Sunday, January 25, 2004

Too late for two states?: "Mostly relaxed, the Hamas leader becomes incensed when confronted with the revulsion of western public opinion over Islamist suicide bombings of Israeli buses and bars - like Azzam, defending the tactic as a deterrent which has gone some way to shift the 'balance of suffering'. 'The number of Palestinian children killed by the Israelis in the past three years is almost as high as the total number of Israeli deaths. These operations have only one target - to deter the killing of our children and civilians. If they stop killing our civilians, we will stop. But what kind of international public opinion is it that averts its eyes from Israeli F16s but protests at us fighting the occupiers?' Nor is he prepared to concede that suicide attacks have poisoned Palestinian culture. 'We do not have a cult of death,' he insists, 'we have a cult of dignity - as you have seen they also do in Iraq.'

"More unexpected than Rantissi's defence of what many Palestinians themselves regard as unjustifiable is the attitude of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders towards the prospect of a two-state settlement of the conflict. Both groups are usually regarded as beyond the political pale outside the Muslim world, not only because of their use of suicide bombers, but also because of their long-term goal of establishing Islamist rule in the whole of historic Palestine. Unlike the secular resistance, it is often assumed, the Islamists will never accept peace with Israel. What emerges from any discussion which goes beyond slogans and soundbites, however, is something different - and potentially crucial to any settlement of the conflict. In practical terms, it becomes clear, both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are now committed to ending their armed campaign in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967: the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem... What these comments make clear is that every significant Palestinian political and armed force is ... now prepared to accept a de facto end to conflict in return for a fully independent state on only 22% of pre-1948 Palestine. This is unprecedented in the history of the conflict. But, of course, no such state is on offer."

These interviews illustrate a pattern that has been the case for some time now, nearly 30 years, that for political and rhetorical reasons Palestinian leaders will not give up their historic claim to the whole of Palestine or to a full right of return, but in practice the two-state solution would be accepted, even by the most radical wings.

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