Hamas has not delivered

By Zvi Heifetz, the israeli ambassador in London (THE GUARDIAN, 20/02/07):

Yesterday's meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders and the US secretary of state was the first such summit for three and a half years. For that reason alone it is to be welcomed. But such initiatives are hostage to a critical question: just what policy direction will the newly formed Fatah-Hamas Palestinian government take?It is now just over a year since Hamas came to power, and one must wonder what they have achieved for the region, as well as for the Palestinian people. The Hamas government was required by the international community to recognise Israel's right to exist, and to enable the resumption of earnest peace negotiations. But they have not been able to even contemplate recognising Israel. Thus they have further increased the misery of their own people by perpetuating the pariah status of their government and by continuing to direct attacks against Israeli civilians. Worse still, they have brought the Palestinian people to the brink of civil war, and the past few months have seen more than 100 Palestinians lose their lives to the infighting.

Even as suicide bombings and missile attacks on Israeli towns continue, Hamas still receives a platform for its demagogic show, blaming everybody but themselves for Palestinian oppression and suffering.

A European diplomat last week asked me whether an article by Khalid Mish'al published on these pages could be interpreted as a sign of moderation on Hamas's behalf. I suppose that my colleague was encouraged by the Hamas leader's statement that called for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. I replied that I wished I could share his optimism, but the truth is that Mish'al's article was nothing more than an empty attempt to appeal to a western audience, in the hope of relieving some of the international pressure on Hamas.

To put things in perspective, only a few hours after the Palestinian Fatah and Hamas leaders signed a power-sharing deal in Mecca, this newspaper published a sceptical article in which a Hamas leader in Gaza was quoted as saying: "We will never recognise Israel. There is nothing called Israel, neither in reality nor in the imagination." Mish'al was quoted last year as saying of Israelis that: "God willing, before they die, they will experience humiliation and degradation every day." Is this the same Mish'al?

As he shed crocodile tears over the continuing internal strife in the Palestinian Authority and the lack of peace in the region, Mish'al failed to mention that from his Damascus headquarters he has ordered the launching of scores of attacks into Israel, including the abduction of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who has yet to be released. He has also inflamed Palestinian violence by creating separate Hamas security forces whose sole purpose is confronting Fatah supporters. Even in an article meant mainly for western eyes, Mish'al was still not able to bring himself explicitly to accept the existence of the state of Israel, let alone to mention the dismantling of terrorist infrastructure.

It is time to call Hamas's bluff. Its leaders are watching outside reaction in an effort to strike a balance between international demands and their rejectionist ideology. Now the resolve of the international community will be put on trial, and if its determination holds, there is a greater likelihood of compromise on Hamas's part.

Our vision is to see two states coexisting peacefully. For this Israel is willing to make painful concessions. In the past it was actions we wanted to see on the part of the Palestinians, not just words. Now we seem to have regressed to the point where we are asking for three simple words from the Palestinian government: "We recognise Israel."