Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Negotiating with Hamas? Try an Islamic Framework
Since Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal’s interview with the New York Times last month, some analysts have sugggested that Hamas is becoming more pragmatic.
The report – titled “Hamas: Ideological Rigidity and Political Flexibility” - explores the idea that Hamas might be influenced in negotiations by using an “Islamic point of view”.
The report suggests that “it is not inevitable that Hamas will accept coexistence” but that “acceptance [of Israel] is more likely if it is framed within its Islamic ideology.”
The report’s authors - Paul Scham and Osama Abu-Isrhad, Jewish and Muslim respectively – say they have different ideological backgrounds, but agree that negotiations are possible with Hamas if participants are willing to work around Hamas’ religious rhetoric, which will not change: “Although Hamas, as an Islamic organization, will not transgress shari‘a, which it understands as forbidding recognition [of Israel], it has formulated mechanisms that allow it to deal with the reality of Israel as a fait accompli. These mechanisms include the religious concepts of tahadiya [short-term calming period] and hudna [longer-term truce] and Hamas’s own concept of “Palestinian legitimacy.”
Scham and Abu-Irshaid are not the first to make arguments based on taking advantage of Hamas’ political pragmatism. In a recent article by Marc Lynch, whose blog appears on Foreign Policy online, Lynch encourages what he sees as steps by Obama to separate Hamas’ Islamist ideology and its use of violence. He states the need for understanding “important distinctions among Islamists and that the use of violence, not Islamist ideology per se, should be what matters.”
A report from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy disagrees with that approach. It argues that all extremist Islamist ideology should be considered a threat, even if it is nonviolent, because they can be “conveyor belts” which “lay the groundwork for the toxic message” of violent groups.
Scham and Abu-Irshaid’s research counters that position, citing examples such as this: “Although peaceful coexistence between Israel and Hamas is clearly not possible under the formulations that comprise Hamas’s 1988 charter, Hamas has, in practice, moved well beyond its charter. Indeed, Hamas has been carefully and consciously adjusting its political program for years and has sent repeated signals that it may be ready to begin a process of coexisting with Israel.”
What do you think? Check out some articles with Khaled Meshaal’s statements.
Haaretz: Hamas chief welcomes Obama approach to Mideast, but wants to see action
Also, see Lynch’s entry which links to the Al-Jazeera recording of Meshaal’s speech Friday (Note: this is in Arabic but he also links to some portions of the speech translated into English.)
Looking back: an old Reuters Q&A with Meshaal (2007).