|Hamas, recognized as a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States, appears to be undergoing a worrisome process of legitimization of late.|
Over the past few months, Ismail Haniyeh has been meeting and greeting the heads of numerous “moderate” Muslim states, including Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain, where he has been received with much pomp and ceremony. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, accompanied by Qatar’s crown prince, Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, was, meanwhile, hosted at the end of January by Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
All of these meetings, even if they have only symbolic meaning, mark a change in the way states in the region view Hamas. In the past, Sunni Arab rulers nominally aligned with the West shunned Hamas. Sunni Hamas was forced to form allegiances with Alawiteruled Syria and Shi’ite Iran.
However, with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Brotherhood-affiliated Ennahda party in Tunisia, Hamas – also a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot – has gradually undergone a process of reorientation, aligning itself and identifying with the popular uprisings in the region known as the Arab Spring.
Hamas’s latest bid for normalization was Monday’s Doha Declaration, a reconciliation agreement designed to end differences between it and Fatah. Signed under the auspices of Qatar, the declaration appoints Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as interim prime minister of a joint Hamas-Fatah unity government.
The main mission, the agreement stipulates, would be to prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections and rebuild the Gaza Strip. Incorporation of Hamas into the PLO, which consists of several groups, the largest of which is Fatah, will also be discussed. If all goes as planned, Hamas will become an integral part of the official Palestinian political leadership.
The only problem with all of this unity is that Hamas remains an anti-Semitic terrorist organization committed to the destruction of Israel. Hamas, which includes in its official charter The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, has not accepted the three minimal requirements for official recognition demanded of it by the Quartet on the Middle East, a mediating body made up of representatives of the US, the UN, Russia and the EU. These requirements are recognizing Israel’s right to exist, abandoning terrorism, and accepting previous Israeli- Palestinian agreements.
During his visits around the region, Haniyeh reiterated Hamas’s well-known position calling for the “liberation of Palestine from the Jordan [River] to the [Mediterranean] Sea” through jihad. He vowed never to recognize the “Israeli entity” and said he would leverage the Arab Spring to achieve this goal.
Under the circumstances, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s reaction to the Doha Declaration was eminently reasonable: “President Abbas, you can’t have it both ways. It’s either a pact with Hamas or peace with Israel. It’s one or the other. You can’t have them both.”
Unfortunately, the idea that it is impossible to reconcile a Fatah-Hamas unity deal with an Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative was not immediately clear to all.
A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton repeated the EU’s position that it considers Palestinian reconciliation an important step toward Mideast peace. Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Abbas that reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas should not be seen as contradictory or mutually exclusive with negotiations with Israel.
It is imperative that the international community stand by the Quartet’s three conditions for normalizing relations with Hamas. So long as Hamas continues to hold to its commitment to violent struggle, refuses to recognize Israel and rejects past peace agreements, it will be impossible to develop formal ties with Hamas – or with a Palestinian leadership willing to enter into a unity agreement with it.
Many in the international community might be under the false impression that recognizing a Palestinian government that includes the terrorist organization will enable the more moderate Fatah to effect change in Hamas. But we believe it is much more likely that Hamas, riding a wave of new-found popularity in the region, will gradually take over Fatah.