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Hamas, the Arab Peace Initiative and reality


Interest was renewed in the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 after Arab League Secretary Amr Mousa urged the Hamas to adopt it as a way of legitimizing themselves and ending their international isolation. In turn, Hamas spokesmen or spokesmen for Hamas spokesmen announced that the Hamas "would" accept the initiative, or that they had not accepted the initiative. The game of "keep 'em guessing" has been going on since the election of the Hamas government on March 28.

The intentions of Hamas seemed pretty definite to me, watching the footage of a rally on Saturday evening, in which Hamas leaders, one after the other, declared:

"We will never recognize Israel."

"Haifa is ours."

"Beisan [Beit Shean] is ours."

"Majdal [Ashqelon] is ours."

"All of Palestine is ours."

To all those who toy with the idea that Hamas may be reformed, either by pressure or by coddling or by wishful thinking, this is incovenient. What don't they understand about "never recognize?" Of course, they can point out that the Arab states themselves had declared the same thing essentially at the Khartoum summit of 1967. "Never" is a long time. For Egypt it lasted twelve years, until 1979, when they signed a peace treaty with Israel. For Jordan, it took a bit longer. For the PLO and Fateh, it took until the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians can wait ten or twenty or thirty years hoping that Hamas will change its tune.

Acceptance of the Arab Peace Initiative was actually a red herring injected by the Arab League, which complicates the problem of dealing with Hamas rather than simplifying it. The demands of Israel and the quartet from the Hamas are not the same as those of the Arab peace initiative. The Arab peace initiative calls for full normalization and peace with Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal and a refugee settlement in accordance with UN General Assembly resolution 194. Resolution 194 is almost universally understood in the Arab world to mean that the Palestinian refugees have a right to return to Israel. If they exercise that right, it would soon put an end to Israel as a Jewish state.

The demands made of the Hamas by the quartet and Israel are both less and more. They call only for Hamas recognition of Israel's right to exist (not the same as diplomatic recognition, and the formal renunciation of terror and violence. However, they call for these steps now, and not later. In otherwords, they call for the Hamas simply to take upon itself the obligations assumed by the previous governments led by the Fateh/PLO, in the manner that all governments honor former obligations.

Moreover, to accept the Arab Peace Initiative, the Hamas would have to recognize the legitimacy of the PLO, since that document refers to the demands of the PLO. The Hamas is not yet a member of the PLO and insists that it wants to reform the PLO before becoming a member. The Hamas, absurdly, does not recognize the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, basically wiping out most of the formal achievements of former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat.

On the one hand therefore, the Hamas could accept the Arab League Peace initiative but it would be a meaningless acceptance. They could say "We would recognize Israel's right to exist on condition that they allow all the Palestinian refugees to return." This means "We recognize Israel's right to exist provided Israel commits suicide and ceases to be a Jewish state." Some Hamas spokesmen already hinted at this possibility. Add to this that the Arab peace initiative requires total Israeli withdrawal form all lands occupied in the 6-day war, including Jerusalem and the occupied Golan Heights taken from Syria. Therefore it is not surprising that Israel has ignored the Arab Peace Initiative, and that the US, which is not anxious to do any favors to the Assad regime, has not pressured Israel about the Arab Peace Initiative.

On the other hand, Hamas cannot accept the Arab peace initiative because of the reference to the PLO, and because it apparently has no intention of ever making peace with Israel anyhow. Thus, when Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa called on the Hamas to accept the Arab League peace initiative it was more a way of gaining some publicity for the Arab League than a way of solving the problem posed by the election of the Hamas to lead the Palestinians.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 1 Comment

Fair points, but don't the founding principles of the World Zionist Congress lay claim to the whole of Eretz Israel? That's never been repudiated either, has it?

It seems to me that the central issue is not whether Hamas "recognize" Israel, but whether they will continue to use violence to try and destroy it. The IRA does not "recognize" the partition of Ireland, but it has been possible for the British state to make peace with them nonetheless. Hamas has maintained a truce for about a year now and there seems no reason to believe this cannot be extended.

The whole idea of Hamas is anathema to me and to any secularist, and hopefully they will not be re-elected, but characterising their victory as an iron wall preventing any further progress towards a settlement is surely giving free rein to the warmongers on both sides of the fence.

Posted by Spike @ 05/12/2006 12:16 PM CST

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