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Meshal Accepts Israel as ‘Reality’ and ‘Matter of Fact,’ Concedes Right of Palestinian State to Recognize It

Khaled Meshal, the fire-breathing Hamas leader based in Damascus gave an interview to Reuters in which he softened previously stated positions which rejected recognition of Israel. While he did not go so far as to recognize Israel–this he says would be the responsibility of a future Palestinian state–he did accept “the reality” of Israel:

“There will remain a state called Israel,” Meshaal said in an interview in the Syrian capital, in what appeared to be clearest statement yet by the Islamist group on its attitude toward the state it previously said had no right to exist.

“The problem is not that there is an entity called Israel,” said Meshaal, who survived an Israeli assassination attempt in 1997. “The problem is that the Palestinian state is non-existent.”

Meshal’s previous position was that no Palestinian group has the right to recognize Israel. Instead, he proposed to Israel a 10 year hudna if it would withdraw from territory occupied since 1967.

The Hamas leader in exile expanded on his thinking about a future Palestinian state and its relations with Israel:

Meshaal said Hamas backed Arab demands that a Palestinian state should include Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem and that Israel should accept the right of Palestinian refugees to return to homes lost in a 1967 war and before.

“As a Palestinian today I speak of a Palestinian and Arab demand for a state on 1967 borders. It is true that in reality there will be an entity or state called Israel on the rest of Palestinian land,” said Meshaal.

“This is a reality but I won’t deal with it in terms of recognizing or admitting it,” he added.

The world has demanded that Hamas recognize Israel. Meshal has in the past rejected this formulation and continues to do so. But he has given the world the next best thing by saying that while I may not personally recognize Israel, I concede the right of a future Palestinian state to do so. No matter what the Israeli government or her hard-right Israeli and Diaspora say about this statement constituting “business as usual,” it is not. This is a significant softening of the hardline leader’s position.

Observers see several reasons for the new statement. First, his previous rejectionist stance had stymied negotiations with Fatah for a national unity government. This may be his way of telling Abbas that I’m willing to finesse the issue of recognition if it will advance these negotiations. The formation of such a government is critical for Palestinians because without one there seems no way of breaking the international blockade currently strangling Gaza.

To this I would add my own observation. Meshal’s statement, while it doesn’t provide everything the world community has demanded of Hamas, may provide just enough to allow it to begin to open up the spigots of aid and commerce which could reduce Gaza’s suffering. This in turn might allow world leaders to ask Israel to make gestures toward the Palestinians like freeing up the $500-million in excise taxes owed to the PA and beginning negotiations that might lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.

After all, the PA can now argue that if Israel would only allow creation of such a state, then even Hamas would concede its right to recognize Israel. It will be hard for Israel to say “No” to Palestine because its leaders (notably Ariel Sharon) have already said they would accept it and because the world will now say to Israel: “All you have to do to gain Palestinian recognition is accept a Palestinian state.” Certainly Israel will continue to try to find ways to maintain its firm “Nyet.” But this becomes harder and harder the more signs of moderation emanate from the Palestinian side.

Hat tip to Sol Salbe.

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{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Simohurtta January 11, 2007, 2:09 AM

    The world community’s view is that Palestine would be based on the 1967 borders. Maybe Israel should first make its view about the future two state solution and especially the new borders clear, then the Palestinian could better recognize Israel. Now Israel is demanding much but de facto not promising anything.

  • lennybruce January 12, 2007, 10:58 AM

    Hi Richard,

    When I originally read this story I was quite happy as I view it as a major step for Meshaal to come out and say something like that. In fact, he made a lot of sense when he said, “The problem is not that there is an entity called Israel. The problem is that the Palestinian state is nonexistent.” I did a Yahoo and Google news search and found that it has gotten very little coverage in the USA. Couldn’t find anything in the NYT and the Washington Post had one small paragraph buried in their Reuters news roundup. The NY Post carried the story under the cynical headline, “Hamas thug: OK, Israel does exist.” Fortunately the story got more coverage outside of the USA including ME papers. And as expected I guess, the Israelis poe-poed the statement instead of getting all over it as a step forward and saying cool, now lets see if we move even closer to each other, or coming with their own statement like we will recognize Hamas in the context of a peace settlement (yes I know thats a real fantasy to think they would say something like that but a boy can dream can’t he?). Does Israel really want peace?

  • Herbert Kaine January 14, 2007, 6:21 AM

    Mashall recognizing Israel is no great advance. A person who has colon cancer recognizes the cancer as fact, but doesnt plan to coexist with it. Smiliarly, Mashaal recognizes Israel as fact, but doesnt plan to coexist with it. Mashaal is looking for the minimal formula that will allow funds to flow to Hamas from the EU, and if he is lucky, the US. If Mashaal were serious about peace, he would order the release of Gilad Shalit. However, this would require an ok from Mashaals boss, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

  • ellen January 14, 2007, 8:47 AM

    “lennybruce” said:
    Does Israel really want peace?
    maybe that was asked rhetorically. In these days when Rice is ‘advocating’ the “Road Map” [Road Map to Nowhere, as Tanya Reinhart titles her newest book], I find it interesting to contemplate a report commissioned in 1996 by the Jerusalem Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies. The writers included Richard Perle, James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Douglas Feith, Robert Loewenberg, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser.

