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Khalid Meshal’s Doublespeak

Imagine if Barack Obama had been able to control completely the public’s awareness of his relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In all likelihood, he would have emphasized this connection to a small segment of the African-American community, and otherwise denounced Wright forcefully when addressing the broader American public. Of course, this was hardly a realistic option: in the United States, such bold attempts at duplicitous crowd-pleasing are quickly exposed, and accusations of hypocrisy often become overwhelming. For Obama, an attempt to reconcile his connection to Wright with his campaign’s unifying claims thus became a necessity.

Yet the rules are substantially different in Palestinian politics, where audience-dependent double-speak—in which mutually exclusive positions are routinely aired to separate constituencies—is a long-cherished art form. Indeed, Yasser Arafat refined this strategy down to a science, saying entirely different things to his Arabic- and English-language audiences. For example, not long after vowing to pursue “coexistence” on the White House lawn during the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords, Arafat promised a Johannesburg mosque audience, “The jihad will continue!” Through this strategy, Arafat kept western diplomatic and financial support flowing, even while satisfying his Palestinian base and preparing for future war with Israel via the Second Intifada.

Naturally, the double-speak strategy that Arafat employed requires access to both Arabic- and English-speaking audiences, as well as proficiency in English. But for Hamas politburo chief Khalid Meshal, these qualifications are deeply problematic. After all, Meshal generally confines himself to his Damascus headquarters and, if his recent interview with Sky News (a must-watch) is any indicator, his command of English is quite rudimentary.

Well, Meshal has apparently located an alternate strategy for producing effective double-speak: issuing conciliatory statements towards Israel that are withheld from his Palestinian base through Hamas’ press censorship. Indeed, in an interview with the pro-Fatah al-Ayyam, Meshal declared Hamas’ support for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza—in theory, a major concession considering the Hamas Charter’s call for raising “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” Yet Hamas’ political base will never hear of Meshal’s statement, as Hamas has banned al-Ayyam in Gaza for the past fifty days. Even Gaza’s Internet users will be left in the dark: the online edition of al-Ayyam says nothing of Meshal’s openness to a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, and only carries his statements regarding Palestinian prisoners and failed ceasefire negotiations. As a result, Meshal’s supposed concession carries no political price, and therefore no political significance.

For the time being, there is good news: with the exception of the ever-optimistic Ha’aretz, Meshal’s statements have gone entirely unnoticed in the western press. Let’s hope that this is because the top media outlets have learned from previous experiences with Arafat, and not because they’re stuck in Gaza.



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