There are reports in various newspapers of signs of “winds of change” in Hamas in its attitude towards Israel. It all began in an Israeli prison where many Hamas and Fatah people are doing their prison sentences for various activities against Israel. One must not underestimate the influence that these prisoners have on the policy makers in Palestine. Somehow, their ideas come out from behind the prison walls to those who rule Palestine. Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas hold these prisoners in high esteem. They view them as martyrs who have made sacrifices for the Palestinian People by landing in prison.
These prisoners have come out with a proposal suggesting that Hamas recognize Israel’s right to exist and to start negotiating with her. This may seem an almost revolutionary change in attitude towards Israel. These proposals are very tentative at this stage and the Hamas leadership is prepared to study them seriously.
The reason for this possible “change of heart” is the crisis facing the Hamas dominated Palestinian Authority. The European Union and the U.S. have been boycotting negotiations with Hamas and cutting off aid to the Palestinians. Only a trickle of aid is getting through and this is earmarked for humanitarian purposes only. Palestinian workers have not received a salary for months and this will increase the discontent that will boomerang on Hamas eventually.
Time is not on the side of the Palestinians. Essential funds are not getting through at the rate required in order to subsidize the running of Palestinian services for residents. The economic situation in Palestine is desperate with poverty and suffering rising rapidly. The Palestinian infrastructure is destroyed and has to be rebuilt. The main victims of this hopeless situation are the children whose future is uncertain. There are even cases of small children infiltrating into Israel through the breaks in the security fence begging for money to buy food. If the economic situation deteriorates further, Hamas will loose the Palestinian support that they had gained in order to win the Palestinian elections on 25th January 2006. It is unlikely that a starving Palestinian nation will support the non-compromising Hamas attitude towards Israel forever.
Qassam rockets are still being fired into Israel from Gaza. Many suicide-bombing attempts have been stopped successfully by the Israel Security Forces.
Dr. Mahmoud Zahar, the Palestinian Foreign Minister, praised an interesting proposal by one of the senior prisoners, Sheik Abdel Halek Natshe of Hebron. He calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state on the lands Israel captured in the 1967 War: the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
“The Palestinian people, in the homeland and in the Diaspora, aspires to liberate its land and realize its self-determination, including the establishment of an independent state on all the land occupied in 1967, and to assure the right of return for refugees and the liberation of all prisoners and detainees," reads the first section of the document.
There is no doubt this does represent a possible shift in attitude by Hamas towards recognizing Israel. This proposal will be viewed with a large amount of ambivalence by the Hamas leadership and certainly by Israel. Israel will not have a problem with the establishment of a Palestinian state on land occupied in the 1967 Six Day War. It will be a matter of deciding the exact borders of this Palestinian state. There will be difficulties in establishing East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Then again, it depends on what the definition of East Jerusalem will be in a final settlement. The right of return of Palestinian refugees will never be acceptable by Israel. They have stated that on enumerable occasions. The liberation of prisoners and detainees will be less of a problem. Prisoners “with blood on their hands” will remain in Israeli prisons, but then who knows what decisions will be made in the future regarding their release.
The amazing point about the prisoner proposals is the recognition of Israel. This is in total contrast to the Hamas Manifesto, built on non-recognition of Israel’s right to exist and the establishment of an Islamic state in its place. An important point about this proposal is that Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas Prime Minister, has even made some positive comments concerning the document and said that it needs to be studied further. He did not reject it out of hand.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the document, calling it an "important plan" that constitutes a basis for future Palestinian policy. The accord calls on all the factions in the Palestinian parliament, starting with Hamas and Fatah, to establish a national unity government. However, the Hamas hardliner, Khaled Mashal, who resides in Damascus, Syria, has not shown any signs of changing his stance of non-recognition of Israel. He has called for the unification of Hamas and Fatah in order to destroy Israel. The possibility of a split between the hardliners in Hamas and the pragmatic Hamas members cannot be ruled out in the near future. It is still early days to judge whether this proposal will be widely accepted by Hamas. Nevertheless, it is significant that a moderate stand is coming out from the Hamas prisoners in Israel jails thatw given positive press coverage even from the Arab states. The stand is not moderate enough from Israel’s point of view, nevertheless there are aspects that are worth studying and perhaps it could be a basis for a change in attitude towards Israel by the Hamas leadership.
If Hamas lays down her arms, ceases supporting terror, recognizes Israel’s right to exist and decides to negotiate a peace agreement that is viable and fair to both sides, Israel will be more than forthcoming and progress could be made for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
A fresh start must be made in order to solve this conflict. We must be aware of the tragic history and antagonism between Israelis and Palestinians, but this should not be an obstacle to make a fresh start with new and imaginative ideas to end this tragic conflict. This prisoner proposal, while it still has a long way to go to be accepted, is nevertheless a tentative attempt for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.