    Entitled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm”, the report outlines then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to replace “land for peace” with “peace through stength”. Other goals: “contain” or “destablize” Syria, “focus on removing Sadam Hussein from power”, and “forge a new relationship between itself [Israel] and the Palestinians…may require hot pursuit into Palestinian-controlled areas, a justifiable practice with which Americans can sympathize.”
    The above is from: http://www.iasps.org/strat1.htm

    I checked the website to see if there were any more recent reports, I didn’t see anything newer than 2002. Guess they decided to keep their reports less public.

    And, at the web site of Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, can be found a graphic interpretation of how much of the “Clean Break” plan has been implemented. http://www.irmep.org/Policy_Briefs/3_27_2003_Clean_Break_or_Dirty_War.html

    ellen

  • Richard Silverstein January 14, 2007, 1:28 PM

    A person who has colon cancer recognizes the cancer as fact, but doesnt plan to coexist with it. Smiliarly, Mashaal recognizes Israel as fact, but doesnt plan to coexist with it.

    A rather inapt metaphor. Someone who has colon cancer may like to exterminate it. But there’s always the chance that both the cancer & victim may HAVE to co-exist together for quite some time before one vanquishes the other if they ever do.

    What’s more, cancer is not at all the same as inter-ethnic conflict. When two peoples war against ea. other but neither can vanquish the other, they must learn to co-exist. You claim to know Meshal’s inner & true views on Israel (as opposed to what you view as the ‘lies’ he’s speaking in this interview), so pls. tell me where you derive proof for the fact that this particular person actually believes something diff. than what he actually said.

    If Mashaal were serious about peace, he would order the release of Gilad Shalit. However, this would require an ok from Mashaals boss, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

    This is a gross distortion. Pls. provide even a whit of proof that Iran directs the policy decisions of Meshal. I’d have accepted that statement perhaps if you’d said Assad. But to bring Iran into the equation is gross & ridiculous.

    I could also say that if Olmert was ‘serious about peace’ he would’ve implemented the many promises he made to Abbas recently when they met. Where are all the dismantled roadblocks, the opened border crossings & other items he promised to deliver to Abbas? Never happened. And Olmert’s never spoken of them again. Does the fact that he didn’t keep his promise mean he isn’t serious about peace. I’d say any avg. Palestinian would consider that an excellent argument as would I.

  • Herbert Kaine January 14, 2007, 7:15 PM

    I agree with you about Olmert being untrustworthy. The Israelis dont trust him either. However, below are some links between Meshaal and Iran, and how Iran has scuttled the release of Gilad Shalit

    Iran paid Meshaal $50 million not to release Shalit

    The government of Iran paid Hamas politburo leader Khaled Meshaal $50 million not to permit the release of kidnapped IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit according to a report in the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth this morning (link in Hebrew).

    According to the report, ‘Western sources’ say that a deal in principle to release Shalit in return for the release of ‘hundreds’ of ‘Palestinian’ prisoners terrorists was reached two months ago, but a few days later, a mission arrived from Iran and paid Meshaal $50 million to torpedo the deal. According to the report, after he received the money, Meshaal began to insist on the release of tens of ‘tough prisoners’ (usually the term that is used in Hebrew is those with ‘blood on their hands’ – that is not the term used this time, and I am not sure whether they mean prisoners who have murdered or something less than that).

    According to the Kuwaiti daily al-Watan, around the same time, Syria began to express pessimism about the possibility of renewing peace negotiations with Israel, saying that the current Israeli government has been destroyed politically and militarily and is not capable of moving forward on the ‘peace process.’ They added that Israel has ‘missed many opportunities’ to renew ‘peace talks’ recently, that the Israeli public is becoming ‘more extreme,’ and therefore there is no hope for ‘peace’ under these conditions.

  • Richard Silverstein January 14, 2007, 9:13 PM

    Iran paid Meshaal $50 million not to release Shalit

    This is nothing more than a rumor for which I’ve never seen or read any proof. It could be true or it could be a figment of Ynet’s overeager imagination. I’ve NEVER liked the ways in which stories are sourced in the Israeli press. Is “Western sources” a persuasive method of sourcing this story. Which “Western source?” An ambassador or the embassy cook? On what information does the source base the story? We don’t know any of that.

    the Kuwaiti daily al-Watan, around the same time, Syria began to express pessimism about the possibility of renewing peace negotiations with Israel, saying that the current Israeli government has been destroyed politically and militarily and is not capable of moving forward on the ‘peace process.’ They added that Israel has ‘missed many opportunities’ to renew ‘peace talks’ recently, that the Israeli public is becoming ‘more extreme,’ and therefore there is no hope for ‘peace’ under these conditions.

    This is an entirely false reading of Syrian attitudes toward Israel. I don’t know anything about the Kuwaiti paper fr. which this story supposedly emanates. But Syria & its president have been shuttling everywhere & to everyone they could possibly think of to inform Israel of their readiness & willingness to sue for peace as long as they receive the Golan in return. In fact, there are Syrian diplomats in Madrid as I write this celebrating w. their Israeli counterparts the 15th anniversary of the Madrid conference. The Syrians there are telling anyone who’ll listen that they’re waiting for Ehud’s call. It is actually George Bush & Ehud Olmert who have stymied the Syrian initiative.

  • Herbert Kaine January 15, 2007, 7:05 AM

    How do you know it is not true. Do you have sources in Syrian intelligence?

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