Is Hamas Really Willing to Change?

Hamas aspires to entice the international community, especially the United States, to consider it a partner in the diplomatic process after Israel disappointed Washington.

It's hard not to be impressed by our discovery of America. Not the America that was embarrassed by the WikiLeaks documents, but the great discovery by Israeli analysts and researchers, who suddenly noticed that the Arabs despise Iran. In one day, out of hundreds of thousands of cables, a dream coalition was created: Arabs and Israel against Iran.

Now we can relax. We can go on occupying because the Arabs are with us because of Iran. And the conclusion of the foolish among us: It's worth letting Iran go nuclear to preserve the coalition with the Arabs. Israel, as is well known, is not foolish and will make peace to strengthen its coalition with the Arabs.

Had those surprised souls bothered to read the Arab press since the Islamic revolution in Iran, had they followed the exchange of blows in the media in recent years between Saudi Arabia and Egypt on one side and Iran on the other, they wouldn't have been surprised. But who believes Arab leaders when they speak publicly? The American documents, secret cables - that's the real truth.

Here's another surprise that was missed by the reports. According to one cable, Qatar's ruler told an important American guest that Hamas would be ready to recognize Israel. According to another cable, Syrian President Bashar Assad told an important American guest that Hamas members "are uninvited guests" in his country and compared them to the Muslim Brotherhood that was butchered by his father.

But in the carnival of discovery, one report was missed. Last week Hamas' Ismail Haniyeh told foreign journalists that his group will respect the results of any referendum on a peace agreement with Israel, even if the agreement runs contrary to the movement's principles. Moreover, "Hamas will not oppose the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, whose capital is Jerusalem, and which includes a resolution of the refugee problem and the release of prisoners from Israeli jails." Not a return of refugees, not the destruction of the State of Israel, no preconditions. More importantly, he allows the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas to conduct negotiations with Israel that would lead to an agreement, which would then be brought to the Palestinian people for a referendum.

Hamas is not a partner in negotiations with Israel, and Haniyeh is not suggesting that he is the one to negotiate. But until now, Hamas has threatened the Palestinian Authority that it would undermine an agreement because there is no legitimacy in negotiating with Israel. Abbas understands that even if an agreement is signed, the deal will represent only half the occupied Palestinian people. Suddenly, Hamas is making a concession and providing consent. One may negotiate with Israel, and then it's up to the Palestinian people to decide. Of course, Abbas too has declared that he will put every agreement up for a referendum, but when his bitter opponent, his ideological rival, is also willing to take such a step, this is a significant change.

What brings Hamas to adopt this position right now? What makes it do so when the negotiations are stuck, when the United States is putting its hands in the air and understands that there will be no freeze in settlement activity? Has Hamas really rescinded its principles, as Ahmad Asaf, a spokesman for Fatah, has accused it? Part of the explanation can be found in Hamas' aspirations to entice the international community, and especially the United States, to consider it a partner in the diplomatic process after Israel disappointed Washington.

Another explanation is found in Hamas' intentions to challenge Abbas and Fatah as the representatives of the Palestinian people. The economic pressure on the Gaza Strip is also apparently having an effect, and perhaps Assad's pressure regarding his "unwanted guests." Perhaps the real explanation is in the Palestinians' sole option, to declare a state and gain international recognition, and Hamas doesn't want to miss out on a chance to be party to this recognition.

Whatever the explanation - maybe it will be in the next batch of WikiLeaks documents - it opens an important channel for dialogue, not only between Israel and the Palestinians, but among the Palestinians themselves. Recognition of the 1967 borders is recognition of reality by an ideological organization like Hamas; this lays the foundation for a unified Palestinian leadership. Israel is of course welcome to join this new realistic approach, or wait, as usual, for the next Palestinian initiative.