“Hamas Drops Call for Israel’s Destruction,” headlined The Wall Street Journal last week. The New York Times told its readers: “Hamas Moderates Talk on Israel.” And the United Kingdom’s The Guardian concluded that Hamas had produced a document likely to “ease peace process.”
All this is big news — or would be if it were true. But it’s not. Not even close. What it is instead: more evidence that, when it comes to Islamists, too many journalists are losing what George Orwell called the “constant struggle” to see “what is in front of one’s nose.”
To understand what’s really going on, start with a few pertinent facts. Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, is recognized as a terrorist organization by the United States, Britain and the European Union. Following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, civil war broke out between Hamas and its main rival, Fatah, headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Within two years, Hamas had prevailed. It has ruled Gaza ever since, devoting its energies to launching rockets, digging terrorist tunnels and provoking three wars with Israel.
In its 1988 founding charter, Hamas makes clear that its goal is to wipe Israel off the map. It rejects a “two-state solution” because, as it interprets Islamic scripture, any land conquered by Muslims at any time in history is as an endowment from Allah to the Muslims. No one has the authority to surrender such territory to non-Muslims.
Last week, at a press conference in Doha, the capital of Qatar, Hamas unveiled what it called a “Document of General Principles and Policies.” Hamas implicitly renounced its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization that launched the modern Islamist movement 89 years ago. However, it mentioned no ideological disagreements with the Brotherhood.
So why the ostensible break? Hamas leaders would like increased international acceptance and, in particular, to be viewed more kindly by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. Indeed, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all regard the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
In the document, Hamas says it is willing to accept a provisional Palestinian state within the 1967 lines. It doesn’t say it’s willing to accept Israel beyond those lines.
As for those lines, take a moment to recall how they came into being. Sixty-nine years ago this month, Israel declared its independence within part of Mandate Palestine, territory the British had taken from the Turks after World War I. The largest chunk of that territory had already become what is now known as Jordan. The U.N. proposed dividing the remainder into two states: one Jewish and one Arab. The Israelis said they could live with that. The Arabs said they would not.
The armies of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan invaded and attempted to destroy the fledgling Jewish state. In 1949, the conflict came to a halt. The armistice lines held until 1967 when a second attempt was made to push the Jews into the sea. That effort also failed and the Israelis ended up taking Gaza from Egypt and the West Bank from Jordan. Ever since, they’ve attempted to trade land for peace. They have not, obviously, succeeded.
The new Hamas document continues to rule out peaceful coexistence with the “enemy,” also called the “Zionist project.” It envisions “the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea,” in other words every inch of Israel. (Though the notion that Gazans are “liberated” is simply absurd.)
Nor does Hamas disavow terrorism, which it euphemizes as “resistance,” noting that it considers “all means and methods” — e.g., suicide bombings, knifing children — permissible and indeed “guaranteed by divine laws, customs and international laws.”
Over the weekend, Hamas made news a second time when it named Ismail Haniya to its senior leadership position. If he follows the example of his predecessor, Khaled Meshal, he will now move from Gaza to Qatar, where he will rule from the relative safety of an elegant Doha hotel suite.
Inside Gaza, the most powerful figure will be Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas’ military wing, often described by journalists as a hard-liner. (Do those journalists really expect us to believe that there are jihadi terrorist moderates?)
You may be wondering: What is Qatar’s angle? An oil-and-gas-rich ministate on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar is ruled by a 36-year-old hereditary emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. He is extraordinarily adept at playing both ends against the middle.
He provides Hamas not just with a capital-in-exile but also with much of its funding. He supports other Muslim Brotherhood organizations throughout the region. Financiers of al Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist groups operate openly in Qatar.
At the same time, the emir transmits Qatari perspectives — a less polite term would be Islamist propaganda — around the world through al Jazeera, the state-funded international television network.
But Qatar has another face. It hosts the largest American military base in the Middle East. It contributes millions of dollars to several Washington think tanks. And it lavishly subsidizes satellite campuses for American universities. Among them: Georgetown, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern, Texas A&M and Virginia Commonwealth.
The campuses are located in “Education City,” where the main mosque regularly features Islamist clerics. For example: Mudassir Ahmed who from the pulpit last year said: “Kill the infidels. … Count them in number and do not spare one!” Another preacher called for Allah to “render victorious our brothers the mujahedeen … in every place” and to “guide their shooting.”
What do the administrators of the American colleges say about this? Not a word. When it comes to Islamists, too many academics long ago gave up the struggle to see what’s in front of their noses.
• Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.