A demonstration in Ramallah, June 3rd, 2006
Xinhua Photo

A June 3rd poll conducted by Near East Consulting based in Ramallah,
Palestine shows that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians support the
Prisoner’s Agreement, an inter-factional agreement signed by one member
each of Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, and the DFLP inside
Israel’s Hadarim prison this past May. [1]
) The document implicitly
recognizes Israel by accepting, among other things, a Palestinian state in
the lands occupied by Israel in the June 1967 war.

News reports have paid a lot of attention to the Prisoner’s Agreement in
part because it accepts the Arab League initiative (Saudi Plan)
unanimously adopted by the Arab states in Beirut in 2002 at the height of
the Second Intifada. By calling for an independent Palestinian state on
the ’67 lines in return for peace with Israel, both the Saudi Plan and the
Prisoner’s Agreement echo the international consensus on Palestine since
the mid 1970s. Israel has completely ignored the Arab initiative despite
overwhelming support among the Palestinians.
But the Prisoner’s Agreement has also become the focal point of the most
recent crisis in internal Palestinian politics: Palestinian Authority
president and Fatah deputy leader Mahmoud Abbas has called for a national
referendum on the document should Hamas fail to adopt it as part of their
official program. So far, Hamas has refused and has labeled Abbas’ actions
Not surprisingly, there is more to the referendum story than ever makes it
into the press. In this case, the information omitted from the public
record makes it possible for the United States, Israel and their allies to
continue to justify the economic siege imposed on the Palestinian
territories, a siege that is causing Palestinian society to teeter on the
brink of ruin. In their rush to push forward a regional, pro-US and
anti-democratic agenda, those states allied against the Palestine national
movement (including Egypt and Jordan) have created the kind of
humanitarian crisis one would expect to find as the result of a natural

No attention has been paid to what the Hamas leadership is actually
saying, or to critical factors such as US efforts to build a 3,500 man
militia around the office of Abbas in an effort to encourage civil
infighting or Israel’s recent approval of a large shipment of arms and
ammunition from Egypt and Jordan for the equipping of the Presidential
Guard. Abbas, who is supported by the US, aims to increase the number of
armed soldiers around him to 10,000. He is also aiming, with US support,
to create a shadow government that will undermine the legitimate one now
controlled by Hamas. [2]
It should come as a surprise to no one that, in
the words of Mohammed Nazzal, a member of the Hamas government in exile,
"Hamas will not submit to blackmail" [3]. This is essentially the goal of
Abbas’ call for a referendum. There is no need to bring to a popular vote
support for the Prisoner’s Agreement. Overwhelming popular support for
this and other initiatives, including support for the two-state solution,
has long been documented.

Most of the rhetoric damns Hamas for refusing to follow Abbas’
instructions. Hamas remains the reason why states should support the
economic and political blockade on Palestine although this does little
more than fuel the "War on Terror" by adding another organization to the
blacklist of regional enemies. Labeling Hamas a "terrorist organization"
obscures the reality, however. Its political leadership and its
electoral/government program (i.e. not its Charter) have put forth both
reasonable and moderate demands. Acceptance of an independent Palestinian
state has long been part of its strategic agenda. Its reputation as a
"rejectionist" movement stems in part from its unwillingness to act alone,
without reciprocal moves by Israel, a state whose extremist policies over
the past 5 decades have transformed the physical landscape of Palestine so
dramatically that the prospects for a genuine peace settlement today are
bleaker than ever.

In his latest comments on Abbas’ decision to call the referendum, Israeli
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert summed up his government’s view of this effort
insofar as it could create a bridge toward peace talks with Israel. He
said, "The referendum is an internal game between one faction and the
other..It is meaningless in terms of the broad picture of chances towards
some kind of dialogue between us and the Palestinians. It’s meaningless
Whether the referendum ’succeeds’ or ’fails’ therefore, will be of no
consequence whatsoever in efforts to resume negotiations or as form of
leverage to end the deadly siege on the territories.

Hamas accepts a two-state solution

When asked by Newsweek-Washington
correspondent Lally Weymouth on February 26th,2006 what agreements
Hamas was prepared to honor, the new Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh
answered, "the ones that will guarantee the establishment of a Palestinian
State with Jerusalem as its capital with 1967 borders
". Weymouth went on,
"Will you recognize Israel?" to which Haniyeh responded, "If Israel
declares that it will give the Palestinian people a state and give them
back all their rights then we are ready to recognize them
". [5] This view
encapsulates the Hamas demand for reciprocity.
In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer four days after the PLC elections,
the new Hamas Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Zahar (considered the party’s
hard-liner) remarked, "We can accept to establish our independent state on
the area occupied [in] 1967
". Like Haniyeh and other Hamas members, Zahar
insists that once such a state is established a long-term truce "lasting
as long as 10, 20 or 100 years
" will ensue ending the state of armed
conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. [6]

Hamas government spokesman Ghazi Hamad commented to reporters on 10 May
2006, "Yes, we accept an independent state in the Palestinian territories
occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War. This attitude is not new
and it is declared in the government’s platform
". [7].
In an effort to clarify the Hamas position on Abbas’ call for a
referendum, Hamas parliamentary speaker Aziz Duweik explained that it had
nothing to do with a lack of support for the two-state settlement.
"Everybody in Hamas says ’Yes’ to the two-state solution," he said. "The
problem comes from the fact that the Israelis so far [have not said they]
accept the 1967 borders.between the two states
" [8].

