Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshal told the Wall Street Journal that he’s finally willing to accept a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We along with other Palestinian factions in consensus agreed upon accepting a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines,” he said. “This is our program. This is a position we stand by and respect.”
Meshal needs to do a lot more than make the right kind of noises to the Wall Street Journal before any of us begin to take what he said seriously.
Yasser Arafat was famous for saying one thing to Westerners in English and something else entirely to Palestinians in Arabic. He spoke so convincingly like a peacemaker to Israelis, Americans, and Europeans that he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. Yet while smiling for the cameras during sham negotiations with U.S. President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, his own newspapers and schools incited the Palestinian people to murder and war. Not until hundreds of Israeli civilians were killed by suicide bombers during the Second Intifada did most in Israel and the United States understand what Arafat was up to.
It won’t be so easy for Hamas to pull off a similar stunt, and not only because Americans and Israelis — especially Israelis — have heard this rhetoric before and are accordingly skeptical. We also have outfits like the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) providing us with translations of what is written and said every day in the Arabic media. If MEMRI were as well known among journalists and policymakers in the 1990s as it is now, the violent collapse of the Oslo peace process might have come as less of a shock — and might therefore have been less deadly.
Even if Meshal were serious, accepting a Palestinian state along 1967 borders is a start, but it’s only half of what’s necessary. Hamas must also accept an Israeli state on the other side of the Green Line. And Hamas must accept that the Israeli state have a Jewish majority. Israel will no more transform itself into an Arab country by allowing every Palestinian in the Diaspora to settle there than Hamas will allow all the Jews in the world to relocate to the West Bank and Gaza.
In any case, if you want to know what Middle Eastern political leaders really think, pay more attention to what they do than to what they say. Even what they say in Arabic means less than what they actually do. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, for instance, flattered the Iranian government with all sorts of friendly gestures and promises while sending Iraqi soldiers into battle alongside Americans to crush Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Sadr City and Basra. It’s theoretically possible (though highly improbable) that Hamas might at some point continue paying lip service to the cause of “resistance” when speaking to a regional audience while working to convince Palestinians that the perpetual war has been a disaster.
The rockets out of Gaza have stopped, at least for now. That’s something. It’s not as significant as Maliki’s fighting Iranian-backed militias alongside Americans, but it’s something.
Assuming Meshal doesn’t instantly and publicly reverse himself, what Hamas-run schools, newspapers, and television programs say should settle any lingering doubts. Will Palestinian children still be told they will one day “liberate” Tel Aviv, Haifa, and all Jerusalem? Or will the cause be properly narrowed to the West Bank and Gaza? If the Palestinian public — and especially Palestinian children — doesn’t get the message that Hamas is finally willing to accept a two-state solution, what Meshal just said to a Wall Street Journal reporter doesn’t mean anything.