It has become almost a habit: When some politicians in the region give interviews to the Western media they say things thinking that they would not be reported elsewhere, as if the Western media in question were on another planet, and that they would not be quoted by the news agencies and the information media of the region. Then, when the interviewees feel that what they have said is different from what they say to their own public – usually a fiery, ardent discourse – they resort to clarifications, corrections and denials. Most of the time, the denial is made in the local media, not in the one that carried their initial interview.
Hamas leader Khalid Mishal has not deviated from this rule. He gave an interview to the New York Times indicating positions that are different from those usually reflected by the public policies of the Hamas Movement. In fact, he accepted the two-state solution, and spoke about a truce and acceptance of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. He also affirmed that the movement is prepared to be part of the solution. These are positions that tally with those of the Palestinian Authority and with the demands made by the international community to Hamas, in order to involve it in the political process. Hence the question: What are differences about, and why this intra-Palestinian division, if these are the positions at issue? Twenty-four hours after the publication of the interview, a clarification came through the Internet websites of the movement saying that Mishal has not accepted the two-state solution. The clarification does not mention that the movement has stopped shelling Israel with missiles. Two days later, another clarification came at a press conference, to the effect that the movement has not accepted the two-state solution, but it does accept a fully sovereign Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. The result is that we are in the presence of statements that contradict one another. It is as if we are meant to be kept in the dark.
If we consider all that has been said, we find that the honest statements are those carried by the New York Times quoting the leader of the Hamas Movement, and that in his interview he essentially wanted to introduce himself to the new American Administration which is, at this moment, crystallizing its positions on the peace plan in the region. His aim is to ensure that Hamas will be part of the game, not outside the arena. However, the denial is unclear. In fact, accepting a state within the 1967 borders means accepting the two-state solution, and it implies acceptance of the other side [Israel], as well as peace arrangements, guarantees, etcetera. This is how the world functions. In the final analysis, the issue is not a dispute between militias and faction leaders, which is solved with ambiguous agreements that can be repudiated the next day.
Serious sides that want to be part of the[peace] process should be courageous and capable of taking positions, defending them, and clarifying them to their public – if these positions happen to be at odds with the current demagogic, political discourse -, so that the other sides may deal with them seriously.
In his interview, Khalid Mishal calls for the Hamas Charter to be overlooked, stressing that the movement learns from its experiences, and that it promises to be completely part of the settlement. This is nice talk which, to be realistic, needs coordination with the other Palestinian sides, such as Fatah and the other factions, to ensure that the Palestinian position is unified, not divided between competing factions which give the impression that what matters most to them is power instead of reaching a solution to the conflict.
If we take the clarifications that came after Mishal’s interview as meant for local consumption, then there is something new in the positions of Hamas, probably prompted by the feeling that, in the end, it risks finding itself left in the lurch because its allies, from Damascus, through Tehran, to Beirut are courting the new American Administration, and they want solutions to their problems. Hamas should declare its real position publicly and courageously because, in the end, the Palestine question is the core of the conflict, and those involved in it should strive to prevent it becoming just a trump card used by others.