Two-Faced Hamas on the Two-State Solution

Recent declarations by three senior Hamas leaders suggest that the radical Islamist movement would be prepared to accept a Palestinian state based on territory Israel captured during the 1967 War including the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.

Speaking to National Public Radio on May 17, Hamas Deputy Foreign Minister Ghazi Hamad
announced that Hamas would accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital.  He asserted that "we accept the state and '67 borders.  This was mentioned many times and we repeated many times."  However, Hamad concurrently stated that "[w]e are just fighting against occupation [...] We are fighting to liberate our homeland.  This is our ambition."  Therefore, Hamas's claims that it accepts a two-state solution should be carefully reevaluated.  Its perception of "resistance" and its belief that Israel in its entirety is "occupied territory" justify launching attacks against Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza -- as well as inside Israel proper -- since all Israeli civilians are legitimate military targets.

On May 11, Hamas Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar told the Palestinian Ma'an News Agency that Hamas would accept a state "on any part of Palestine" without agreeing to recognize Israel.  Zahar implied that a Palestinian state along the '67 borders would serve as a phased strategy towards Israel's ultimate destruction, asserting that recognizing Israel would "cancel the right of the next generations to liberate their lands."

Earlier on May 5, the New York Times reported that Hamas Politburo leader Khaled Meshal envisioned a Palestinian state "in the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital, without any settlements or settlers, not an inch of land swaps and respecting the right of return" of refugees to Israel.  Apart from the unrealistic demand of permitting five million Palestinians to live in Israel, which both Israel and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad reject, Meshal's remarks could be interpreted as newfound moderation limiting Palestinian ambitions to 1967 territory, rather than Israel proper.

However, while Meshal said Hamas would accept a Palestinian state within the '67 borders, he gave no indication that Hamas was prepared to terminate its state of war, recognize Israel's right to exist, and sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state.  Moreover, Meshal articulated two contradictory and ominous statements: "Where there is occupation and settlement, there is a right to resistance," and "[R]esistance is a means, not an end."

The 1988 Hamas Charter calls for an Islamic Palestinian state upon the ruins of Israel.  Speeches and interviews from Hamas officials, sermons from Hamas-run mosques, and media and press broadcasts from Hamas-ruled Gaza depict Israel proper as occupied territory and Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheba, and Safed as illegal settlements.  Meshal's concept of "resistance" reflects Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's unsuccessful policy with Israel forty-four years ago, editorialized on July 1, 1967 in Akhbar al-Youm: "war is not an end but a means."  Therefore, Meshal wants a Palestinian state in the '67 borders, but he cannot explicitly guarantee that such a state would satisfy Hamas's ultimate aims.  Nor can he unequivocally renounce violence because it "doesn't work against the Israelis."

Before rushing to embrace the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation pact and Hamas's recent statements purporting to accept a two-state solution, it would be prudent to evaluate their statements in Arabic
and English and contrast what they say publicly versus what they say privately.  Hamas seems to be mimicking Nasser's failed strategy of projecting a façade of pragmatism and moderation to maximize concessions while offering little in return.  Nasser employed this tactic to convince the West that he was sincere about peace, while rearming Egypt's military with Soviet assistance to prepare for the War of Attrition ('69-'70).  Therefore, it may be surmised that Hamas, with Iranian and Syrian support, is also seeking to consolidate its forces for another war with Israel.

Hamas's paradoxical rhetoric seems to reinforce Middle East scholar Yehoshafat Harkabi's analysis thirty-seven years ago illustrating why peace proved so challenging:

[A] peaceful settlement of the present crisis does not necessarily mean a peace settlement with Israel, but only the withdrawal of Israeli troops to the pre-1967 war lines.  Liberating the Occupied Territories may apply to the area occupied in the Six-Day War and also to the liquidation of Israel, since Israel, prior to 1967, was already referred to in Arabic as the occupied territoryRecognition of Israel's existence may mean no more than an awareness that there is such a thing as Israel (since Egypt has continuously called for the destruction of Israel, he apparently senses no contradiction between recognizing the existence of Israel and calling for its liquidation).  Nonbelligerence means that the Arab regular armies will not take military action against Israel, but it does not exclude support of terrorist action operating from Arab territory.  Since the Arabs declare that they agree to nonbelligerence but not peace, nonbelligerence must thus be interpreted as merely a pause in the war.

Egypt and Jordan have since proved Harkabi's assessment wrong, but only after unambiguously terminating their state of belligerency and recognizing Israel's existence.  This succeeded not only because Egyptian and Jordanian leaders wanted to end the conflict and rebuild their economies, but because they accepted living next to the Jewish state in peace and security.  Hamas can accept a Palestinian state, but it cannot unequivocally renounce claims to all of Israel and accept to live next to it in mutually recognized borders and security.  Therefore, unless Hamas's policies change fundamentally, a two-state solution will remain elusive.

Michael Sharnoff is a doctoral candidate in Middle East Studies at King's College, London.

