What Does Hamas Really Think About Israel?

In an interview with Charlie Rose, Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal undermines Israeli justification for the blockade

[tweetmeme] The Flotilla disaster is, predictably, raising a lot of questions surrounding Israeli policy, the occupation and the blockade of Gaza.  Many are insisting that the blockade is ineffective or counterproductive while others are insisting that the stranglehold on Gaza is necessary for Israeli security.  Proponents of the latter view tend to focus on the damage that Hamas could inflict with free borders.  The argument is all too often that Hamas doesn’t reject Israeli policies, but Israel itself.  Of course, officially, the Hamas movement is opposed to the Jewish state, but has made it clear in recent years that it is willing to accept Israel as a Jewish state within the 1967 borders.  The most recent demonstration of Hamas’ willingness to compromise was an interview of Hamas chief Khalid Meshaal done by Charlie Rose in which Meshaal unequivocally says that the 1967 borders of Israel are acceptable.

Supporters of the Israeli blockade and occupation, however, find it inconvenient to acknowledge this ideological evolution by Hamas.  Two articles were published – today (2/6) in the New York Times and yesterday (1/6) in the Christian Science Monitor – that underscore the refusal of Israeli supporters to believe Hamas.

In the Times, Daniel Gordis writes:

And, of course, Hamas openly insists that it will countenance no long-term peace with Israel; the resistance will not end, it says, until Israel is destroyed.

Obviously, this is a clear and distinct worry for Israel.  Accepting a Hamas government that will never accept Israel and wants to fight until Israel is destroyed would be foolish.  Yet, Gordis’  picture of Hamas does not represent reality.  Meshaal, in his Charlie Rose interview, says – very clearly:

Once the occupation comes to an end, the violence or the resistance will come to an end.  Today, in the West Bank, is there resistance?  There is no resistance in the West Bank.  Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad stopped it.  Why Israel doesn’t withdraw?

So the problem is not with the resistance.  When the occupation comes to an end, the resistance will end.

Ok, so maybe Hamas’ resistance is conditioned on Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian land.  But the group will still never recognize Israel, ever.  At least that is the argument David Makovsky made in the Christian Science Monitor on Monday.  He even cited Meshaal in the Charlie Rose interview to back up his claim:

Hamas does not recognize Israel at any size — even the area of a telephone booth on a Tel Aviv beach. Just last week in Damascus, Syria, PBS talk show host Charlie Rose kept asking Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal if he would accept Israel if it withdrew to the pre-1967 borders; Mr. Meshaal refused to answer.

Makovsky’s accusations are pretty upsetting.  If Hamas refuses to accept Israel, then what is the point?  The only way Israel can live without holding Hamas under its thumb is to wait for its dissolution.  However, even a brief look at the Meshaal interview shows a different reality than the sensationalist one of Makovsky:

So when the occupation comes to an end, the resistance will end.  As simple as that.  If Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, so that will be the end of the Palestinian resistance.

This, of course, is a clearly implied acceptance of an Israel of the 1967 borders.  Implication is not enough for some.  Meshaal obliges the critics (my emphasis):

Let me tell you very clearly.  We respect all religions.  We do not fight Israel because it’s a Jewish, but because it is occupying our land, our territory.  Palestine as the cradle of religions and the prophets, has always witnessed tolerance throughout history between Christians, Muslims and the Jews…

As for the recognition of Israel rights of existence, I told you once the Palestinian state appears, it will go for that…

I tell you today, I accept a state on the borders of 1967.

Of course, Hamas is not an ideal example of a peaceful, human-rights abiding regime.  There is much to worrying about and there should be a clear push for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas in order to continue the moderation of the government of Gaza.  What is clear, though, is that the reasons for the continuation of the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza are often based on a distortion of the position of Hamas.

The timing of the Israeli attack on the aid convoy – immediately after the Meshaal interview – suggests that Israel (and the world) needs to reconsider the consequences of a blockade that is punishing the entire population.  Hamas constantly reiterates its willingness to accept Israel after Palestinian independence; Israel repeats its claim that Hamas wants to destroy the Jewish state; and the people of Gaza continue to suffer.

Photo from Al Shaab

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