If you’ve been following the news in the American and international press, you’ve probably heard that the unity talks between Fatah and Hamas have reached a new and alarming phase. According to an Associated Press report that’s been widely reproduced, Hamas has agreed to join the Fatah-dominated umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization, the body that has been negotiating with Israel for the past 20 years, which “could have deep repercussions. Hamas has opposed the peace talks and rejects Israel’s right to exist. A strong Hamas voice in the group would further complicate the already troubled Mideast diplomatic process.” Not surprisingly, “Israeli officials reacted with alarm to the emerging agreement.”
But the Hebrew press is telling a different story. Both Haaretz and Ynet report—in their Hebrew versions only—that Hamas has agreed, as a condition of joining the PLO, to discontinue “armed struggle” against Israel and apparently has agreed to accept Palestinian statehood within the 1967 borders, alongside Israel.
The Ynet report quotes Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas directly, from an interview he gave to a Belgian television network a month ago, stating flatly that Hamas political secretary Khaled Meshaal had accepted both those conditions. The article appears in English translation on the Ynetnew.com website in a truncated version with the paragraph on Hamas peace concessions excised. Here’s what the original Hebrew version says:
Last Saturday Abu Mazen [Abbas] declared that the leadership of Fatah had reached an agreement with Hamas that the Palestinian resistance would be ‘popular’ and would be conducted in a peaceful manner. In an interview with the Euro News channel in Brussels, Abu Mazen described his meeting with Khaled Meshaal about a month ago. “We established the bases of the agreement, and Hamas agreed with us that the resistance would be popular and peaceful and not military resistance.” He continued: “The solution is the establishment of a state along the 1967 borders, and Hamas agreed to this, and also to the holding of elections on May 5, 2012.”
Haaretz’s Hebrew website carries a version of the AP story with additional material by the paper’s Arab affairs expert, Zvi Barel, explaining that Hamas will have to accept the PLO’s peace agreements with Israel if joins the organization. I can’t find the article on the Hebrew website at all. The second paragraph of the Hebrew Haaretz story reads as follows:
The PLO is not a political party but an umbrella body comprising most of the Palestinian political bodies. If Hamas joins the PLO, it will be required to accept the PLO’s commitments, including its commitments toward Israel. Nonetheless it must be made clear that in the elections to be held in the West Bank and Gaza Fatah and Hamas will run separately. At this stage in their meetings, the heads of the Palestinian organizations have focused on elections, although it is not clear whether Israel will permit them to set up polling places in East Jerusalem. The discussions are taking place in the shadow of Hamas’s intention to leave Syria. One of the options is to move the Hamas leadership to Jordan, and the sides are interested in reaching agreements that will pacify not only Fatah but also Jordan and the Americans.
The Jerusalem Post’s report on the Cairo unity talks alludes indirectly to the issue of continuing the peace process with Israel, stating that Abbas told Hamas and the other opposition groups (Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front and the Democratic Front were also represented) of his intention to continue peace talks with Israel while making no mention of their reactions.
Abbas told the leaders of the Palestinian factions that he was keen on resuming the peace process with Israel after Israel freezes construction in the settlements and accepts the pre-1967 lines as the basis for a two-state solution. He also said that he was determined to pursue his efforts to gain full Palestinian membership in the UN.
It’s not clear how the Cairo reports of Hamas’s new non-violence policy square with the blood-curdling December 14 speech in Gaza City by Hamas-Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh, vowing “never” to recognize Israel and calling for an army to “liberate Jerusalem.” CNN correspondent Kevin Flowers strongly implies that Haniyeh and Meshaal are working at cross-purposes and Haniyeh hasn’t accepted Meshaal’s strategic shift. On the other hand, the Egyptian daily Al-Masr Al-Youm quotes a top Haniyeh aide, Ahmed Youssef, saying the organization has no choice but to give up violence, given the changes sweeping the region.
Both Al-Masr Al-Youm and the London-based Jane’s, quoted in Canada’s National Post, claim Hamas is being forced toward moderation and non-violence by its growing alienation from Syria and Iran and increasing dependence on the newly-emerging, moderate Sunni Islamist bloc in Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia and elsewhere. Al-Masr Al-Youm notes the statement on Israeli radio by a leader of the Nour party, the radical Egyptian Islamist Salafi group, that his party is committed to the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David peace accords.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).