Once again I find myself taking issue with a generally admirable op-ed column by the NY Times’ Roger Cohen. Lamenting the inability of many Israelis and other Jews to recognize the humanity of the Palestinians, Cohen mentions in passing that Hamas is “bent on the destruction of Israel.” That Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction is generally considered an obvious, uncontroversial fact in the US. But it is almost surely wrong.
I generally try to avoid repeating myself in this blog, but repetition is a useful communications tool. Repetition is in fact a basic principle of effective propaganda, and the mantra that Hamas is determined to destroy Israel has been repeated endlessly and to great effect in discussions of the Israel/Palestine conflict. It serves as a very plausible pretext for Israeli refusal to negotiate seriously with the other side. By buying into that propagandistic mantra, Cohen helps legitimate it.
So, I’m going to repeat a point I made in my post of August 6. I observed that rather than being obviously committed to the destruction of Israel, Hamas has on multiple occasions offered to negotiate a very long-term truce with Israel in the context of what would amount to a two-state settlement of the Israel/Palestine dispute. Actually, I learned later from the estimable Jerome Slater that I had understated, by dating this stance by Hamas only back to 2004. Slater tells us that
According to ex-Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy, in 1997 King Hussein of Jordan conveyed to Israel an offer from Khalid Meshal, then the chief Hamas leader, to reach an understanding on a ceasefire to last 30 years. Israel not only ignored the offer, a few days later Israeli operatives tried to assassinate Meshal in Jordan.
Certainly, Hamas is not a warm and cuddly organization. Hamas would undoubtedly love to see Israel magically disappear, but it knows that is not going to happen. It has repeatedly expressed a willingness to accommodate to that harsh reality. (See Slater’s post for an excellent documentation of Hamas’s evolution towards pragmatism.) That willingness should be tested in negotiations. But the simple fact is that the dominant Israeli political alignment has no interest in a real two-state solution in Palestine. Hamas’s buy-in would be essential to any such solution, so demonizing Hamas is a convenient excuse for the status quo.
So, as I said, I don’t like to repeat myself, but I feel compelled to when I see an important but mistaken proposition casually repeated by people who should know better.