Two state shuffle

Following on the signing of a “unity” agreement between Fatah (which controls the West Bank) and Hamas (which controls Gaza), Hamas leader Khaled Meshal said in Cairo yesterday that his organization is now committed to seeking a two-state solution for (Israel and Palestine).  According to the New York Times, he said he was prepared to accept a common Palestinian platform that includes:

a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital, without any settlements or settlers, not an inch of land swaps and respecting the right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel itself.

At the same time, Ziad abu Zayyad, editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, was at the Middle East Institute in Washington at an event presided over by Ambassador Phil Wilcox, now president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.  Abu Zayyad claimed that Hamas has evolved away from its own political platform, as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) did.  Hamas today is acting as “frontier guards” for Israel, preventing more radical groups from launching rocket attacks and other unproductive forms of resistance.  Hamas accepts a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank with its capital in East Jerusalem.

Abu Zayyad was at pains to recall that the “unity” agreement was originally an Egyptian proposal accepted by Fatah in 2009, when Hamas rejected it. Saying that its earlier rejection was due to people influenced by Israel and the United States [sic], Hamas has now accepted it without changes (abu Zayyad did not mention annexes added by Hamas, according to the New York Times).  The agreement lacks programmatic details, in particular a clear agreement on security forces.  It is not clear what will happen on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza, but at least there will be a joint mechanism in which issues can be discussed and resolved.  Hamas has come around now because of the Arab spring, which has increased Egyptian pressure and made Hamas uncertain of continued Syrian support and anxious for international legitimacy.  The demonstrations in Gaza he thought of relatively minor importance.

The agreement is important, abu Zayyad thought, because it enables the Palestinians to offer a partner for peace, which Israel has complained is lacking.  Israel has exploited the period of Palestinian division to intensify settlement activity without facing serious international pushback.  It continues to focus on occupying more land, which is making a two-state solution more difficult.  Unity will be helpful in the Palestinian effort to gain UN membership in September.  If that effort fails, the Palestinians will be better off because neither Hamas nor Fatah will be able to blame the other.  Unity will help to make Israel pay a higher cost for continued occupation.

Asked if the U.S. should put forward a detailed proposal, abu Zayyad said the Palestinians no longer trust Washington, because of its veto of a recent UN Security Council resolution on settlements that was consistent with U.S. policy.

Let’s not get our hopes up:  Meshal’s version of the two-state solution is far from what Israel would want, both on land swaps and refugee returns, and even in abu Zayyad’s milder version there was no indication that Hamas would give up violence or opposition in principle to the Jewish state.  But something does seem to be shifting within Hamas.  Let’s hope Israel can also find ways to shift in the direction of a two state solution.

PS:  While I was at abu Zayyad’s talk, he did not address the statement of Gaza (Hamas) Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who said the operation to kill Osama bin Laden was “the continuation of the American oppression and shedding of blood of Muslims and Arabs.”  He did claim that Hamas is anxious to distinguish itself from the extreme religious “salafis,” which Haniyeh’s statement definitely did not do.  I understand that after I left abu Zayyad expressed his own amazement at Haniyeh’s statement.

PS:  Apologies for an earlier version of this post, which misspelled abu Zayyad’s name.

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