The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Land for no peace

February 3, 2006

Hamas offers Israel an olive branch shaped like a scimitar.

We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Zionist state that was established on our land,” Meshaal, the Damascus-based head of the political and military wings of the militant Islamic group, wrote in a column titled “To whom it may concern,” published in al-Hayat al-Jadida newspaper.

Hamas leaders have said they might heed a truce with Israel as an interim measure that could include the establishment of a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank, but would not abandon a long-term goal to destroy Israel.

“If you (Israel) are willing to accept the principle of a long-term truce then we will be ready to negotiate with you over the conditions of such a truce,” Meshaal wrote.

Hamas officials say Meshaal is the group’s supreme leader. There are other leaders who oversee political operations in Gaza and the West Bank but answer to Meshaal.

It remains possible that Meshaal’s proposed “deal” won’t represent the final disposition of a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government. Hamas officials in the West Bank and Gaza could, in the end, go there own way; unlike Meshaal, they’re answerable to public opinion within the PA’s territory and responsible for actually running a government. Meshaal’s stance might also be part of a larger strategy of maximizing Palestinian leverage at the negotiating table by playing hardball for the immediate future. Nevertheless, this isn’t a good sign for those of us who hope that “only Nixon could go to China” will be the operative analogy (rather than, say, only “Ayatollah Khomeini could attempt to export revolutionary Islam throughout the Persian Gulf”).

Hamas may, in fact, still be in a unique position to negotiate the kinds of concessions that Israel needs to allow a Palestinian state. One might even argue that if Hamas moves too quickly to alter its position–under international duress–then it might undermine its credibility with its constituents.

Or so we can hope. So far, Hamas shows every indication of being a total spoiler when it comes to any Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It may be able to “go to China,” but there’s little indication that it wants to.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.