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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 February 2006, 16:46 GMT
Will Hamas ever recognise Israel?
By Martin Asser
BBC News

Hamas celebrations
Even Hamas leaders were surprised by the size of victory
One of the most fraught and contentious issues to follow the Hamas victory in Palestinian elections is question of its pledge never to recognise Israel.

The issue of recognising Israel is emerging as the chief international objection to the Islamic militant movement's taking its place as the Palestinians' elected representative on the world stage.

Hamas is also being pressured to renounce the "armed struggle" and respect existing agreements with Israel - but these pale in comparison with the significance of its accepting the Jewish state.

Critics point to Hamas' charter pledge to "strive to raise the banner of God over every inch of Palestine" (Article VI) and its assertion of every Muslim's duty to "liberate Palestine" and "nullify Israel".

Now it's time for Israel to do what they said they would never do and enter dialogue with Hamas
Darryl LeCount, Paderborn, Germany

The US and others say such a philosophy is incompatible with a government whose main purpose should be to reach a peace deal with Israel.

But more sympathetic voices say Hamas' participation in the election signifies a de facto acceptance of the two-state formula.

Hamas itself has played down the issue, saying its priority is to fulfil its election pledges to improve Palestinian lives and clean up Palestinian government.

Manifesto omission

Some observers say Hamas is following the same pragmatic path towards a relationship with Israel that the PLO and Fatah followed in the 1980s and 1990s under the leadership of Yasser Arafat.

The mere fact of their taking seats in the Palestinian parliament - a body formed under PLO auspices in the context of the Oslo peace process - can be taken as de facto acceptance of Israel.

Preamble: "Israel will exist until Islam obliterates it, as it obliterated others before it"
Article 6: "Hamas strives to raise the banner of God over every inch of Palestine, so followers of all religions can coexist in safety"
Article 11: "Palestine is an Islamic endowment consecrated for future Moslem generations... it should not be given up"
Article 13: "So-called peaceful solutions contradict the principles of Hamas. Jihad is the only solution for the Palestinian question"
Article 14: "Liberating Palestine is an individual duty for every Muslim wherever they may be"

Past statements by assassinated Hamas leader Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi pointed to an acceptance of Israel within its borders before 1967, in return for ending the armed struggle and Hamas' recognition of Israel.

"We haven't the force to liberate all our land," he said in a BBC interview in 2002. "We can't recognise Israel, but we can accept a truce with them and we can live side by side and refer the issue to coming generations."

Hamas sources on the pragmatist wing say the movement has been re-evaluating its philosophy, arguing that a lot has changed since the charter was written in 1988.

One Hamas "moderate" has suggested that the group is ready to offer Israel a formal truce for a number of years, during which a peace deal can be negotiated ending in a two-state solution.

Recognition of Israel and a re-writing of Hamas' charter would come at the end of this process.

This approach seems to have been borne out by the fact that there was no reference to the liberation of all of Palestine in the Hamas election manifesto.

Instead the group spoke vaguely about elections helping "establish of an independent state whose capital is Jerusalem".


But there is also a vastly different possible scenario - that Hamas dropped references to destroying Israel in the hope of securing diplomatic recognition and its chance to rebuild Palestinian society.

Hamas could still be sticking to a long-term policy of non-recognition with the aim of ultimately overwhelming Israel through demography rather than military means.

To achieve that aim, Hamas needs to avoid the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state in the 1967 territories - just 22% of the former British mandate of Palestine.

If they hold out until 2020, most predictions say the Palestinians will significantly outnumber Jews living in what is now Israel and the occupied territories.

Therefore, the Hamas argument goes, the existence of a democratic Jewish state is put at risk and the achievement of an Arab majority state becomes possible - a "one-state solution" to the Palestinian problem.

Ironically, it was a similar conceptual framework that is thought to have motivated Ariel Sharon's unilateral Israeli withdrawals from the Gaza Strip last year.

That is that Israel must relinquish occupation of areas with a large Palestinian populations in order to safeguard its future Jewish majority in the land it still controls.


If the one-state solution remains Hamas' master plan, one can be fairly certain its leaders will not be saying so in precise terms.

This follows Ariel Sharon's lead of never publicly abandoning his commitment to the US-backed roadmap peace plan as he implemented a unilateral plan that contradicted aspects of the roadmap.

However, unlike Israel, Hamas is certain to come under intense diplomatic, financial and possibly military pressure to rewrite its charter; it will not be given the luxury of ambiguity by western powers.

In the more pragmatic scenario, Hamas leaders are still very unlikely to announce a U-turn on recognising Israel soon.

Initially, the pragmatists argue, the movement needs time to come to terms with its surprise election victory and the responsibilities of power.

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