Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Hamas reiterates election declaration

From Common Dreams:
It looks like the topelected officials in the Palestinian Hamas party are signaling that they accept Israel's right to exist. Last week the highest-ranking Hamas leader, Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, told Israel's most prestigious newspaper, Ha'aretz: "If Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, peace will prevail and we will implement a cease-fire [hudna] for many years."

A hudna is more than just a "cease-fire." An erudite article in the Encyclopedia of Islam tells us that "hudna in Islamic law is equivalent to 'international treaty' in modern terminology. Its object is to suspend the legal effects of hostilities and to provide the prerequisite conditions of peace between Muslims and non-Muslims, without the latter's territory becoming part of dar al-Islam.'"

Those last words are the most important. The devout traditionalists of Hamas take Islamic law seriously. They know that the law divides the whole world into two categories: dar al-Islam, the territory ruled by Muslims, and dar al-harb, the rest of the world. For centuries, the land that became Israel was part of dar al-Islam. Only in 1948, when Israel declared its independence, was it claimed by dar al-harb. That's a big part of what galls Muslim traditionalists.

If Hamas is now willing to offer a hudna, it means not merely accepting the existence of Israel (you can't negotiate with a country that doesn't exist), but treating Israel as part of dar al-harb. As the Encyclopedia explains, Muslims don't make a hudna treaty with anyone inside the dar al-Islam. It all goes back to the example set by Mohammed, as recorded in the Quran. He made treaties with Jewish communities who came under Muslim rule. But they are not called hudna. By offering a hudna, Prime Minister Haniyeh is implying that he'll accept the land inside Israel's 1967 borders as gone from Muslim rule for good.

Israel does not demand "diplomatic recognition" from the Palestinians. It demands a public promise that the Palestinians will always accept Israel as a state with a Jewish majority. That is, always was, and always will be the crucial issue for Israel's government and for most Israeli Jews. The hudna offer seems to carry that promise.

Haniyeh is not alone. Other Hamas government officials echoed his conciliatory talk in a clearly coordinated peace offensive, timed to coincide with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's visit to Washington. Transportation Minister Ziad Zaza described the hudna as "the cease-fire that will be renewed automatically each time."

For politicians guided by Muslim law, that's a crucial point. A hudna is always agreed on for a temporary period. Critics of Hamas might seize on that to see the offer as a trick-a way to give Hamas breathing time to build up its strength for more attacks on Israel. The promise of an automatically self-renewing hudna is meant to scotch that suspicion. It's another sign that Hamas is moving toward accepting a Jewish majority state within the 1967 borders.

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