Khaled Meshal, head of the Syrian branch of Hamas’ political bureau, has reportedly accepted the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and has authorized King Abdullah of Jordan to convey the message on his behalf to U.S. President Barack Obama. His new stance marks a dramatic shift in Hamas’ position on the long-standing conflict.
The revelation comes according to a report in the Saudi newspaper “Al-Sharq,” which cited Jordanian sources, who said Meshal accepted the idea during a meeting this week with the Jordanian king.
The meeting is also said to have covered Palestinian reconciliation and relations with Jordan. So far neither Hamas nor Jordan has officially verified the Saudi report, but Meshal’s public statement after the meeting, in which he said, “Jordan is Jordan, and Palestine is Palestine, and any talks about relations between a Palestinian state and Jordan will only be held after the establishment of a Palestinian state,” more than hint at an essential change in Hamas’ position.
To date, Hamas has rejected the two-state solution, although it welcomed the Arab peace initiative whose core was the existence of two states based on the 1967 borders. In the past, however, Meshal has stressed that the 1967 borders are only a first step in the ultimate liberation of all of Palestine. This change in position is an extension of a previous shift in orientation in which Hamas, after fierce opposition, decided to support Mahmoud Abbas’ effort to gain international acceptance of Palestine as a non-member observer nation in the United Nations.
Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian official in charge of negotiations with Israel, responded to the report and said he is taking Meshal’s statement very seriously. He said he welcomed Hamas’ acceptance of the two-state solution, adding that “the change in position stems from the fact that Hamas understands that joining the PLO obligates it to act on the basis of the PLO’s political program, whose starting point is the two-state solution in the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
Using King Abdullah as an intermediary, Erekat added, makes a great deal of sense.
“The world must understand that Jordan is the Palestinians’ partner and we welcome the king’s meetings with Palestinian leaders,” he said. Erekat also made a demand of Hamas, insisting that this new position serve as a joint platform underpinning negotiations with the Israeli government.
King Abdullah and President Obama are scheduled to meet in February, and the king is expected to convey Meshal’s message at that time.
Should the report be verified, it will present one of the highest hurdles yet for intra-Palestinian reconciliation, which has been fractured by a deep rift between Hamas and Fatah figures for several years.
At the next stage, the two sides would have to agree to resolve another fundamental principle: the electoral process. Fatah’s Abbas is demanding an election and the establishment of a Palestinian government before Hamas joins the PLO, whereas Hamas is demanding that a government be established before an election, allowing the organizations to first apportion areas of responsibility and resolve the issue of joint military mechanisms.
But given the heavy pressure that both Egypt and Qatar are exerting on Hamas to move forward with Palestinian reconciliation, the problem may be solved in the near future. The Palestinians also have a vested interest in presenting a united front to both the United States and Israel before Israel forms its new government. Such an accomplishment, should the Palestinians be able to achieve it, would likely affect the coalition talks.