In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Hamas’ Khaled Meshal offered a newly pragmatic, consensus-driven Hamas approach to its Fatah collaborators and to Israel. Of course, the proof is in the pudding in these situations and we’ve seen Hamas’ pragmatism wax and wane with the political winds. But given the overall mood-music in the Arab world and the upcoming campaign for Palestinian statehood at the General Assembly in September, Hamas’ initiative appears promising to say the least. As others have noted, I’m guessing that Hamas’ increasingly unstable home in Damascus is also forcing it to look outward for friends and allies in places (Ramallah, Washington, Cairo, Brussels) it hadn’t considered.
Here are some of the chief excerpts from Meshal’s remarks:
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said his movement will make decisions about how to wage its struggle with Israel, including if and when to use violence, in consensus with more moderate Palestinian factions.
“How to manage the resistance, what’s the best way to achieve our goals, when to escalate and when to cease fire, now we have to agree on all those decisions as Palestinians,” said Mr. Meshaal in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in Cairo.
…The Hamas leader’s comments…suggested a power-sharing agreement signed Wednesday between his militant party and the more moderate Fatah party could significantly change the Palestinian approach toward the peace process.
Mr. Meshaal said that decisions on “negotiations with Israel, domestic governance, foreign affairs, domestic security and resistance and other field activities” against Israel, would all be reached in consensus between Palestinian factions.
If Mr. Meshaal follows through on his pledge, it would mean that Hamas would no longer attack Israel without the agreement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader, who has long opposed violence.
Aides to Mr. Abbas said that in closed-door negotiations in Cairo ahead of the signing of the Egypt-brokered reconciliation agreement, Mr. Meshaal said his movement was prepared to adopt a strategy of nonviolent resistance, at least for the time being. “They accept nonviolent resistance. That’s what Meshaal said in closed meetings,” said Nabil Shath, a senior aide to Mr. Abbas who was present in those meetings. “He said ‘we cannot do violence and you do nonviolence. It does not work out.’ “
It’s important to point out that for Hamas (and unlike Fatah), violent resistance and non-violent resistance are strategies and not ends in themselves. Meshal is clearly saying that for now, it’s most promising for us to turn away from violence, since that is most likely to secure our goals for Palestinian statehood. But he’s also clearly saying that if non-violence and this current round of peacemaking and nation-building fails, that the movement could very well turn back to violence.
Of course, this will make Bibi and the pro-Israelists howl. They’ll wag their fingers saying: “You see. We told you you can’t trust them. They’re only turning to non-violence out of cynical motives and they’ll return to violence the first chance they get.” This of course gets things all wrong. The point is that if non violence gets them where they want to be, then there will be no need for violence.
What Meshal is really saying is that if Fatah honors its commitments, there are free and fair elections, and the General Assembly approves a Palestinian state, then Hamas will have no reason to turn to violence. To me, this is a patently self-evident pragmatic approach. Even former Mossad directors like Ephraim Halevy understand it too. But not the Bibistas.
Pres. Obama has to decide whether he’s going to be a Bibista or whether he’s going to get on the right side of the Arab Spring. The U.S. is still insisting that Hamas completely renounce violence as a condition of being considered a partner in peace negotiations. But that’s simply not going to play in Gaza. And there is no reason it has to. What Meshal is telling Washington is: “if you produce for us, we’ll be good boys. If you don’t, we won’t.” That is the best Obama’s going to get. If he demands more, then he will end up being bitterly disappointed and we’ll end up with more misery, more wars, and more terror.
Hamas is currently showing pragmatic realism. Bibi is showing the same old losing cards. And Obama’s showing nothing. Where are you, Mr. President? Stop basking in the glow of being Osama-killer and get down to brass tacks. Show some leadership. If he allows the mid-term elections to dictate the same-old, same-old approach to Hamas for fear of appearing soft on terror and hostile to a Likudist Israeli government, he’ll have lost yet another opportunity to play a leadership role in making peace.