It is not the first time that Hamas has announced its desire to begin dialogue with the United States. The only thing that is new this time is its’ insistence. Hamas issued a statement confirming that it has sent a message to Barack Obama, via a US delegation that recently visited Gaza, inviting him to open direct dialogue with the group, and to remove what the group considers to be an American veto on Palestinian reconciliation. Hamas has been careful to stress that it is not opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state based upon the 1967 borders, a stance which mirrors that of its rival, the Palestinian Authority.
If this situation is genuine, then an intriguing question needs to be answered: what is the origin of the dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which necessitated not only a bloody coup, but led to a sharp split in the Palestinian movement between its two governments? The first [government], in Ramallah, is considered by the outside world to be legitimate, whilst the second [in Gaza] is considered illegitimate, but is well-established, has a large arsenal of weaponry, and is committed to the status quo in Gaza. This question is followed by another; regarding the content of the dialogue which Hamas wishes to initiate with Washington: Is this related to its participation in the direct negotiations and the Palestinian state project that is currently being discussed, along with all the details surrounding its establishment, both in a political and security sense? Or, will the dialogue be limited to an attempt to legitimize the status quo in Gaza, or in other words strengthen the Palestinian division?
This time round, it is most likely that Hamas is simply afraid of “missing the boat” after witnessing the determination to generate momentum in the US-sponsored direct negotiations between Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu, and it seems that in this attempt to establish peace in the Middle East, Washington is keen to avoid past mistakes, and has extended the peace process to include other parties, such as Syria and Lebanon. Damascus is expected to respond to this, following its experience with the Turkish sponsored indirect negotiations [with Israel]. If Damascus respond to this, it is likely that Lebanon will also enter negotiations.
The problem is not dialogue itself, but the conditions of the dialogue, and the willingness of Hamas to respond to these, for Hamas needs to change a lot of its previous attitudes before it can become a credible party. Hamas has opposed negotiations since the Oslo Accords as well as during the era of late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat; the group has worked vigorously to undermine the peace process, carrying out bombings and suicide attacks. This continued until the last episode in this well known series of events, ending with the current state of affairs. Even with the launch of the current round of direct negotiations in Washington, the Hamas military wing carried out two attacks in the West Bank. It is not known whether this was approved by the leadership of the movement, or if it was a ‘field initiative’, as one Hamas leader described it. In any case, this had no influence upon the negotiations, which in light of past experiences have almost become immune to such acts.
If what a number of Hamas commanders have stated is true and the group does not oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, then in principle, there is no problem. However nobody will take Hamas seriously if it only conveys this in statements to the media or press interviews. The Hamas leadership needs to make an official announcement in order to reveal the group’s official political position [on this issue].
What would you bet on the possibility of this happening? Indications are that there is no other option. In the event of the negotiations actually achieving something, Hamas will have to move in this direction if it wants to have a political future in the proposed Palestinian state. The restless inhabitants of Gaza are well aware of this fact, and they exchange jokes via text messages and the internet on the subject of how to rule the Gaza Strip. If this were to take place, reconciliation will be simple, as will Hamas participation in the negotiations; as the group would participate as part of a unified Palestinian government.