The Hamas honeytrap

By Zvi Heifetz, the Israel’s ambassador in London (THE GUARDIAN, 05/04/06):

Just a day after a terrorist atrocity in which four Israeli civilians were killed, an article appeared on these pages by the new Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh. It was perfectly tailored for a liberal western readership, presenting his movement, Hamas, as advocates for peace. One should judge Hamas, however, by more than articles intended for western eyes.

Hamas’s own charter declares that “liberation of Palestine is an individual duty for every Muslim wherever he may be … Israel will … continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it”, while more recently Khaled Mashaal, Hamas’s most senior leader, speaking in Syria after the Palestinian elections, had this promise for Israelis: “God willing, before they die, they will experience humiliation and degradation every day.”

Which then portrays the more honest reflection of Hamas – a sugar-coated article in English, or a speech in Arabic in a Damascus mosque?

Perhaps, though, Haniyeh’s more moderate message signals a genuine change in the Hamas position? If so, someone forgot to tell his foreign minister, Mahmoud al-Zahar, who remarked in an interview three days after Haniyeh’s article: “I hope that our dream of having an independent state on the entire territory of historical Palestine will be realised one day, and I am sure that there is no room for the state of Israel on this land.”

Hamas believes the land of “Palestine” is an Islamic waqf – territory once ruled by Muslims that must never be relinquished. This position leaves no room for compromise, and the sad truth is that even the “pragmatic” Hamas leaders’ statements offer little hope of a peaceful solution to the conflict. The “moderate” Hamas rhetoric differs from the more extreme kind only in the method by which Israel is to be removed from the map. Haniyeh listed Hamas’s non-negotiable demands: chief among these was an unconditional “right of return” of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants – not to a new state of Palestine, but to Israel itself. This is no blueprint for a two-state solution; these are the weasel words of someone who wants one Islamic state of Palestine from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea. He did not say this openly, but the “just peace” he offers will mean the destruction of the Jewish state.

Haniyeh also called on the world powers to put pressure on Israel. But no such pressure is required. Last summer Israel voluntarily withdrew from the Gaza Strip and from four more settlements in the West Bank – a move that was applauded by countries around the world. Furthermore, last week Ehud Olmert clearly stated Israel’s intentions for further territorial concessions: “We will try to achieve this [setting Israel’s final borders] in an agreement with the Palestinians. This is our hope and prayer … We are ready to compromise, to give up parts of the beloved land of Israel … in order to create the conditions that will enable you [the Palestinians] to fulfil your dream and live alongside us.”

This spirit of compromise and willingness to make concessions is consistent with the desires of the international community, but such sentiments were entirely missing from Haniyeh’s remarks.

With his demands, he is turning back the clock decades, to the days before Israelis and Palestinians accepted the principle of a two-state solution realised through negotiation. This principle has been carried forward in the road map, sponsored by the Quartet and originally accepted by both Israel and the Palestinians. Hamas rejects negotiation, concessions, unilateral withdrawals and recognition of Israel. It seems the Palestinians are sticking to their tried and tested “policy” of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.