Haaretz journalists are reporting a story (Hebrew) that a source within Fatah has informed them that Khaled Meshal has ordered Hamas’ military wing to cease terror attacks against Israel both from Gaza and the West Bank. The supposed order came in the context of unity talks held between Mahmoud Abbas and Meshal in Egypt recently.
If the report is true, it would be a very important development. But I’m not completely convinced. First note that one of the two reporters is Avi Issacharoff, whose accuracy is sometimes wanting. Second, the source is from Fatah, which is a sworn enemy of Hamas. It wouldn’t surprise me if this was leaked by Fatah in order to force Hamas to deny it. Such a denial would further diminish that group’s stature as an acceptable, reliable partner for future peace talks. But this is the skeptical side of me speaking. I’d like to be proven wrong on this one. If it is true it could mean that Hamas is traveling farther down the road to pragmatism and realism noted in Joel Greenberg’s Washington Post story I posted about a few days ago.
The Haaretz reporters also note a statement by Meshal that Hamas is willing to join Fatah in accepting a Palestinian state within 1967 borders, though it will not recognize Israeli explicitly at this point. The Hamas chief also noted that this decision was endorsed by the group’s Politburo including all of its senior leaders. Add to that the announcement following the Cairo talks that Hamas intends to join the PLO, and you have further proof that Hamas is moving in a more pragmatic direction.
The story goes on to speculate that there may be elements within Hamas in Gaza who refuse to accept the directive and who will attempt to mount terror attacks in order to torpedo it. Though this sounds more like the speculation of Israeli intelligence officials who seek to demean or diminish any change in Hamas policy. That group generally shows enormous discipline in adhering to positions adopted by its leadership, and I doubt there could be the same kind of fragmentation and dysfunction seen within Fatah in the past.
According to the Haaretz report, Israeli intelligence sources are continuing to misplay Hamas by claiming they know nothing of any substantive change in the group’s ideological or strategic direction. If there is any change, they claim, it is simply in its tactics and nothing deeper. This is of a piece with both Israeli and U.S. attempts to discredit Hamas as a legitimate player in Palestinian politics. This is precisely what they both did during the Arab Spring when popular uprisings shattered the foundations of some of the formerly most stable regimes, ones that Israel and the U.S. relied on to further their own interests in the region. Both nations had better recalibrate their analysis or they’ll be left looking foolish and irrelevant when the Palestinians announce they’ve completed a unity agreement, presuming this does happen.