When Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal took the podium more than a week ago for Hamas's "victory" rally in the Gaza Strip, he discounted any murmurings of a more moderate "resistance" to Israel, instead staking out a place firmly in favor of the violent tactics that both target Israel's civilians and endanger his own. Moreover, Meshaal dashed hopes that Hamas could play a constructive role in the peace process by renewing an uncompromising, territorially maximalist stance. “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north," he said. "There will be no concession on any inch of the land." As if it needed to be specified, Meshaal declared that Hamas would never recognize Israel.
But the head of Hamas's rival faction, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, last week dismissed Meshaal's rhetoric as out of sync with reality: “I don’t agree with Khaled Meshaal’s statement on the non-recognition of Israel because we, in fact, recognized it in 1993,” Abbas said to reporters in Turkey. “A four-article agreement between [Fatah and Hamas] stipulates a two-state vision. And Mashaal approved of this agreement.” Abbas is, of course, also the head of the Palestinian Authority—the body that rules the West Bank and engages the international community—and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which Hamas hopes to join and which is only group recognized by the world as a representative of all Palestinians.
The repudiation of non-recognition should give Israel's right-wing government and its American allies pause in their current course to punish Abbas for his audacity in seeking a U.N. vote on upgrading Palestine's status. But it doesn't seem to have done so: instead of welcoming Abbas's remarks, the ruling LIkud party dismissed them as "a duplicitous game." Here's something else the Likud and its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, won't do: denounce its own one-staters. Of course, Hamas and Likud are not comparable, except for the fact that both, these days, take a territorially maximalist view, either Palestine from the river to the sea, or Israel, respectively. The recently elected Likud list features politicans from the party's right-wing who favor annexing much of the West Bank, thereby foreclosing the possibility a two-state solution and leaving millions of Palestinians there in abject statelessness under Israeli rule. The formula is unsustainable, and it would only be a matter of time before the Jewish state disappeared.
For all its foibles, the Palestinian Authority under Abbas—even as it went to the U.N.—has re-affirmed the principles of a two-state solution. Last Monday, Netanyahu demanded that Abbas denounce Meshaal's speech, and Abbas again said explicitly that he seeks two states. Even if his remarks didn't go far enough for the Likud, how can Netanyahu be so dismissive of Abbas, his only potential partner for peace? Maybe Netanyahu won't commend Abbas's remark because it would only highlight his failure to condemn the one-staters not in his rival faction, but in his own party.