Will Israel Reciprocate Hamas’ Gesture towards Peaceful Coexistence?

Israel has not offered any such signals, and remains defiant of the international consensus of the UN Security Council that its colonial settlements must end and it must share Jerusalem.

I was in Doha, Qatar, Monday evening when Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, issued a new policy statement that amended some of the long-standing hardline positions on Israel in its charter. The next day I also took part in a public panel discussion on where we were on the one state/two state options to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The audience and participants expressed the same range of views that are prevalent among the general Arab and Palestinian publics: satisfaction with Hamas’ more realistic views on coexistence with Israel in two adjacent states with equal rights, but mixed with concerns that Hamas was traveling down the same fruitless path of conceding Israel’s demands without getting anything in return, as Fateh and its leaders Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas have done for decades.

Hamas’ new positions would seem to augur well for a peaceful, negotiated resolution of this long-running conflict. Its acceptance of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem—now occupied, colonized, or under siege by Israel—should allow it and Fateh to join with a handful of smaller political groups to rebuild a Palestinian national consensus on how to negotiate permanent peace with Israel.

That is unlikely to happen in the near future, given Israel’s refusal to deal rationally with any combination of Palestinians it negotiates with. The past 24 years since the Oslo agreements were signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) have included countless rounds of direct and indirect negotiations. At some points Israel negotiated with a Palestinian unified delegation that was supported by Hamas in the Palestinian government of national unity. Yet even then no progress was made, because Israel made it very clear, under both Labor and Likud leaderships, that its priorities included expanding Jewish settlements in the occupied territories and maintaining full security control of the Palestinian regions.

Hamas’ approach differed from Fateh’s, and included armed resistance that resulted in several wars and savage, disproportionate, Israeli attacks against much of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure. The vastly superior Israeli military has repeatedly attacked Gaza and killed Palestinian leaders and civilians, while Hamas and some other smaller groups launch relatively small, crude rockets that only occasionally cause death or damage in Israel. The result of this legacy over many decades has been massive suffering among Palestinians, without any real political gains in the battle with Israel. Neither Fateh’s nor Hamas’ strategy has worked very well at all.

Hamas’ softening of its position that now accepts a West Bank-Gaza-Jerusalem state for the Palestinians does not include formal recognition of Israel. The Fateh-led Palestinian majority has recognized Israel several times already, and received virtually nothing in return. So the bottom line is that Hamas’ statement this week signals a more pragmatic willingness to negotiate a two-state peace agreement with Israel based on an end to Israeli colonial expansion—but it will only take this willingness to its logical conclusion of a permanent peace with mutual recognition when Israel in turn signals its willingness to accept minimum Palestinian demands.

Israel has not offered any such signals, and remains defiant of the international consensus of the UN Security Council that its colonial settlements must end and it must share Jerusalem. It is not possible to see Hamas going any further to meet Israel halfway and resolve this conflict peacefully, if the Israelis in turn continue to demand from Hamas conditions that Israel itself is not willing to make simultaneously. These include recognizing permanent borders, ending the use of military force and resistance, and other issues related to refugees, security, and demography.

Given this reality, Palestinians nevertheless should work to reconstitute and relegitimize the PLO as their single national leadership, keep challenging Israel to negotiate on equal terms, and, most importantly, keep mobilizing international support through political action that aims at global public opinion as well as governments. Worldwide expressions of support for Palestinian rights continue to grow, but they have no impact yet on the ground because Israel maintains a significant military edge, and nobody in the world is prepared to use any political or other force to make it comply with the global consensus on the illegality of Zionist colonial expansion through settlements and land annexations.

Israel-Palestine keeps rising and dropping on the priority list of conflicts that capture world attention, and in the past few years it has been low priority. The massive hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners and Hamas’ revised political positions are two new elements that could prod a reconciliation among the main Palestinian political factions, a revival of the PLO, and a newly energized global diplomatic push for a peaceful resolution of the conflict with Israel. This is the right thing to do—but it has been tried many times before, and always floundered on Israel’s absolute refusal to comply with international law. So all eyes should now be on Israel to see if it can come up with even partial gestures of serious peacemaking, as Hamas has just done.

Rami G. Khouri is senior public policy fellow and professor of journalism at the American University of Beirut, and a non-resident senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School Middle East Initiative. On Twitter: @ramikhouri.

Copyright ©2017 Rami G. Khouri—distributed by Agence Global