From the Editor

04.30.12

Replying to Jeff Goldberg on Hamas

Jeff Goldberg thinks I’m naïve about Hamas because, he claims, I’ve argued “that Israel and the ‘American Jewish establishment’ are willfully ignoring Hamas’ turn to moderation.

Well, yes, Hamas leaders have made more moderate noises in recent years, noises almost entirely ignored by American Jewish leaders who act as if the vile Hamas charter is the only statement the organization has ever produced. In The Crisis of Zionism, I note that in 2007, external Hamas leader Khaled Meshal told Reuters that “I speak of a Palestinian and Arab demand for a state on 1967 borders. It is true that in reality there will be an entity or a state called Israel on the rest of Palestinian land.” In 2010, he told Charlie Rose that “If Israel would go to the 1967 borders ... that will be the end of the Palestinian resistance.”

That same year, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, said in a press conference, “We accept a Palestinian state on the borders of 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital, the release of Palestinian prisoners, and the resolution of the issue of refugees.” Haniya went on to explain that while Hamas as a party did not support Israel’s right to exist, “Hamas will respect the results [of a referendum among Palestinians] regardless of whether it differs with its ideology and principles.” In a speech after Hamas’ 2006 election, Haniya praised the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which offered Israel recognition if it returned to the 1967 lines and accepted a “just” and “agreed upon” solution for the Palestinian refugees. Statements like these—and Hamas’ recent refusal to join in rocket fire against Israel—have reportedly angered the ultra-militants of Islamic Jihad, who according to Haaretz, “have repeatedly hinted that Hamas has abandoned the ‘resistance’ against Israel.”

Then, last week, another top Hamas leader, Mousa Abu Marzook, did an interview with the Jewish newspaper The Forward in which he declared, “We don’t have originally something against the Jew as a religion or against the Jew as a human being. The problem is that the Israelis kicked out my family.” He also said, “We have many, many policies that are not going with the [Hamas] Charter.”

Is Jeff seriously suggesting that these comments are no different from the 1988 Charter, which declares, “[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion” and which calls upon Muslims to “fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!’”

The question is not whether there has been a shift in Hamas’ rhetoric (and remember, two of the three Quartet conditions—that Hamas recognize Israel and recognize past peace agreements—are about just that, rhetoric), but whether it has been substantive enough to make Hamas a credible peace partner. Here’s what I say in my book: “Should these newer documents and statements be accepted at face value? Of course not, especially since Hamas continues to make statements hostile to Israel’s existence.” Later I write, “Israelis can be forgiven for viewing these [newer Hamas] statements through jaundiced eyes. When Hamas leaders talked about a referendum on a two-state solution, they envisioned allowing Palestinians in refugee camps to participate, a population presumably wedded to the right of return. What’s more, it was not always clear if Hamas leaders even believed that a two-state solution would end the conflict, or merely produce a decades-long cease-fire. And, of course, the loathsome Hamas charter still stood.”

My book, in fact, largely anticipates what Marzook told the Forward, which was that if Israel returns to the 1967 lines, Hamas will support a cease-fire or hudna with the Jewish state, but not peace. “It’s very difficult to say after 10 years what will be on both sides,” declared Marzook. “Maybe my answer right now [about recognizing Israel] is completely different to my answer after 10 years.” That’s what I meant when I defended the tendency of Israelis to see Hamas’ statements through “jaundiced eyes.” By telling Israelis they must return to the 1967 lines in return for a gussied-up cease-fire, Marzook is ratifying a deep Israeli fear: That Palestinians will use their state as a launching pad for a longer-term effort to seize all of what he calls “Palestinian land.” I support a Palestinian state, and an end to the settlement growth that imperils it, but I believe that Israel is absolutely correct to demand that the leaders of such a state recognize Israel’s right to exist and pledge to live alongside it, not in a hudna, but in peace, with no outstanding claims. Because Marzook’s statement fell well short of that, I tweeted in response: “Note to Hamas: hudna is not peace and you’ll nowhere till you ditch former and begin talking latter.”

So am I naïve? Not at all. I’ve simply acknowledged both the rhetorical distance Hamas has travelled and the distance it must still travel. (There’s a whole other discussion, which I’ll leave for another post, about the best way to pressure Hamas in that direction). Jeff, by contrast, attacks me in two blog posts without showing any awareness of the evidence I present. Instead, he declares breezily that, “Hamas might one day change. It will cease to be Hamas when it does, but it may keep the name and change the theology. But right now it is an anti-Semitic extremist organization that has the blood of hundreds of Jewish children on its hands.”

Does he think I don’t know that? The organization murdered a friend of mine. But it’s precisely because the lives of Israelis—and Palestinians—are at stake that we should look carefully at the record of how Hamas’s position has evolved, and how far it still has to go. Jeff should try it sometime.