Friday, April 11, 2008


GERSHOM GORENBERG, PROSPECT What would happen if Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal gave an interview and nearly no one in the West listened? Well then, it would be possible for the Israeli government and the Bush administration to continue with dead-end policies for dealing with the Islamic movement that rules Gaza, without anyone asking questions about failed strategic assumptions.

Meshaal is the Damascus-based head of Hamas' political bureau, its main leadership body. While his precise relationship with the head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, is unclear, Meshaal is normally described as Hamas' leader. Last week he gave an interview to Al-Ayyam, a pro-Fatah Palestinian daily. In it, he stressed that he's still committed to the Palestinian unity agreements of 2006, the basis for last year's short-lived Hamas-Fatah power- sharing deal in the Palestinian Authority. He reiterated that he would accept a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 boundaries -- that is, alongside Israel, not in place of it -- though without any commitment to recognize Israel formally.

Put differently, Meshaal was saying that his organization is willing to accept the reality of Israel, even if it is not happy about doing so. He's ready for Hamas to rejoin a unity government with Fatah -- reuniting Gaza and the West Bank -- and to be a silent partner while Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas of Fatah negotiates peace. He has not become a dove, but he is sidling his way toward being a pragmatic hawk. At the least, Meshaal's stance is reason for his adversaries to weigh a renewal of Palestinian unity as an alternative to siege of Gaza.

The Meshaal interview got brief coverage in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, and was picked up by an Italian news agency. In English language press it was barely covered. That's a shame. Asked by Al-Ayyam reporter Abdelrayuf Arnaout if Hamas sought to eradicate Israel, Meshaal answered: "We are committed to the political platform on which we agreed with the other Palestinian forces and in convergence with Arab position" - meaning the Arab League proposal for full peace with Israel, based on the pre-1967 lines. "All the international parties," Meshaal said, should treat this as the Hamas position, and not "search in the minds of peoples" for their feelings.


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