Hamas's foreign policy: Acceptance versus recognition

A Hamas spokesman wants Barack Obama to talk to him“HAMAS is very close on recognition of Israel,” says Ahmed Yousef, the Islamist movement’s deputy foreign minister, speaking from the top floor of a high-rise building in Gaza City. “We show all sorts of ideological flexibility on this.” That does not, alas, mean he can unequivocally accept the three conditions the Quartet (the United States, the European Union, the UN and Russia) laid down three years ago if Hamas is to join international negotiations. But he comes close to doing so, sounding almost desperate to stretch the semantic elastic to satisfy the doubters. It is a formulation that sticks closely to the enunciations of both Khaled Meshaal, the movement’s Syria-based leader, and Ismail Haniyeh, its prime minister in Gaza. Hamas “honours” all previous agreements of the Palestine Liberation Organisation [with Israel], which include recognition, provided the other side abides by all its reciprocal promises. Hamas is ready to extend its present “unilateral ceasefire” if the other side formally agrees to one: not exactly the Quartet’s demand for a definitive disavowal of violence. And when it comes to recognising Israel, “the issue is not Israel’s right to exist. We know Israel is there. It’s not a matter of recognition.” The distinction, it seems, is a semantic but nonetheless ticklish one: between acceptance and recognition. Some diplomats draw an analogy with the Irish republicans of Sinn Fein, who engaged in negotiations with Britain over Northern Ireland after disavowing violence, but still refused to accept the province’s legitimacy as part of the United Kingdom. ...

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