ANALYSIS / Meshal Declaration Basic Shift in Hamas Position

The statement is meant to serve a domestic Palestinian political purpose to create the national unity gov't.

Khaled Meshal's declaration outlines a Hamas road map toward recognition of Israel. According to this outline, Meshal recognizes that the State of Israel is a "fact," but this "fact" still requires formal recognition. It is not clear what this entails.

In practice, Meshal is trying to create an equation in which sovereign states recognize one another; but, for this to occur, we must first wait for the establishment of the Palestinian state, so that a similar legal entity can recognize its neighboring state- Israel.

This is a fundamental shift in Hamas' position. In the past, Meshal made it clear that there was no point in accepting earlier agreements with Israel, which included recognition of Israel, so long as it did not fully implement them. By this he hinted that the issue of recognition was not ideological but political. However, Wednesday's statement is his most direct reference to this issue.

This statement joins earlier ones by Meshal and others in the Hamas leadership, who said that they accepted the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital. Nonetheless, Meshal's framework may raise another fundamental issue: If only a sovereign Palestinian State can recognize Israel, this undermines the basis of recognition that was established in the Oslo Accords.

There is a built-in assumption in Meshal's framework that Israel will not agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state that will meet the Hamas requirements, and therefore recognition is far from being relevant on a practical level. On the other hand, it is not superfluous to note that Meshal has also avoided adding further conditions to his announcement.

Unless changed, the statement is meant to primarily serve a domestic Palestinian political purpose and allow for renewed negotiations between Fatah and Hamas for the creation of a national unity government. Both sides have been under immense pressure from Arab states to resume talks, stop the infighting and put together a government of technocrats. At a meeting between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah yesterday, the two leaders called on the Palestinians to form a unity government.

In an unusual development, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood also called on the Palestinians to respect each other and to end the bloodshed.