Hamas says it's open to dialogue with US

A senior Hamas leader has said the movement is willing to engage in talks with the United States, which some believe to be an attempt to replace the PLO.

al-monitor Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil (R) talks during a news conference in Cairo, Egypt, Jan. 14, 2009.  Photo by REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih.

Mar 29, 2018

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Quds Press International News Agency reported March 20 that Salah al-Bardawil, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, said his movement is ready to engage in a dialogue with the US administration to achieve the aspirations of the Palestinian people in obtaining their rights, establishing a Palestinian state and lifting the siege on Gaza. This has angered the leaders of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah, who consider Hamas’ willingness to introduce itself to the US administration as a substitute for the PLO.

Al-Monitor contacted several Hamas officials, but they all refused to comment on this issue. They noted that Bardawil’s statements reflect the movement’s official position, but they also stressed that they were neither contacted by the US administration for dialogue nor invited to attend the donor conference held at the White House mid-March. On the contrary, Hamas criticized the conference, which it described as a US attempt to absolve Israel of Gaza's humanitarian and economic problems caused by the Israeli blockade imposed on Gaza since 2007.

Bardawil said, “We do not mind sitting with any party that wants to lift the siege imposed on us and help us recover our stolen rights, provided that this party does not serve as an entry point for concessions on the rights of the Palestinian people, as the PLO did in the early 1990s” by signing the Oslo Accord, he meant. Bardawil denied the presence of any channels of communication between his movement and Washington at the moment.

Hamas believes that the United States is the first supporter of Israel and is convinced that Washington is the only party in the world capable of pushing for progress in the Palestinian cause via talks.

Bardawil pointed out that Hamas is interested in any international political effort to help Palestinians obtain their rights, adding, “We are ready to meet with any rational party in the world that wants to pressure the occupation to leave our land and our skies, so long as it is not the occupation itself."

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Fatah leader Yahya Rabah accused Hamas of promoting itself as an alternative to the PLO and the PA before the world, particularly the United States. He pointed out that Hamas is making big efforts to remove the PA and Fatah from the leadership of the Palestinian people.

“Unfortunately, in light of the world’s and the PA’s tendency to confront US President Donald Trump’s administration and its plan to quash the Palestinian cause, some Hamas leaders are calling for a dialogue with the US administration,” Rabah said. “Hamas will obtain nothing but deception and illusion, after all of its attempts.”

He pointed out that Hamas' willingness to hold dialogue with the US administration followed President Mahmoud Abbas' March 19 speech, before Fatah’s Central Committee, in which he leveled direct accusations against Hamas of being behind the blast targeting Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s convoy in the Gaza Strip, and absolutely rejected the US administration's plans to liquidate the Palestinian cause.

Article 37 of Hamas' political document, published in May 2017, states: “Hamas believes in cooperating with all states that support the rights of the Palestinian people. … Hamas adopts the policy of opening up to different states in the world, especially the Arab and Islamic states. It endeavors to establish balanced relations on the basis of combining the requirements of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people’s interests on the one hand with the interests of the Islamic nation, its renaissance and its security on the other.”

Wasel Abu Youssef, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Front and a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, told Al-Monitor that no one can fill the PLO’s shoes as representative of the Palestinian people in international forums and around the world or assume its political role.

He pointed out that the international community, the United States included, considers the PLO the representative of the Palestinian people, and all attempts by Hamas or other Palestinian factions to embark on a dialogue with the US administration at this time raises many doubts, especially in light of the recent US attempts to implement the “Deal of the Century,” which first began with recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and halting aid to Palestinians, most recently by virtue of the March 23 decision by the US Congress.

The successive US administrations have set conditions for Hamas before starting any dialogue. First and foremost among these is to answer the demands of the Quartet on the Middle East, which include recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and recognizing the agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinians.

Ibrahim al-Madhoun, a political analyst close to Hamas and deputy head of the Youth Media Center in the Gaza Strip, told Al-Monitor, “Hamas does not mind opening a dialogue with any country in the world, except for Israel.” He added that Hamas sees any dialogue with the United States, without being forced to give up its weapons or recognize Israel, as a gain for the Palestinian people.

He anticipated that Hamas would positively respond to any back channel or public channel of communication with the United States, noting that political dialogue with different countries was stipulated in Hamas’ May 2017 charter. The problem remains with the United States, he said, which sets conditions for dialogue with Hamas, notably abiding by the conditions set by the Quartet and letting go of fighting Israel.

Madhoun attributed the PA’s anger toward Hamas' willingness to talk to the US administration to the fact that it does not want Hamas to be a substitute for it and compete with it in terms of international relations. The PA would rather keep Hamas in political isolation, he noted, adding that Hamas’ victory in the 2006 legislative elections and the military power it has in Gaza qualify it to negotiate with many Western countries to achieve the rights of the Palestinian people.

Hamas believes that its victory in the legislative elections qualifies the movement to hold dialogue with different countries, including the United States.

Talal Okal, a writer for the Palestinian Al-Ayyam daily, told Al-Monitor that Hamas’ political goals, as any party's in the world, consist of being the one in power and in charge of communication with other countries.

He explained that the timing of Hamas announcing its readiness to hold dialogue with the United States is designed to pressure the PA, following Abbas’ recent speech, which the movement sharply criticized.

He ruled out, however, the possibility that Hamas would engage in a dialogue with the United States in the near future, particularly since US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt conveyed the US administration’s criticism of Hamas on Feb. 19. “Hamas hides improvised explosive devices to attack Israeli soldiers and is shooting rockets at Israel again. Such cowardly acts will only escalate violence, not build the prosperous society the people of Gaza deserve,” Greenblatt posted on his official Twitter page.

Meanwhile, Okal warned that any US-Hamas rapprochement in light of the current global balance of power may result in the movement losing much of its popularity. He pointed out that all Palestinian popular segments believe that the US bias is the reason why they have lost their rights, in reference to the US political support to Israel reflected in the repeated vetoes of the UN Security Council resolutions on the Palestinian cause.

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