Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Making Hamas Palatable

Sergey Lavrov, 17 September 2004.
Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev

Until now, the Russians have maintained at least a posture of ambiguity about their position on the Mecca agreement and the resulting Palestinian unity government. That is to say, Russian President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov have pretended that they would toe the Quartet line, which demands that the Palestinian government recognize Israel before sanctions on it are lifted.

It seems that the Russians, too, have realized, like some of the European statesmen who have been pushing Israel to negotiate with Hamas, that the movement has no intention of conceding anything on the recognition front. To get around this significant obstacle, the Russians have now made it clear that they do not really care.

The real priorities for Russia lie in throwing a stick in the spokes of the U.S., and in ingratiating themselves with the Palestinians and their Arab supporters, at no real cost to themselves (the Russians could care less about what happens in Gaza, the West Bank, and in Israel). These aims require a lifting of the sanctions against Hamas - without placing such exacting requirements on the Palestinians as recognizing the existence of the Zionist entity. Hence, it is enough to dangle the promise of a cessation of Qassam firing - a hudna of unknown duration. If that doesn't work out, no one will ever really expect Russia to bear responsibility for its enforcement anyway.

Nevertheless, it must be at least a little embarrassing to have Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas's political wing in Damascus, say, in Moscow, that the organization will not recognize Israel, immediately after a Russian announcement of support. After all, according to a February 26 statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry,
There was reaffirmed on the Russian side the position in favor of the achievement of an inter-Palestinian consensus with due regard to the well-known criteria of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators and restoration of the Palestinians' peace dialogue with Israel on an international legal basis (emphasis added; Russian MFA).
To then have the organization's Gaza spokesman Ismail Radwan declare that "We have not given up in any way our position regarding the territory of Palestine," and a different Hamas figure announce that
[Hamas's] position is clear. All the land of Palestine [from the sea to the river] belongs to the Palestinians and Israel is the enemy. However, [Hamas's] political horizon offers a hudna for 15-20 years, in return for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, the return of the refugees and the release of the prisoners (Ha'aretz),
makes it difficult to render the Russian decision in terms consistent with Quartet policy. This is where Chirac comes to the rescue. In a move that is all too typical of his foreign policy in the Middle East, the French president has announced that he will push the E.U. to support the new unity government - no matter what, it seems. It remains to be seen which way the Germans will swing; the Christian Democrats are staking out a pro-American, anti-Putin position, while the Social Democrats have been following the old Schröder line (see my previous post on this).

ADDENDUM: Avi Isaharoff and Amos Harel argue not only that "Hamas is still Hamas" but that the organization has basically already defeated Fatah. There is no doubt that it will get only stronger in the future. Even if international sanctions persist, the money will come either from Iran or from the Saudis. My only hope at this point is that the Iranians pour so much of their oil revenue into Gaza that the mullahs go bankrupt.

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