Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hamas sticking to tough line on Israel

Analysis from Reuters, Tue Nov 28, 2006, by Nidal al-Mughrabi ...

GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal's latest remarks on conditions for peace in the Middle East did not signal any change in the Islamist group's fundamental refusal to accept the existence of the state of Israel, analysts said.

"Hamas believes the presence of Israel is something that is not permanent ... and it is possible that in the end, it can be contained within a Palestinian state," said Mustafa Assawaf, a Palestinian expert on Islamist groups.

At a Cairo news conference on Saturday, Meshaal challenged the United States and Europe to work in the next six months for Middle East peace based on a withdrawal by Israel to its pre-1967 borders, or face a third Palestinian uprising.....

...Hamas's charter goes further, calling for the creation of a single Islamic state on land that includes present-day Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Meshaal, though based in Damascus, calls the shots for the movement in the Palestinian territories, which means that he signed off on the Hamas-backed ceasefire that went into effect in the Gaza Strip on Sunday.
His call for a return to the frontiers held before the 1967 conflict raised questions over whether he was implying a willingness to accept a Jewish state within those boundaries.
Not so, said Israeli analyst Matti Steinberg.

Hamas maintains that Israel was created on Muslim territory, and its charter forbids it to make concessions over holy land which belongs to Islam, Steinberg said. "Meshaal wants only to reduce the siege. He is not saying peace with Israel, he is saying peace without Israel," he said.

Assawaf too sees Meshaal's offer as a tactical move rather than a permanent settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Meshaal was offering a long-term truce with Israel that could pave the way for several years of stability in the Middle East in return for a Western push toward creation of a Palestinian state, Assawaf said. "Meshaal wanted to say that accepting Hamas's offer would let the region live in transitional calm, but that this would not come about if the world rejected a Palestinian state in lands Israel occupied in 1967," he said. Looking further ahead, Assawaf predicted that Hamas would never recognize Israel "even if the temptation was world recognition and a (Palestinian) state".

....Emad Gad, senior researcher on Israel at the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, believes Hamas will tell its supporters a state limited to the West Bank and Gaza would be only a step toward liberating land inside Israel. "But I think if they accept this solution, it will be the permanent solution," Gad said. "I think they will have this article (calling for Israel's destruction) in their charter for 10 years -- but after that this article will be finished." Mohammed al-Sayed Said, deputy director of the same al-Ahram Center, also believes Hamas could recognize Israel, but only at a later stage and in the framework of peace negotiations. "If we read Palestinian interpretations right, it means Hamas is willing to concede on this issue of recognizing Israel but as part of negotiations so that they get something in return. In a way, it is a negotiating tactic," Said said.

But Hamas lawmaker Mushir al-Masri said: "The two-state solution is not on Hamas's agenda. We are speaking of constant rights for the Palestinians and of temporary solutions." "We will not recognize Israel even if we were offered the world in return," he added....

(Additional reporting by Talal Malik in Cairo)

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