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Reading Hamas

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The Forward’s interview with Mousa Abu Marzook, a top Hamas official, elicited a wide range of different reactions, all of them important to the discussion going forward.

In this week’s print edition, we presented responses from eight prominent observers of the Middle East peace process. We strove to spark dialogue and to get readers thinking about aspects of the interview that they may not have previously considered.

We purposely chose commentators with different backgrounds and political positions. Today, we are publishing responses by Laura Kam of The Israel Project; Israeli security analyst Yossi Alpher; Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now; and Princeton University Prof. Daoud Kuttab. Excerpts appear below. Click through for the full response. Watch the same space for more resonses tomorrow.

Unfortunate, but Illuminating
By Laura Kam

David Makovsky could not have been more understated in describing to the Forward Hamas’s somewhat bizarre charm offensive via Mousa Abu Marzook’s interview. “Unfortunately,” he said, “it’s a validation of those who believe Hamas has a far way to go before it becomes a legitimate Palestinian interlocutor.” It is indeed unfortunate, but hugely illuminating.

Despite the fact that Hamas is considered by the West to be a radical Islamic terror group, the international community and Israel have given it a very low threshold to cross in order to enter into a peace process. Consisting of three tests, Hamas simply needs to renounce violence, accept previous agreements between the Palestinians and Israel and recognize Israel.

‘There Is No Breakthrough Here’
By Yossi Alpher

The real significance of Mousa Abu Marzook’s Forward interview appears to be that the Hamas leadership wants to make sure that Israelis and the American pro-Israel community understand its positions and its terms. Under the influence of its mentor, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which is ascending to power in Cairo, it wants to be understood as a “player” in the political sense.

This is important because, in view of Hamas’s stable grip on Gaza, no significant progress toward a territorially comprehensive two-state solution appears possible without its participation.

A Balance of Interests
By Lara Friedman

The Forward’s interview with Mousa Abu Marzook highlights some fundamental truths about peacemaking: You make peace with your enemies, not your friends; you make peace not to be nice, but because it is in your self-interest; real peace must reflect a balance of interests, not an imbalance of power, and security arrangements, not trust, will be the foundation of any peace treaty.

It isn’t news that some Palestinians may never give up their dream of reclaiming all of “historic Palestine.” And this isn’t an argument against an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty.

The Interview in Context
By Daoud Kuttab

I have no idea if the Israelis are now talking to Hamas or any of Hamas’s emissaries, but there is no doubt that an undeclared détente is in place between the arch-enemies (Likud and Hamas).

Of course the Forward interview with the Hamas leader can’t be seen outside the context of the Arab Spring, which is likely to bring in more Islamists as leaders of Arab countries. This change is producing a much more moderate kind of Islamist who wants to gain the favor of the international community.

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