Saturday, May 06, 2017

Hamas Accepts 1967 Borders

Two new political developments in Gaza signal a possible breakthrough in the long-standing conflict between Palestinians and Israelis: the election of a new leader of Hamas’s political bureau who promises a “new Hamas” that is more “dynamic and open-minded;” and a policy document, two years in the making, that advocates a more moderate stance toward Israel.

 Ismail Haniya, the new political bureau chief who is described as open to compromise and willing to talk, has a long history in Palestinian politics. 

Born in Gaza in 1962 to parents who fled their homeland when Israel was created in 1948, Haniya was jailed multiple times in the late 1980's during the First Intifada, a largely nonviolent uprising, and later deported to Lebanon. 

Haniya rose to political prominence in 2006, when he led Hamas to a shock election victory over Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority. 

Haniya stepped down from the post of Prime Minister in 2014 after a reconciliation between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank.

Just days before Haniya’s election as political bureau leader this spring, Hamas unveiled an important new political document that accepts the formation of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital and the return of refugees to their former homeland. 

However, the position paper does not fully recognize Israel, nor does it give up its goal of liberating all of Palestine. Despite these confusing contradictions, the document does signal important changes, notably greater unity among Palestinians. 

According to Professor Mohammad Abu Saada of Gaza’s al-Azhar University, “Hamas is trying to walk a fine line between its hardliners and its own moderates. In one way, the moderates can say they accepted a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, but the hardliners can still say they are not recognizing Israel.”

The new document also attempts to calm the fears and distrust of Israelis, affirming that the Palestinian struggle is not with the Jewish people or the Jewish religion, but rather, it is against the “Zionist project” -- the Israeli state and its citizens who occupy Palestinian lands. 

So far, however, the Israeli political leadership is not willing to budge. Israel rejected the document even before it was made official, calling it an attempt by Hamas to trick the world into believing it was becoming a more moderate group.

In the U.S., where presidents have long desired to create a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Donald Trump is no exception. But his upcoming visit to Israel, theoretically about combating religious extremism and advancing peace, is likely to inflame tensions further, given his choice of the location of his major speech, the hilltop fortress of Masada, one of the ultimate symbols of Zionist nationalism. This is the spot where, in the first century, 960 Jewish rebels chose to commit suicide rather than die at the hands of Roman army.