It was no surprise that President Obama’s Middle East speech included comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, although these were remanded to the President’s concluding remarks in an address otherwise focused on America’s commitment to support the democratic aspirations reflected in the revolutions that have swept across the Middle East and North Africa.
What did surprise was that the President publicly recognized that the primary stumbling block preventing forward movement on the peace process is not settlements, or even the status of Jerusalem or the right of return, but Hamas.
The key, the President noted, is for Palestinian leaders to understand they “will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection.” And that Hamas does. In the words of Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza, Hamas may negotiate with Israel over such things as the release of Hamas terrorists in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier Hamas captured in June 2006, but it would never recognize Israel.
“Talks are a means,” Zahar explained, “but recognition is a matter of principle.” What are Hamas’ intentions? In an interview on Hamas’ television station last week, Hamas Parliamentarian Yunis al-Astal stated that “in just a few years, all the Zionists and the settlers will realize that their arrival in Palestine was for the purpose of the great massacre, by means of which Allah wants to relieve humanity of their evil.”
Hamas should be taken at its word, especially in light of its recent past. Just last month Hamas operatives in Gaza fired a sophisticated anti-tank missile at a bright yellow school bus driving on the Israeli side of the border fence. Fortunately, the bus driver had just dropped most of the students off at school and only one student and the driver were wounded. Hamas, however, clearly intended to kill and wound as many innocent children as possible.
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