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.