One of the most powerful lies of the current Palestinian crisis is the claim that “there is no partner for peace” – and that Hamas in particular is an irreconcilable fundamentalist force of destruction. The reality, successfully suppressed throughout the British media, is that Hamas has long offered a long-term truce with Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders.
In other words, Hamas (while pursuing many other objectionable policies) has for many years been in close proximity to the international consensus that Middle East peace can and should be based on an Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. Hamas has certainly been much nearer to this consensus than either Israel or the US.
Such Hamas proposals go back a long way. Efraim Halevy, a former Mossad operative turned mediator, who played a role in releasing Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin from an Israeli jail, revealed on 23 March 2004, that: “[In 1997] Yassin brought up the idea of a cease-fire of 30 years between Israel and the Palestinians”.
Also in 1997, Yassin told Associated Press that he would accept a 10-year truce if Israel would withdraw troops and settlers from all of the West Bank and Gaza.
Abdel Aziz Rantissi, a leader of Hamas’s political wing, told Reuters on 27 January 2004: “We accept a state in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. We propose a 10-year truce in return for [Israeli] withdrawal and the establishment of a state.”
Now there were all sorts of complications with these ideas, quite apart from how seriously they were intended. Hamas was, at this time, offering a “transitional” or temporary truce while it continued in its efforts to take over the territories currently constituting Israel.
Then, on 3 December 2004, came a new line. “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.
He went on: “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. That means Hamas accepts that the other party will live in security and peace.” This marked a significant departure.
In 2006, the elected Hamas-led Palestinian government repeatedly offered Israel a long-term truce on the 1967 borders. For example, on 26 February 2006, Newsweek-Washington Post reporter Lally Weymouth asked what agreements Hamas was prepared to honour. 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.”
On 21 April 2008, hard-line Hamas leader Khaled Meshal told reporters in Damascus that the organisation was willing to a ten-year truce with Israel on the 1967 borders, without formally recognising the state of Israel: “We agree to a [Palestinian] state on pre-67 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital with genuine sovereignty without settlements but without recognizing Israel. We have offered a truce if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, a truce of 10 years as a proof of recognition.”
Former US president Jimmy Carter discussed the truce with Meshal and other Hamas leaders, and relayed the substance of the talks: “They said they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders if approved by Palestinians... even though Hamas might disagree with some terms of the agreement.”
A new agreement with Israel negotiated by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas would be accepted by Hamas, “if the Palestinians support[ed] it in a free vote”, said Carter. This would be a referendum of Palestinians – including those in exile, apparently.
A lower-level Hamas official was quoted as describing the proposed Palestinian state as “transitional”, showing that there were still some question marks over the internal debate within Hamas.
On 8 January 2009, as the war in Gaza raged, a senior foreign policy advisor to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, Ahmed Yousef, said, accurately: “For many years, we have proposed a long-term truce provided that the Israelis prove their willingness to withdraw, in accordance with international law, from all the territories occupied in the aftermath of their 1967 incursions.”
Tell me lies
The offers have been made. Mouin Rabbani, an analyst with the respected International Crisis Group, has observed: “it would be as naïve to take the above statements on faith as it would be foolish not to put them to the test.”
Instead, Israel – with full US and British backing – has repeatedly rejected such proposals out of hand. The Hamas peace offers undermine Israel’s plans for domination, and therefore they are a threat that must be erased. The Western press obliges with selective amnesia. While such realities are suppressed, there is little likelihood of a decent outcome to the present crisis.