Monday, June 05, 2006

Playing Poker with Hamas

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas confirmed today that he would call a referendum, date to be announced Tuesday, on his plan for statehood that implicitly recognizes Israel's right to exist. The move was announced as efforts to persuade the Hamas government to accept the idea of a Palestinian state co-existing with Israel failed. This is bold and correct.

Fatah recognises Israel, but Hamas officially wants an Islamic state in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Its charter also calls for Israel's destruction.

The plan Mr Abbas will put to non-binding a referendum is an 18-point program agreed by various faction members jailed by Israel. It sets out formal Palestinian claims to an independent state on land occupied by Israel in 1967, as well as the right of all Palestinian refugees to return to former homes inside Israel. The document also calls for continued resistance within lands occupied by Israel in 1967, suggesting that attacks inside internationally recognized Israel would end.

Mr. Abbas has made a strategic move. Though his political party, Fatah, lost the elections back in January due to being largely seen as correct and ineffectual, most Palestinian’s vote for Hamas was not an endorsement as much as a slap to Fatah. Mr. Abbas understands this, while Hamas does not. By forcing a referendum that in all probability will pass, Hamas will be put into a difficult situation—supporting popular opinion that is at odds with official Party ideology. Mr. Abbas understands this and is using it to his advantage. If such a referendum does in deed pass, this might be the opening needed for the United States to become involved once again.
This story is on-going, but for a brief moment, Mr. Abbas has showed true leadership, sticking up for not only what is right politically but also right morally.

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