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Can Hamas Cut a Deal for Peace?

June 17, 2003|Rashid Khalidi | Rashid Khalidi is director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Chicago.

Could a cease-fire with Hamas really lead to a halt of Middle East violence?

There are two views. One holds that because the Hamas charter commits the organization to the establishment of an Islamic state of Palestine in not only the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, but in all of Israel as well, no compromise can be reached with it, and the group must be fought relentlessly. To this group, Hamas' methods, including suicide attacks on Israeli civilians, only make it more unacceptable as a potential interlocutor.

But there is a second point of view. This view draws on repeated statements of Hamas leaders, including Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the group's spiritual leader, to conclude that Hamas would halt attacks on Israeli civilians if Israel halted its operations against Palestinian civilians and that it would even be willing to coexist with Israel if it were to withdraw entirely from the occupied territories.

The truth may lie somewhere in between.

Some leaders of Hamas are more uncompromising than others. Some argue that the most the Palestinians can accept is a hudna, a truce with Israel similar to the truce Muhammad agreed to -- and later annulled -- in AD 628. Others, like senior Hamas spokesman Ismail abu Shanab, are willing to accept a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, August 26, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 23 Editorial pages Desk 2 inches; 93 words Type of Material: Correction
Hamas-Israel negotiations: An Op-Ed article titled "Can Hamas Cut a Deal for Peace?," which was published on June 17, 2003, paraphrased and partially quoted former Israeli army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon as having "talked of rubbing in the fact that the Palestinians are 'a defeated people.' " The Times was recently made aware of questions regarding the source and accuracy of this material. The Times has been unable to verify that Yaalon expressed the thought or used the quoted words. The quote and the paraphrase should not have been used.

I believe a cease-fire may be possible and that a long-term arrangement could be made with Hamas. It is clear that there are many important leaders representing the different factions within Hamas who are publicly committed to stopping attacks on Israeli civilians if Israel stops the assassinations of their militants -- attacks that have killed nearly 2,000 Palestinian civilians. (The U.S. media regularly fail to mention that three times as many Palestinians as Israelis -- most on both sides civilians -- have been killed since September 2000, when the second intifada began.)

Further, if Hamas had a share in Palestinian governance, it would have a stake in keeping the peace.

And this much is clear: Israeli repression alone cannot force Hamas or other militant Palestinian factions to stop their attacks. On the contrary, that repression is probably a major factor in provoking many of these attacks. In fact, Israel's repeated assassination attempts -- including last week's attempt to kill Abdulaziz Rantisi -- have systematically undercut numerous attempts to bring about a cease-fire.

And violence by Hamas is only part of the problem. While the media have remained obsessively focused on Hamas, there has been little coverage of Israeli hard-liners like Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, the army's chief of staff who has publicly expressed his bitterness at the prospect of military operations in the occupied territories being halted if the "road map" for Middle East peace is implemented, and who has talked of rubbing in the fact that the Palestinians are "a defeated people." Officials like Yaalon are an obstacle to peace.

Today, majorities on both sides have realized that force cannot oblige the other side to surrender, whatever their own hard-liners may believe. Israel has shown its resilience in spite of suffering thousands of civilian casualties in attacks in the heart of its cities. And a recent Yediot Aharanot poll showed that a majority of Israelis want to stop the attacks on Palestinian militants.

The Palestinians have shown that they are not going to be brought to their knees despite enduring great suffering and deprivations during 36 years of occupation. But at the same time, there is a growing understanding among Palestinians that violence against Israeli civilians is counterproductive and wrong.

Neither the road map nor any other peace plan can work as long as there is no halt to the daily violence against Palestinian civilians and to the inexorable land seizures for settlement expansions, for "bypass roads" and for the security wall now inching through the West Bank.

If these processes can be reversed, and if there is a political future on the horizon for the majority of Palestinians, then there is a real possibility of halting the violence.

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