Earlier this week, the Shura council of Hamas re-elected Khalid Mishal as the political head of their organization for a fourth straight time. Last year Mishal had vowed to step down from his post which many criticized within the party, asserting that he stay at the helm.
With the election of Khalid Mishal, Hamas has shown its willingness to be more pragmatic, further asserting the need to include it in future negotiations on the decades long conflict.
Mishal’s ascendancy to the highest office was sparked by Israel’s attempt to assassinate him back in 1997. Under direct orders from then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mossad planned a hit on Mishal while he was residing in Jordan at the time. The incident caused an international uproar, requiring a direct intervention by President Bill Clinton. Ever since, Mishal’s repute amongst Palestinians has reached new heights with every passing year.
While Mishal has been leading the organization since a good part of the last decade, he returned to Gaza last year for the first time in 45 years, welcomed by thousands of his supporters, displaying the height of his unquestionable popularity. Prominent analysts and critics have highlighted Mishal’s unique role in brandishing the image of Hamas from one consisting of an army of suicide bombers to a democratic entity that deserves a say in the future of its fellow Palestinians.
While many now see Hamas’s rise and evolution as promising, prospects of negotiating with the group has been futile. The Israeli government has had a zero tolerance policy towards Hamas, who they consistently accuse of seeking to destroy Israel, citing Hamas’s manifesto. Following cue, the Americans have shut any doors to including Hamas regarding negotiations on Israeli settlements and Israel-Palestine peace deals.
Mishal has never moved away from the position that resistance, and armed resistance is a right for Palestinians as long as the occupation continues. Mishal has supported suicide bombings and rocket launches into Israel, justifying the attacks as a legitimate source of opposition to the brutal tactics of the Israeli state. Many in Hamas describe it as an act of desperation in the face overwhelming Israeli military power.
However, since Hamas' rise to power, and especially after their election win in 2006, it has readily abandoned the practice of suicide bombing in the past years, citing it to be detrimental to their cause. Nevertheless, in November last year, they threatened to renew the practice in retaliation to the highly provocative killing of one their top commanders by the Israeli establishment. Mishal and Hamas have also successfully negotiated and maintained several ceasefires with the Israeli state. Before the Gaza war started in December 2008, Hamas had respected the ongoing ceasefire for around six months before it was broken, its cause remaining disputed.
A lingering point of criticism has been the decades-old charter of Hamas. The charter claims, the Jewish state as illegitimate and an entity that has to be destroyed. The preamble reads “'Israel will exist and continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”
While the charter has remained unchanged, and espouses undoubtedly the stench of antisemitism and hatred towards the state of Israel, Hamas’s position has been considerably different in tone to that of the outdated document.
In 2007, Mishal speaking after the Mecca agreement, (where both Fatah and Hamas had signed a peace deal, but which was ditched soon after) Hamas asserted it was willing to accept a two state solution based on 1967 borders. After a second pact was enacted with Fatah, Mishal said, “a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital, without any settlements or settlers, not an inch of land swaps and respecting the right of return." Earlier this year, it was reported that Mishal had requested King Abdullah of Jordan to convey a message to the U.S. that Hamas accepted a two state solution.
President Jimmy Carter has further echoed Hamas’s willingness to resolve the conflict peacefully. In 2008, he was welcomed by the leadership in Gaza and by Mishal in Syria. The former president, while disagreeing with Hamas tactics, has asserted the organization wants to be recognized in the international community. Carter has warned that the one cannot simply negotiate parties of its choosing, and all those that hold a stake in the future peace deal of the conflict need to be included.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that instead of isolating Hamas, there is a need to engage Hamas. In an interview with the National Public Radio (NPR), Powell said “I think it'd have to find some way to talk to Hamas. They're not going to go away and we have to remember that they enjoy considerable support among the Palestinian people”.
While Hamas remains highly controversial and condemnable, one has to echo the words of Powell who realizes they are a reality, the same way Hamas now recognize that Israel is an entity to be negotiated with. Unfortunately, the persistent ignorance on behalf of the Israeli’s, and the failure of the Americans to be a genuine power broker has the potential miss a viable opportunity before a more radical, and less pragmatic force takes control in the occupied territories.