July 31, 2009

Hamas Wants to Talk Peace

Israel--Not So Much.

Some encouraging news from the Wall Street Journal today:

The chief of Palestinian militant group Hamas said his organization is prepared to cooperate with the U.S. in promoting a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict if the White House can secure an Israeli settlement freeze and a lifting of the economic and military blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Khaled Meshaal, 53 years old, said in a 90-minute interview at Hamas's Syrian headquarters that his political party and military wing would commit to an immediate reciprocal cease-fire with Israel, as well as a prisoner swap that would return Hamas fighters for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

He also said his organization would accept and respect a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders as part of a broader peace agreement with Israel—provided Israeli negotiators accept the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees and the establishment of a capital for the Palestinian state in East Jerusalem.

Well, I thought it was encouraging news. Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu sees things differently. Declareth a spokesman for the PM:

Anyone who has been following Khaled Meshaal's comments over the last few months sees clearly that despite some attempts to play with language in a cosmetic way to give the impression of possible policy moderation, he remains rooted in an extremist theology which fundamentally opposes peace and reconciliation.

WTF? Seriously. Meshaal says Hamas will enforce an immediate ceasefire, return a kidnapped Israeli soldier, and accept a peace agreement with Israel based on 1967 borders. And in return all he asks is that Israel enforce a ceasefire of its own, return kidnapped Palestinian soldiers, end the blockade, and take three steps (end the occupation, stop building settlements, allow the refugees to return) that are all required by international law.

Now I’m not a fan of Hamas, just as I’m not a fan of any political party, but Meshaal’s offer is reasonable and just. And Israel should have at least tested his sincerity. “You want peace?” Netanyahu could have said. “Okay, we’ll comply with your demands, but you sure as hell better comply with ours—or the deal’s off.” But instead he more or less gave Meshall the bird and in so doing allowed the world to see what he really thinks about human rights and international law.

Washington’s response was no better:

A senior White House official said Mr. Obama's administration wouldn't respond to Mr. Meshaal's comments. Mr. Obama has said the U.S. would only hold direct talks with Hamas if it formally renounces terrorism and violence and recognizes the state of Israel. U.S. officials say that to engage directly with Mr. Meshaal would undermine the Palestinian Authority.

So Obama will only talk to Meshaal if Hamas renounces terrorism and violence. But isn’t that exactly what Hamas is willing to do? Its only caveat is that Israel does the same. Ceasefire for ceasefire. You stop dropping bombs on our cities and we’ll stop firing rockets into yours.

And all this rhetoric about Hamas “recognizing” Israel is pure nonsense. As long as Hamas keeps the peace with Israel, why does it matter whether or not they recognize Israel’s “right to exist?” As a voluntarist, I don’t recognize any state’s right to exist—yet that doesn’t make me a terrorist, that doesn’t make me a threat to anyone.

And, oh by the way, Israel’s Likud party—the party which Bibi Netanyahu leads—does not recognize the right of Palestine to exist. As the Likud platform states: “The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.” Yet the Obama administration hasn’t refused to talk to Netanyahu until the Likud platform is changed.

And who’s to say that Hamas wouldn’t recognize Israel? Yes, I’m aware of all the fiery rhetoric some of its leaders have made. But other Hamas leaders have been far more conciliatory. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, for instance, has stated: “If Israel declares that it will give the Palestinian people a state and give them back all their rights, then we are ready to recognize them.” Yet Israel rejected Haniyeh’s overture, just as it rejected the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, in which the Arab League offered to sign a peace agreement with Israel and recognize its right to exist in exchange for a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders and a just resolution to the refugee crisis.

What can I say, folks? It’s a sad sad sad sad world.

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