Hamas softening throws twist in talks
Secretary of State Rice, in the Middle East ahead of next month's peace talks, says Hamas has no role.
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Harder-line players in Hamas have been critical of the conciliatory messages coming out of their prime minister's office, an indication that there may be a growing split in Hamas between ideologues and pragmatists. Others argue that Hamas is merely testing the waters, trying to see how its supporters will react.Skip to next paragraph
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"Hamas is ready to sit at the negotiating table if it is convinced that a political achievement can be made," Mr. Hamad said Tuesday. "But the general impression manifested by the current Israeli policy doesn't give any positive sign."
Those messages are not exactly enthusiastic. But they are some of the first indications from Hamas that suggest an openness to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and are being viewed by observers with a combination of interest and caution. Since 1993, when the news of the Oslo Accords broke, Hamas has consistently rejected the peace process as contrary to Islamic ideals and Palestinian national goals.
The tilt toward a more moderate stance has been palpable just in the past week, and has come from the highest offices of the Hamas government in Gaza, which has been completely cut off from support from the international community as well as from the Fatah-run Palestinian government in the West Bank. Last Wednesday, Haniyeh, whom Hamas still considers the prime minister, said that Hamas's control of Gaza was not a permanent phenomenon.
"Our administration in Gaza is temporary," Haniyeh said at the end of a prayer gathering in Gaza City. He also said that Hamas would soon hold reconciliation talks with Fatah, and suggested that this would bring Hamas's complete control of Gaza to an end.
Such talks, Hamas officials said, might start as soon as the end of this week in Cairo. But some in Hamas hold out little hope for them, largely because they believe that real reconciliation would have to bring Hamas back into a government with Fatah – and might spoil the peace party.
"Hamas does have some relations with other Arab countries, so it is rational for Haniyeh to declare such a stand. It's important for Hamas, and even for Fatah, to work together and to show that he won't control Gaza forever," says Atef Adwan, a Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and a politics scientist at Gazas's Islamic University.
"But I don't believe that this meeting between Fatah and Hamas will take place. Fatah will be under pressure not to have a meeting with Hamas, because it's against the Americans' wishes and the Israelis' wishes as well," he says.
Dr. Adwan says he doesn't see a significant shift of thought in Hamas, and suggested that Hamas's comments didn't represent the movement at large, but only Haniyeh.
"I don't things have changed as dramatically as [Hamas spokesman Hamad] put it to the media," Adwan says. "This point of view does not reflect the present situation of Hamas, and he did not have the green light to express this point of view."
Some Palestinians are skeptical of Hamas's overtures, and say that they don't expect Abbas to run to respond to them so quickly.
"We have conflicting signals from Hamas, actually," says Ali Jarbawi, a political scientist at Birzeit University, near Ramallah in the West Bank.
"Of course they want to be part and parcel of the process, and ruling Gaza is more difficult then they anticipated," Jarbawi says. "But I don't think [Abbas] will [meet with Hamas] before the conference next month. I think he wants to explore the possibility of reaching an agreement with Israel, and he doesn't want to take a chance of Israel pulling out by talking to Hamas right now."