October 03, 2006

Would Hamas Negotiate?

If journalist Seth Ackerman is to be believed (here, here, and this comment here), the following things are all true:
* Hamas has recently become "open to changing its policy in favor of a long-term peaceful accommodation with Israel." The moderate wing of the party—led by Prime Minister Ismail Haniya—increasingly favors an armistice, followed by an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders, a Palestinian state, elections, and a truce lasting ten years or so, maybe longer.

* U.S. media outlets have, almost without exception, failed to report this shift. News accounts still describe Hamas as "committed to the destruction of Israel" and so forth. Granted, there are a lot of Palestinians for whom this description holds true, but it lacks, shall we say, nuance.

* Hamas recently entered discussions with Fatah over forming a unity government. The two groups agreed to use the 2002 Arab League plan, which calls for the recognition of Israel in exchange for withdrawal from the occupied territories—as the basis for their foreign policy.

* The United States told Mahmoud Abbas, no, this was unacceptable, that Hamas had to agree to recognize Israel immediately and commit to both the Oslo Accords and the Road Map, before the United States would deign to deal with the unity government. (In return for this large concession, Hamas would get no assurances that the Palestinians would receive a viable, contiguous state.) Rather than shrug off the Bush administration, Abbas agreed.

* Hamas, quite predictably, refused to go along. It's worth noting, as Ackerman does, that Fatah doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist either, and Likud doesn't recognize the right of a Palestinian state to exist. So without glossing over Hamas' many problems, the party's refusal isn't exactly unprecedented. Naturally, though, the American media portrayed Hamas as incorrigible through and through.

* So Haniya backed out of the talks and now Fatah and Hamas are clashing on the streets, and the situation continues to deteriorate.
None of that sounds all that outlandish to me, so I'll settle on this as the basic storyline. One might add that the military wing of Hamas—led by Khaled Meshal, who lives in Syria—has "repeatedly undermined the Haniya government's authority" in the past, as one Abbas advisor put it, and they may be hindering Hamas' ability to negotiate here. Not everyone's ready to play nice. But the United States also appears to be doing its best to scuttle diplomatic options (and our media intent on providing the most obtuse coverage possible). Go figure...
-- Brad Plumer 8:17 PM || ||