For those optimists who continue to believe peace with the Palestinians is possible, the focus in the Middle East continues to be on Israel. The fact that even the supposedly hard-line government of Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to a two-state solution and proposed peace talks without preconditions is ignored. Instead, the world focuses on the wayward behavior of a single Israeli officer who assaulted protesters in the country to demand its destruction. That officer’s actions were wrong, but they were not, as the New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier incorrectly claimed, a reflection of Netanyahu’s “contempt” for world opinion. Rather, they were an individual’s response, albeit wrong-headed, to the contempt that those who hate Israel have for it. However, today brings a reminder that those who view Middle East peace as something that only is about Israeli decision-making are looking at the situation through the wrong end of the telescope.
The Forward’s Larry Cohler-Esses snagged an interview with Mussa Abu Marzook, the second-highest ranking official in Hamas, and what he found out was something that caused him, as the journalist later told Haaretz, to view the situation with less optimism. Though apologists for Hamas claim the group is moving toward peace with Israel, Abu Marzook made it plain that the best that could be hoped for is “hudna,” or truce, rather than a peace that would end the conflict. He also defended Hamas’s right to continue attacks on Jewish civilians.
Pressed by Cohler-Esses to define what even a hudna, rather than peace would mean, Abu Marzook said it would be similar to Israel’s relationship with Syria and Lebanon. Both countries remain in a state of war with Israel.
Some optimists will claim the mere fact that the interview took place at all and that a man like Abu Marzook is talking about a truce is positive and a sign the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement is moving the Palestinians toward peace. But it is far more likely that what this shows is how Hamas will use its new influence over the Palestinian Authority to render any hopes for peace ephemeral.
In particular, Abu Marzook took issue with the idea that Hamas is dropping its legacy of violence to take up Gandhi-like non-violence. The Hamas leader stands by his group’s charter that, as Cohler-Esses points out, contains blatantly anti-Semitic material including “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and passages of the Koran that call for the death of the Jews.
Whatever changes may be happening inside Hamas, as Abu Marzook jockeys with his rivals for the leadership of the group, it remains an Islamist terrorist group committed to Israel’s destruction. If the Fatah-Hamas agreement is finalized and men like Abu Marzook assume power in the West Bank while continuing their tyrannical rule over Gaza, it will mean the end of any hopes for a Western-style Palestinian government dedicated to cooperation with Israel and economic development. With the Muslim Brotherhood–the group that inspired the creation of Hamas–on the brink of assuming power in Egypt, the “new” Hamas may sound a bit more presentable to Western audiences but, as a close reading of Abu Marzook’s interview with the Forward shows, its substance is unchanged.