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December 3, 2004
Hamas Softens Its Stance On Israel

For the first time, Hamas announced that the radical terrorist group would work towards coexistence with Israel and support a Palestinian state in the West Bank, even as their leader called it a "stage", the AP reports from Ramallah:

In an apparent change in long-standing policy, a top Hamas leader said Friday the militant group would accept the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as a long-term truce with Israel. ...

"Hamas has announced that it accepts a Palestinian independent state within the 1967 borders with a long-term truce," Sheik Hassan Yousef, the top Hamas leader in the West Bank, told The Associated Press, referring to lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

Yousef said the Hamas position was new and called it a "stage." In the past, Hamas has said it would accept a state in the 1967 borders as a first step to taking over Israel. Yousef did not spell out the conditions for the renewable cease-fire nor did he say how long it would last.

"For us a truce means that two warring parties live side by side in peace and security for a certain period and this period is eligible for renewal," Yousef said. "That means Hamas accepts that the other party will live in security and peace."

This represents a stunning change of direction for Hamas, which swore to boycott the upcoming Palestinian elections as it considered the PA an Israeli construct and a PLO sellout. Of course, Hamas has been hammered by Israel over the past year or more, with their new policy of total war on Hamas leadership creating a revolving door at the top. With their top men getting killed, Israeli intelligence obviously getting excellent information on their security, and the flow of funds decreasing due to the American efforts to stem the flow of cash to terrorist organizations, Hamas needed to adapt in order to survive.

No doubt that this is an encouraging sign, as is Hamas' offer to explore a truce for the Palestinian election and beyond. However, two points should be kept in mind. First, Yousef's characterization of this new approach as a "stage" recalls Yasser Arafat's widely-recognized strategy of establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank only as a pretense for pushing Israel into the Mediterranean. The "stage" remark may have just been a sop to more radical Hamas factions, but Yousef has to take some concrete steps to assure Israel that his offer isn't another Arafatish Trojan horse.

Next, Hamas is not the only terrorist operation in the West Bank and Gaza. Islamic Jihad also operates rather freely, especially in Gaza, and the Hamas offer may just provide a front for it to join in negotiations while Islamic Jihad continues its terror operations against Israel. If so, any Israeli response to this provocation would allow Hamas to claim itself a wounded party and act in kind. This won't fool anyone except the Palestinians themselves, but that's the target marked for Hamas.

On another note, the AP reports that Egypt's Hosni Mubarak has also changed his tune regarding Israel's Ariel Sharon:

Hamas' statement came as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak described Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as the Palestinians' best chance for peace.

Mubarak's comments could mean warming relations between Israel and an important Mideast peace mediator at a crucial time. It was a marked departure from past comments from Mubarak and other Egyptian officials blaming Sharon for the escalation of violence in the territories.

"I think if they (Palestinians) can't achieve progress in the time of the current (Israeli) prime minister, it will be very difficult to make any progress in peace," Mubarak told reporters.

After more than twenty years of Arab vilification, Mubarak's endorsement of Sharon's government may be even more amazing than Hamas' reversal. Again, Sharon's unilateral proposal to withdraw from Gaza may be paying some diplomatic dividends, and no doubt Mubarak could have had an impact on Hamas' new direction; at the least, he could have threatened to cut off any support for their organization if they didn't start playing ball. Mubarak doesn't need to see any more Tabas in the short years he has left.

I also think that Mubarak realizes that, like Nixon going to Red China, only Sharon has the credibility on the Israeli right to deliver a peace plan. With Sharon's political troubles at home, he also sees that if Sharon is to have the opportunity to deliver, it has to be very soon.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! I share Glenn's view about the big "if". However, if peace ever does come, it will have to start with the big ifs. Verification and progressive ties are the keys to determining whether this is a genuine shift in policy or a momentary shift in tactics.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 3, 2004 7:09 AM

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» Cooking Up Peace from Audit Trails Of Self
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Tracked on December 3, 2004 12:46 PM

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