Monday, January 12, 2009

Hamas and the recognition of Israel

In days like these, when the friends of the Israeli war machine desperately seek to legimatize the mass killings in Gaza, the argument about the non-recognition of the state of Israel by Hamas keeps popping up a lot in Western media. This is of course an attempt to create a side-track in the debate, diverting attention from what's happening on the ground in Gaza.

Somehow, the non-recognition of the state of Israel is presented as an underlying intention of Hamas to destroy Israel and conduct genocide on its population. But whilst Qassam rockets can seriously injure and at times kill people, does anyone seriously believe that Hamas would be in position to dismantle the entire Israeli state and military apparatus through launching home-made rockets?

When studying the documents and discourse of Hamas (short for 'Islamic Resistance Movement'), one should remember that Hamas caters to a constituency that differs starkly from the mainstream political debate in the West. Whilst secular Palestinian liberation movements use discourses of motifs to which Western progressives can easily relate, Hamas uses a discourse packed with religious motifs. The historical and cultural references used by Hamas are at times difficult to understand without also putting them into their context and references to Islamic history. Bluntly translated and consciously misquoted by Israeli sources, they come off as violent and militaristic.

As to the concrete issue of recognition, I think its important to go into some dept about what the political leadership of Hamas says about the possibility of recognizing Israel. Hamas considers that recognition between Israel and an independent Palestinian state should be mutual, Hamas won't recognize Israel unless there is an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. That is quite far from 'destroying Israel', as Hamas has stated that it seeks to establish a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders (see article in Haaretz).

There is a difference between Hamas and the PLO in this regard. The PLO has recognized Israel since 1988. On the other hand, twenty years later Israel still haven't recognized the independence of Palestine. One can thus ask, what incentives that could be given for Hamas to do the same?

If Western politicians, journalists, etc., feel that it is essential that Hamas (which is a political party, not a state) issues a 'recognition' of Israel, they should also ask Kadima, Likud and the Israeli Labour Party whether they are willing to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders? The postures of Hamas might be far from perfect, but in this regard they are far more advanced than the mainstream Israeli parties.

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