Commentary Magazine


Wishful Thinking: Hamas’s “New Direction”

Yesterday, I wrote about the State Department’s wishful thinking on the Muslim Brotherhood. But the most widespread form of wishful thinking nowadays is undoubtedly the global enthusiasm for Hamas’s “new direction,” as evidenced by, for instance, this Haaretz editorial, enthusiastically reprinted the next day by the New York Times’ global edition, the International Herald Tribune.

Let’s for a moment ignore all the evidence to the contrary and assume Hamas really did agree to abandon terror for unarmed “popular struggle.” What would that mean for Israel? About 500 rockets a year fired at its civilian population. How do I know? Because Hamas, unwilling to risk another Israeli offensive, hasn’t personally fired rockets at Israel since the last offensive ended three years ago. Instead, it has allowed smaller groups to fire 1,571 rockets from Hamas-controlled Gaza while disclaiming responsibility – a tactic it would undoubtedly continue. In short, Hamas’s “new direction” wouldn’t reduce anti-Israel terror from Hamas-controlled territory one whit.

But to believe that Hamas has actually agreed to end “military resistance” and accept a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines as a “permanent solution,” as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas claimed last month, you’d have to commit the same fallacy I discussed yesterday: believing that what Arab leaders tell Westerners in English has more validity than what they tell their own people in Arabic. And Hamas leaders have been lining up to tell their own people they will never abandon terror or their goal of eradicating Israel. Following are just a few examples from the past month:

* Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told those at a ceremony marking the organization’s 24th anniversary that “armed struggle” is “the strategic choice for liberating the Palestinian land, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river … The Hamas movement will lead intifada after intifada until we liberate Palestine – all of Palestine.”

* Hamas “Foreign Minister” Osama Hamdan said Hamas’s recent agreement to join the PLO, Israel’s “partner” in the Oslo Accords, was aimed solely at getting the PLO to “reconsider its political program.” Hamas remains committed to “the liberation of our lands from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river,” Hamdan said, and “anyone who thinks Hamas has changed its positions and now accepts the PLO’s defeatist political program is living in an illusion.”

* Hamas official Khalil Abu Leila similarly said the group was joining the PLO solely to “bring the PLO back to its correct path and the goal for which it was established, namely the liberation of Palestine,” and persuade it to scrap Oslo.

* Senior Hamas official Sami Bardawil said that anyone who thinks Hamas will recognize Israel is “dreaming,” because “recognition of Israel is not only a red line but, from our standpoint, a religious-legal prohibition.”

* Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum denied a Haaretz report that Khaled Meshal, head of the organization’s political wing, had ordered a halt to anti-Israel attacks, saying the report merely reflected the Israeli government’s “state of despair.”

And a final point to consider: While Meshal, the man who signed the agreement with Abbas, was long considered Hamas’s top dog, Israeli intelligence now believes he has dropped to third or fourth place, below Gaza-based leaders like Haniyeh, Haaretz reported [Hebrew only]. Why? Because the Damascus-based Meshal’s power came from being the organization’s financier – the conduit for Iranian cash – and from his close ties with the Assad regime in Syria, where Hamas is headquartered. But now, the Assad regime is crumbling; Iran has slashed its funding over what it deems Hamas’s insufficient support for Assad; and Egypt is replacing Syria as Hamas’s patron. Hence, Meshal’s influence is waning.

But facts are often unpleasant things to contemplate. So wishful thinking springs eternal.