February 7, 2009

THE DISCIPLINE OF DEMOCRACY:

Hamas is a Mideast reality: The group has evolved dramatically as a movement that can't be wished away by the U.S. and Israel. (Fawaz A. Gerges, January 31, 2009, LA Times)

In the last year, more and more Hamas moderates have called for tahdia (a minor truce) or hudna (a longer-term truce), which obviously implies some measure of recognition. Hamas moderates, in effect, are justifying their policy shift by using Islamic terms. In Islamic history, hudnas sometimes develop into permanent truces.

Considered a hard-liner, Khaled Meshaal, the top Hamas leader and head of its political bureau based in Syria, acknowledged as much. "We are realists," he said. And he acknowledged that there is "an entity called Israel."

Another senior Hamas leader, Ghazi Hamad, went even further than Meshaal, telling journalists last month that Hamas would be satisfied with ending Israeli control over the areas occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War -- the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. In other words, the organization would not hold out for the liberation of the land that currently includes Israel.

My conversations with Hamas' rank and file suggest that the militant organization has evolved considerably since the group unexpectedly won power in Gaza in free elections in 2006. Before that, Hamas was known for its suicide bombers, not its bureaucrats. But that had to change. "It is much more difficult to run a government than to oppose and resist Israeli occupation," a senior Hamas leader told me while on official business in Egypt in 2007. "If we do not provide the goods to our people, they'll disown us."

Despite its wooden and reactionary rhetoric, Hamas is a rational actor, a conclusion reached by former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy, who also served as Ariel Sharon's national security advisor and who is certainly not an Israeli peacenik. The Hamas leadership has undergone a transformation "right under our very noses" by recognizing that "its ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future," Halevy wrote recently in Yedioth Ahronoth. His verdict is that Hamas is now ready and willing to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state within the temporary borders of 1967.

Similarly, a U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute analysis published just weeks before the launch of the Israeli offensive concluded that Hamas was considering a shift of its position. "Israel's stance toward [Hamas] ... has been a major obstacle to substantive peacemaking," concluded the study.


Make them govern.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 7, 2009 8:51 AM
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