Recent declarations by three senior Hamas leaders suggest that the radical Islamist movement would be prepared to accept a Palestinian state based on territory Israel captured during the 1967 War including the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.

Speaking to National Public Radio on May 17, Hamas Deputy Foreign Minister Ghazi Hamad
announced that Hamas would accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital.  He asserted that "we accept the state and '67 borders.  This was mentioned many times and we repeated many times."  However, Hamad concurrently stated that "[w]e are just fighting against occupation [...] We are fighting to liberate our homeland.  This is our ambition."  Therefore, Hamas's claims that it accepts a two-state solution should be carefully reevaluated.  Its perception of "resistance" and its belief that Israel in its entirety is "occupied territory" justify launching attacks against Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza -- as well as inside Israel proper -- since all Israeli civilians are legitimate military targets.

On May 11, Hamas Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar told the Palestinian Ma'an News Agency that Hamas would accept a state "on any part of Palestine" without agreeing to recognize Israel.  Zahar implied that a Palestinian state along the '67 borders would serve as a phased strategy towards Israel's ultimate destruction, asserting that recognizing Israel would "cancel the right of the next generations to liberate their lands."

Earlier on May 5, the New York Times reported that Hamas Politburo leader Khaled Meshal envisioned a Palestinian state "in the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital, without any settlements or settlers, not an inch of land swaps and respecting the right of return" of refugees to Israel.  Apart from the unrealistic demand of permitting five million Palestinians to live in Israel, which both Israel and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad reject, Meshal's remarks could be interpreted as newfound moderation limiting Palestinian ambitions to 1967 territory, rather than Israel proper.

However, while Meshal said Hamas would accept a Palestinian state within the '67 borders, he gave no indication that Hamas was prepared to terminate its state of war, recognize Israel's right to exist, and sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state.  Moreover, Meshal articulated two contradictory and ominous statements: "Where there is occupation and settlement, there is a right to resistance," and "[R]esistance is a means, not an end."

The 1988 Hamas Charter calls for an Islamic Palestinian state upon the ruins of Israel.  Speeches and interviews from Hamas officials, sermons from Hamas-run mosques, and media and press broadcasts from Hamas-ruled Gaza depict Israel proper as occupied territory and Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheba, and Safed as illegal settlements.  Meshal's concept of "resistance" reflects Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's unsuccessful policy with Israel forty-four years ago, editorialized on July 1, 1967 in Akhbar al-Youm: "war is not an end but a means."  Therefore, Meshal wants a Palestinian state in the '67 borders, but he cannot explicitly guarantee that such a state would satisfy Hamas's ultimate aims.  Nor can he unequivocally renounce violence because it "doesn't work against the Israelis."

Before rushing to embrace the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation pact and Hamas's recent statements purporting to accept a two-state solution, it would be prudent to evaluate their statements in Arabic
and English and contrast what they say publicly versus what they say privately.  Hamas seems to be mimicking Nasser's failed strategy of projecting a façade of pragmatism and moderation to maximize concessions while offering little in return.  Nasser employed this tactic to convince the West that he was sincere about peace, while rearming Egypt's military with Soviet assistance to prepare for the War of Attrition ('69-'70).  Therefore, it may be surmised that Hamas, with Iranian and Syrian support, is also seeking to consolidate its forces for another war with Israel.

Hamas's paradoxical rhetoric seems to reinforce Middle East scholar Yehoshafat Harkabi's analysis thirty-seven years ago illustrating why peace proved so challenging:

[A] peaceful settlement of the present crisis does not necessarily mean a peace settlement with Israel, but only the withdrawal of Israeli troops to the pre-1967 war lines.  Liberating the Occupied Territories may apply to the area occupied in the Six-Day War and also to the liquidation of Israel, since Israel, prior to 1967, was already referred to in Arabic as the occupied territoryRecognition of Israel's existence may mean no more than an awareness that there is such a thing as Israel (since Egypt has continuously called for the destruction of Israel, he apparently senses no contradiction between recognizing the existence of Israel and calling for its liquidation).  Nonbelligerence means that the Arab regular armies will not take military action against Israel, but it does not exclude support of terrorist action operating from Arab territory.  Since the Arabs declare that they agree to nonbelligerence but not peace, nonbelligerence must thus be interpreted as merely a pause in the war.

Egypt and Jordan have since proved Harkabi's assessment wrong, but only after unambiguously terminating their state of belligerency and recognizing Israel's existence.  This succeeded not only because Egyptian and Jordanian leaders wanted to end the conflict and rebuild their economies, but because they accepted living next to the Jewish state in peace and security.  Hamas can accept a Palestinian state, but it cannot unequivocally renounce claims to all of Israel and accept to live next to it in mutually recognized borders and security.  Therefore, unless Hamas's policies change fundamentally, a two-state solution will remain elusive.

Michael Sharnoff is a doctoral candidate in Middle East Studies at King's College, London.

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