Now we have it: a unity government signed and sworn, combining Palestinian factions for the first time since 2007, and Israel is raising the alarm. The problem is that the new entity includes members of Hamas, a “terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel,” in the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Hamas, the political party ruling the Gaza strip, has become a toxic name in The New York Times. “Abbas Seeks a New Government That Would Seal Alliance With Hamas,” states the headline in a recent story filled with alarms about the threat to Israeli-Palestinian relations (as if these are something worth preserving), the peace process (already dead), and to Israel itself.
Little space is given to the reasons the new government causes such hysteria in Israel, other than saying some countries list it as a terrorist organization. It is enough to throw out the name of Hamas and leave it at that. The Times explains a bit more in a later story, “Israel Warns Against Embracing Newly Reconciled Palestinian Government.” The problem, it says, is that Hamas has refused to renounce violence and recognize Israel, although the unity government has agreed to those terms.
How about Hamas itself? What does it have to say about these charges? We can start in 2006, when Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections. At that time the Times ran an op-ed piece by Ahmed Yousef, a senior adviser to Gaza Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, in which he offered a 10-year ceasefire (hudna in Arabic):
“We Palestinians are prepared to enter into a hudna to bring about an immediate end to the occupation and to initiate a period of peaceful coexistence during which both sides would refrain from any form of military aggression or provocation. During this period of calm and negotiation we can address the important issues like the right of return and the release of prisoners.”
Also at that time Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal told the BBC: “We now say that if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders there could be peace and security in the region and agreements between the sides.”
Hamas had signaled its flexibility and willingness to talk, but in response to the Hamas election victory, the United States and Europe suspended aid to the Palestinian Authority and Israel arrested members of the newly elected government and began to implement its blockade of Gaza.
Jump forward more than six years and we have Hamas reaching out to talk peace again, even after the attacks on Gaza in 2008-2009 and 2012. Shortly after the ceasefire in November 2012, Meshaal told Christiane Amanpour of CNN that Hamas was willing to recognize the 1967 borders. “Resistance does not target the civilians,” he said, and later added, “I accept a Palestinian state according to 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital, with the right to return.”
In 2013, after he was re-elected to a four-year term as head of Hamas, Meshaal gave an interview to Foreign Policy and signaled a willingness to give up armed resistance. Although international law allows for such resistance to occupation, he said, Hamas does not consider it a goal in itself; it is a means to an end. “Popular resistance is another option,” Meshaal said, “as is diplomacy, work in the media arena, and to try to make the occupation pay the price of its crimes in the legal arena.”
Meshaal has refused to state the formulaic words that would say clearly that Hamas recognizes the right of Israel to exist, but he said this in an interview with Reuters: “There will remain a state called Israel, this is an issue of fact, but the Palestinians should not be required to recognize Israel. Not all international relations are based on the basis of recognition.”
The 2006 op-ed in the pages of the Times was a one-time aberration, it seems. Today we learn about Hamas through the words of Netanyahu, who said that the new Palestinian alliance would strengthen terrorism, and through references to the Hamas listing as a terrorist organization.
Nothing is said of the fact that Hamas has applied to Europe for delisting after abandoning its notorious tactic of suicide bombing in 2004. Likewise, there is no mention of just how meaningless a terrorist listing can be. For instance, the United States placed the African National Congress of South Africa on its terrorist list and only removed it in 2008, well after Nelson Mandela had become an international icon.
Times readers are unlikely to read that Hamas was democratically elected by a majority of Palestinians in 2006. Nor are they told of its overtures towards peace and its willingness to recognize the reality of Israel’s existence. They also don’t hear of the fact that in 2008 Hamas stuck strictly to a ceasefire over several months before Israel invaded Gaza and killed a resident. This set off retaliatory rocket fire and gave Israel its justification for Operation Cast Lead.
Would Hamas stick to its hudna if such a thing were ever accomplished? A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology looked at the data about ceasefires and found this: “A systematic pattern does exist: it is overwhelmingly Israel, not Palestine, that kills first following a lull. Indeed, it is virtually always Israel that kills first after a lull lasting more than a week.”
Times readers most likely have never heard of this research, as they don’t hear of Hamas offers of peace nor of its willingness to accept Israel alongside a Palestine with the 1967 borders. Israel prefers to paint Hamas as the fanatic aggressor, and thus a compliant Times follows suit.