A few months after Hamas' 2006 election victory, leader Ismail Haniyeh tried to start a dialogue with U.S. President George W. Bush.
Haaretz has obtained a written message from Haniyeh sent to Bush via an American professor who met with Haniyeh in the Gaza Strip. Haniyeh asked Bush to lift the boycott of the Hamas government and pressure Israel to maintain stability in the region.
On June 6, 2006, Haniyeh met Dr. Jerome Segal of the University of Maryland in the Gaza Strip.
Segal had been involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for many years and was one of the first Americans to meet Palestine Liberation Organization leaders in the late 1980s, even passing messages from senior PLO figures to then U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz. Segal's academic work brought him in contact with senior State Department and National Security Council officials throughout the Clinton administration. However, the relationship was severed during the Bush administration.
At the time of the meeting, Hamas was trying to establish its three-month-old government under an international boycott. The Quartet for Middle East peace had called on the organization to recognize Israel, disavow terror and honor existing agreements.
At the end of the meeting, Haniyeh dictated a short message he asked Segal to transmit to President Bush. Haniyeh spoke Arabic and Youssuf translated his words into English. Segal took down the letter in his notebook and Haniyeh and Youssuf both signed it.
Haniyeh wrote in the missive, "We are an elected government which came through a democratic process."
In the second paragraph, Haniyeh laid out the political platform he maintains to this day. "We are so concerned about stability and security in the area that we don't mind having a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders and offering a truce for many years," he wrote.
Haniyeh called on Bush to launch a dialogue with the Hamas government.
"We are not warmongers, we are peace makers and we call on the American government to have direct negotiations with the elected government," he wrote. Haniyeh also urged the American government to act to end the international boycott "because the continuation of this situation will encourage violence and chaos in the whole region."
Upon his return to the U.S. several days later, Segal gave State Department and NSC officials the original letter.
In his own letter, Segal emphasized that a state within the 1967 borders and a truce for many years could be considered Hamas' de facto recognition of Israel. He noted that in a separate meeting, Youssuf suggested that the Palestinian Authority and Israel might exchange ambassadors during that truce period. This was not the only covert message from Hamas to senior Bush administration officials. However, Washington did not reply to these messages and maintained its boycott of the Hamas government.