Other leaders are just as explicit. "Hamas is clear in terms of the
historical solution and an interim solution. We are ready for both: the
borders of 1967, a state, elections, and agreement after 10-15 years of
building trust,
" commented Usama Hamdan, the Hamas Chief Representative in
Lebanon. [9]
Notable here is that his remarks were made in 2003 well
before the Hamas victory of January 2006. Indeed, it should be pointed out
that most of the on-the-record comments to this effect were made prior to
these elections.
Additional Hamas spokespersons who have made explicit reference to
acceptance of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 lands include
Sheikh Ahmad Haj Ali, a Muslim Brotherhood leader and Hamas legislative
candidate currently imprisoned in Israel (interviewed in July 2005);
Muhammad Ghazal, Hamas spokesperson also currently in an Israeli jail
(Sept. 2005); Hasan Yousef, West Bank political leader (August 2005); and
the Hamas Electoral Manifesto Article 5:1 which calls for "adherence to
the goal of defeating the [1967] occupation and establishing an
independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital
". [10].

In 1989, Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin (assassinated by
Israel in March 2004) stated, "I do not want to destroy Israel.. We want
to negotiate with Israel so the Palestinian people inside and outside
Palestine can live in Palestine. Then the problem will cease to exist
The hard-line Hamas leader, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, assassinated by
Israel in April 2004 commented in 2002 that, "[T]he Intifada is about
forcing Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 borders
". This "doesn’t mean the
Arab-Israeli conflict will be over, but rather that the armed resistance
to Israel would end
" [12] .

In a 2004 report published by the highly regarded International Crisis
, "During the 1987-1993 uprising, Hamas leaders proposed various
formulas for Israeli withdrawal to the June 4th, 1967 borders, to be
reciprocated with a decades’-long truce (hudna)
". That same report notes
that,"In a March 1988 meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres,
and then with Defense Minister Rabin in June 1989, Hamas leader (now FM)
Mahmud Zahar explicitly proposed an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967
boundaries, to be followed by a negotiated permanent settlement
". The
offer was refused [13] .

In a CounterPunch article posted on 24 February 2006, I wrote that
the Hamas leadership had "clearly and repeatedly" called for an
independent Palestinian state on the lands occupied by Israel in 1967
 [14]. I received numerous emails demanding "proof" of this assertion and
calling me a traitor, a liar, a Nazi, a terrorist sympathizer and an
The statements included in this piece should help put to rest
those accusations. Indeed, the statements made to this effect by Hamas
members here are but a small sampling of similar statements made over the
years that are part of the public (though unreported) record.
Surely, one can find many remarks by Hamas leaders over the years that are
much less conciliatory, indeed even inflammatory and often disturbing. It
would be misleading to suggest otherwise. Nonetheless the trend especially
in the past few years up to the present has been toward a more
conciliatory, indeed more realistic policy. As Crisis Group analyst Mouin
Rabbani has written,"On Hamas I would not hesitate to say that the
organization as a whole has essentially reconciled itself to a two-state
settlement as a strategic option but has not formally adopted this as an
organisational position. Yasin, Rantisi, Abu Shanab, Mashal, etc. have all
made such statements. Have they made others that contradict them? Of
course. But I think it can safely be concluded the strategic decisions
have been made, the tactics remain unresolved and the formalities will
come last

The question for us is whether or not we will give Hamas the
chance to translate their words into actions. Rabbani writes, "it would be
as na?ve to take the above statements on faith as it would be foolish not
to put them to the test
" [15]. _ As Menachem Klein points out in a recent
Haaretz article, "The political texts of Hamas indicate that at present
the organization is not
" [16]. It has moved away from the ideological demands of
its Charter into a pragmatism that seeks to respond to the demands of the
day without falling into the same traps that Fatah and the Fatah-led PA
fell into over the years. It has respected a one-sided truce for the past
16 months -though with the June 9th Israeli artillery attack on a north
Gaza beach in which 7 civilians died, six of them from the same family,
this truce may have come to an end. Hamas has also agreed to support
negotiations between Abbas and Israel.

