conditioned on the removal of Jewish settlements, under the provision of a long-term hudna, or truce. The term hudna is loaded with implicit religious inferences, and was used to present Hamas's political views as both pragmatic but also based on time-honoured Islamic political tradition.
Ahmed Youssef, chief advisor to the deposed Hamas government in Gaza, has alluded to the concept of hudna in various writings and media interviews. But his calls sounded more like an attempt to find common space between the Islamic movement's firm religious beliefs and US-led international pressure aimed at forcing Hamas into the same political camp that discredited rival Fatah. But Youssef's variation in rhetoric cannot be understood as synonymous with Meshaal's recent political revelations.
The boycott of the elected Hamas government in 2006, and the orchestrated violence that led to a Hamas takeover and subsequent isolation and siege of the Gaza Strip, were all meant to force Hamas to "moderate" its position. Immense collective suffering was endured throughout the Gaza Strip in order for Israel and its backers, including the Palestinian leadership based in the West Bank, to force Hamas out of its ideological trenches to join the "pragmatic" camp, which saw little harm in fruitless political compromises. Hamas's steadfastness was enough to further demonstrate its revolutionary credence and patriotic credentials to most Palestinians and their supporters around the Middle East and the world. Hamas impressed many, not because of its theological references, but political resilience and refusal to be intimidated. In some way, Hamas achieved the same revolutionary status and recognition as Fatah in the 1960s.
It was not until the Israeli war against largely defenceless Gaza starting December 2008 that Hamas seemed politically self-assured, and for good reason. After all, it was a democratically elected movement representing Palestinians in the occupied territories. Their rivals' failure to accommodate the new political reality, and incessant Israeli attempts at destroying the movement and imprisoning scores of its elected parliamentarians, were not enough to de-legitimise it. Then Israel unleashed one of its grizzliest campaigns against the Palestinians, aimed largely at civilians and civil infrastructure in Gaza. The Israeli war was meant to achieve more than the killing of 1,350 -- including 437 children -- and the wounding of 5,450 others. It was aimed at disturbing the Palestinian psyche that began seeing a world of possibilities beyond the confined, shallow promises of peace infused by the Oslo peace process, which only served to ingrain the occupation and entrench illegal settlements.
International solidarity was building up slowly prior to the Israeli attack. As Israeli bombs began raining atop Gaza's mostly civil infrastructure, international solidarity exploded throughout the world. Israel's brutal folly served to legitimise the very group it was meant to crush. The voices that tirelessly demanded Hamas live up to fixed conditions, handed down by the so-called Middle East peace quartet, were overshadowed by voices demanding the US and various Western powers to recognise and engage Hamas. A lead voice amongst them is former US president Jimmy Carter, one of the first influential Western personalities to engage Hamas and to break the news that Hamas "would accept a two-state peace agreement with Israel as long as it was approved by a Palestinian referendum or a newly elected government" ( The Guardian, 22 April 2008).
Carter's insistence on involving Hamas in any future peace arrangement took him from Damascus to Cairo to the West Bank, and then to Gaza. His recent visit to the Strip on 16 June was more than one of solidarity; it was aimed at convincing Hamas to agree to the vision of two states and the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. The alternative conditions are meant to present a more dignified exit than the belligerent and one-sided demands of the quartet. It's unclear whether Hamas will fully embrace his call. What is clear is that Hamas is sending various signals, such as its willingness to engage in dialogue with the Obama administration and -- again -- acceptance of the two- state solution, which according to any reasonable estimation of the Israeli "facts on the ground" created in occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank is now a far-fetched possibility.
Needless to say Hamas, as a political movement with an elected government with some jurisdiction over nearly one-third of the Palestinian people, has the right -- and even more the obligation -- to politically manoeuvre, reposition, and even re-brand itself. Breaking the siege on Gaza requires steadfastness, true, but political ingenuity as well. That said; Hamas must be wary of the political and historic price that will be paid if it fails to learn from the experience of discredited and corrupted Fatah. Palestinian rights are enshrined in international law and corroborated by the endless sacrifices of the Palestinian people, in Gaza and elsewhere. Therefore, the price of engagement, dialogue and political validation must not be to the expense of the Palestinian people, wherever they are, as stipulated in numerous UN resolutions, including UN Resolution 194 pertaining to the right of return of Palestinian refugees.