If Israel withdraws from the territories it occupied in 1967, the movement will end armed resistance
A so-called expert was asked on the BBC’s Arabic service last week what he thought Hamas should do now it is likely to be the government in the Palestinian territories. Hamas would have to change, he said, because the Palestinian people would want a government that recognises Israel, is willing to resume peace negotiations and will be acceptable to the United States.
If this is truly what the Palestinian people want they might as well have settled for Fatah and not elected Hamas. They gave Hamas their trust precisely because it is not what the expert was suggesting: it does not recognise the state of Israel, is not willing to pursue a humiliating peace and is more interested in being accepted by the Palestinians than by the US or anyone else.
The fact that Hamas does not, and will not, recognise the legitimacy of the state of Israel does not mean that Hamas is not capable of negotiating a peace deal that would end the bloodshed. Hamas is prepared to negotiate a settlement based on the concept of a hudnah (truce). As far as Hamas is concerned - and that is the position of the majority of Palestinians inside as well as outside Palestine - Israel has been built on land stolen from the Palestinian people. The creation of the state was a solution to a European problem and the Palestinians are under no obligation to be the scapegoats for Europe’s failure to recognise the Jews as human beings entitled to inalienable rights. Hamas, like all Palestinians, refuses to be made to pay for the criminals who perpetrated the Holocaust. However, Israel is a reality and that is why Hamas is willing to deal with that reality in a manner that is compatible with its principles.
Contrary to the claims of alarmists who see the Hamas election victory as a threat to peace, new opportunities for making peace could now emerge. The peacemaking episodes of the past were based on assumptions absolutely unacceptable to the majority of Palestinians and those who support the justice of their cause. From Oslo to the road map it was always assumed that Israel was the victim that needed to live in peace and security and that the key to this was the end of Palestinian terrorism. The new peace process that Hamas may indeed be willing to be part of should be based on the fact that the Palestinians are the victims and have been victims since Israel was created on their soil. It is not Palestinian terrorism that is the problem, but Israeli aggression.
Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, who was cut to pieces when Israel shot him with an air-to-surface missile, spelled it out long ago. We shall never recognise the theft of our land, he said, but we are willing to negotiate a ceasefire whose duration can be as a long as a generation, and let future generations on both sides decide where to go then. His ceasefire conditions are fully compatible with international law. Israel would have to give back what it occupied in 1967 - then without any Jewish settlements - and release all Palestinian prisoners. For that Hamas would halt its armed struggle and instead pursue peaceful means.
The IRA, whose leaders negotiated a deal with the British government, continues to dream of uniting Northern Ireland with the Republic; it was never a condition for the peace talks that they should first abandon that dream.
Well, let the Palestinians dream of the end of Israel and let the Israelis dream of Eretz Yisrael from the Nile to the Euphrates, but let’s negotiate an end to the violence. Hamas alone is capable of that because Hamas will not give up the right of Palestinians to go back to the villages and towns from which the terrorists who stole their land drove them.
· Azzam Tamimi is director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought; his book on Hamas will be published this summer