Hamas’ rejection of Abbas’ call for a referendum on the Prisoner’s
Agreement has nothing to do with its willingness to accept an independent
Palestinian state on ’67 lands and everything to do with its opposition to
those in Fatah and in Israel, the US and EU who are doing everything in
their power to bring down the Hamas government- and in the most depraved
manner: by starving the population into submission and forcing on it the
illegal diktats of anti-democratic warlords within the occupied
Palestinian territories such as the US-backed Fatah militia leader and
former head of the Preventive Security Services, Mohammad Dahlan.
In a June 8th 2006 article in the Financial Times, Henry Siegman commented
on remarks made on Israeli television by Israeli security expert Ephraim
Halevy. He writes, "Why should Israel care whether Hamas grants it the
right to exist, Mr. Halevy asked. Israel exists and Hamas’s recognition or
non-recognition neither adds to nor detracts from that irrefutable fact.
But 40 years after the 1967 war, a Palestinian state does not exist. The
politically consequential question, therefore, is whether Israel
recognizes a Palestinian right to statehood, not the reverse
" [17].

Indeed, until Israel actively agrees to withdraw to the June 4th 1967
borders, Hamas should not fall into the trap that Fatah under Yassir
Arafat fell into- of conceding more and more for less and less until there
is nothing left. Right now the US-backed annexation/cantonization program
seems likely to bring the whole Palestinian tragedy to a hideous end. All
the maneuverings are a cover for that, the whole discussion about the
referendum included. Fatah should by now know better than to fall into the
hands of US and Israeli overlords in its quest for local dominance. The
fact that it does not should be reason enough for why it was voted out of
power last January. Hamas has good reasons to demand that Israel, with US
urging, show its good faith first. In the meantime Hamas’ continued
opposition to Abbas’ dubious call for a referendum on the Prisoner’s
Agreement is justified.

With the kind permission of Counterpunch.

[1www.neareastconsulting.com; Press Release: The Palestinian National
Dialogue and call for a Referendum Survey
#2, June 3rd, 2006.

[2See "PA Chief Abbas aims to expand presidential guard," by Ze’ev
Schiff, Haaretz, May 28th,2006. www.haaretz.com; See also "Talking to Hamas,"
by Alastair Crooke in Prospect, issue 123, June 2006.

[3Ibid, Ze’ev Schiff, Haaretz, May 28th, 2006

[4"Abbas sets Referendum for July 26; Hamas rejects Poll," Mijal Grinberg
and Assaf Uni, Haaretz, June 10th,2006. www.Haaretz.com

[5"We do not wish to throw them into the sea," Interview between Lally
Weymouth and Ismail Haniyeh in the Washington Post, Sunday 26th February

[6"Hamas leader sets condition for truce," on CNN World website,
January 29th, 2006. www.cnn.com/2006/World/meast/01/29/...

[7"Abbas delays referendum decision," BBC News, Tuesday June 6th, 2006.

[8"Hamas says ready to accept Palestinian statehood in 1967 border," in
China View, May 10th,2006;

[9"Enter Hamas: the challenges of political integration," International
Crisis Group
Report no. 49, Amman/Brussels; January 18th, 2006. First edition
(preliminary) report. www.crisisgroup.org

[10Ibid; The Hamas Electoral Manifesto also states,"Yes to a free,
independent and sovereign state on every portion of the West Bank, Gaza
Strip and Jerusalem without conceding any part of historic Palestine
This, of course, will raise red flags for some, which is why I include it
here. I do not want to be accused of leaving out important statements or
phrases. As with other statements, however, it must be measured against
current realities both military and political. www.crisisgroup.org

[11"Dealing with Hamas," International Crisis Group Report no. 21,
Amman/Brussels; January 26th, 2004. From an interview in An-Nahar
(Jerusalem), April 30th, 1989. Quoted in Ziad Abu Amr, Islamic
Fundamentalism. Op. cit. p.76

[12"Enter Hamas: the challenges of
political integration," [International Crisis Group] report no. 49, 18
January 2006. www.crisisgroup.org

[13"Dealing with Hamas," International Crisis Group report no. January 21st, 26
2004. Amman/Brussels. www.crisisgroup.org

[14"For Those Who Haven’t Noticed: Watching the Dissolution of
Palestine," February 24th, 2006; CounterPunch, edited by Alexander Cockburn
and Jeffrey St. Clair, www.counterpunch.org

[15Mouin Rabbani; personal correspondence. Also in "Enter Hamas" the ICG
preliminary report on Hamas from January 18th,2006.www.crisisgroup.org

[16"Hamas’ Contradictory Voices," by Menachem Klein, Haaretz, June 2nd, 2006

[17"The Issue is not Whether Hamas Recognizes Israel," by Henry Siegman,
Financial Times, June 8th, 2006