Tue Nov 28, 2006 10:57 AM ET
By Nidal al-Mughrabi - Analysis
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
"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
Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war, and
Palestinians want to create their own state in the two territories.
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
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,
"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)
When Hamas came to power in March after defeating moderate President Mahmoud
Abbas's Fatah in an election in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Western nations
cut off direct financial aid to the Palestinian Authority and Israel withheld
The Palestinians, suffering deepening economic hardship as a result, were told
the sanctions would be lifted only after Hamas recognized Israel, renounced
violence and accepted existing interim peace accords.
Hamas has refused, and though one of its top leaders, Prime Minister Ismail
Haniyeh, has said the group would make do with a Palestinian state on the
lands occupied in 1967, he has never given any indication that it would accept
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
"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
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
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
"We will not recognize Israel even if we were offered the world in return," he
Israel sees Hamas as a terrorist organization, and the United States and the
European Union have followed Israel's lead, complicating their negotiations
with a group that came to power through democratic elections.
(Additional reporting by Talal Malik in Cairo)
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