A superficial stunt, and a historic opening

Instead of simply calling for the establishment of a Palestinian State from the river to the sea, Hamas now calls for the establishment of a state along the ‘67 lines as an intermediate step.

Stating the strategy through which they intend to take over my country does not make my relationship with Hamas more neighborly then when they simply declared their end goal and left it at that. But they did not revise their charter because they felt like displaying their playbook, and neighborly relations was not the intention.

The new charter is a public relations tactic intended to advance international acceptance of Hamas through cosmetic changes in propaganda. Analysts who stop there, though, including many senior politicians in both Israel and the US, are making a dangerous oversight of their own.

While advocating against acceptance of Hamas at this time, there remains space between accepting Hamas, and total disregard, in our own minds, for the historicity of what just happened. The four-year effort that it took Hamas to draft a document that its various policy makers could unite behind illustrates the fact that accepting a state based on the ’67 lines, even as a temporary strategic maneuver, something that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad continues to explicitly reject, was completely unimaginable to Hamas just a few years ago.

Changes and developments, both in the wider Arab world, and among Palestinians, are occurring. Understanding them is in our interest. Revision of the Hamas charter marks a recognition of their inability to continue administering Gaza under current conditions, their inability to break the Gaza blockade, and their need for additional outside support. Why else would they present themselves as having moderated?

Its security-related accomplishments aside, we have just witnessed the first sign of a diplomatic achievement by the blockade. Let’s recognize that Egypt, our former adversary, was instrumental in accomplishing it. The next time there is pressure against the blockade Israel will point to the new charter and say that we are halfway to something worthwhile, but that it must be clear that the relief we see Hamas seeking is possible, but only if they go all the way, accept Israel and lay down their arms.

It might not come soon. There could be more wars between now and then, but in order for them to ever lay down their arms and accept Israel, Hamas needs to see that we are capable of recognizing it when they do. Otherwise there is no reason to moderate, our cynicism becomes self-fulfilling, and we become the ones who are missing opportunities.

This is the first-time Hamas has accepted the idea of a state whose boarders would ever be less than the entire territory between the river and the sea, and the adjustment mirrors a similar one made by Fatah prior to Oslo.

Fatah is not exactly our best friend either, and Oslo has not exactly culminated in good neighborly relations. Despite being labeled as “moderate,” Fatah continues to incite against Israel. That said, coordination between Israel and the security forces of the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority is so significant that Israel avoids steps that undermine Fatah.

This contrast between a Fatah that incites against Israel, and one that coordinates with Israel, mirrors our relationships with Egypt, Jordan, and other Muslim countries who also coordinate with Israel in many areas while working to undermine Israel in international forums. This reflects the complexity of relations between Israel and the Muslim world, and the delicacy of the progress that is being made.

While Israeli leaders do as much as they can to publicize developing relationships with Arab countries that still refuse to officially accept our right to exist, when it comes to the Palestinians, whether in relation to the new Hamas charter, or to Trump’s peace initiative, many of those same individuals seem incapable of acknowledging the possibility of progress, however small the steps in which it comes may be.

How often have we said that Israel has always been interested in peace with whoever is willing to accept us? I do not accept the ’67 lines as the basis for an agreement. Adjustments are clearly necessary. But when we relate to the other as inherently incapable of the slightest baby step toward civility, and as inherently antagonistic, then we ourselves incite, and we lose a measure of the humanism upon which our legitimacy is based.

About the Author
Baruch Stein holds a BA in Political Science from Penn State University, with minors in Middle Eastern Studies and Jewish Studies. He has campaign experience in both Israel, and the United States, and has experience working for elected officials and for political advocacy organizations in the United States. Born and raised in Pennsylvania he has now been living in Jerusalem for more than six years.
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