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MIDDLE EAST NEWS
MAY 7, 2011 Hamas Leader Nods to New Partners .Article Comments (28) more in
By CHARLES LEVINSON And MATT BRADLEY
CAIRO—Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said his movement will make decisions about how to wage its struggle with Israel, including if and when to use violence, in consensus with more moderate Palestinian factions.
"How to manage the resistance, what's the best way to achieve our goals, when to escalate and when to cease fire, now we have to agree on all those decisions as Palestinians," said Mr. Meshaal in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in Cairo.
Mr. Meshaal also stood firm behind Hamas's right to armed struggle against Israel. Israel and Western powers have demanded that Hamas renounce violence permanently, which the group hasn't yet done.
Yet the Hamas leader's comments in the interview suggested a power-sharing agreement signed Wednesday between his militant party and the more moderate Fatah party could significantly change the Palestinian approach toward the peace process.
Mr. Meshaal said that decisions on "negotiations with Israel, domestic governance, foreign affairs, domestic security and resistance and other field activities" against Israel, would all be reached in consensus between Palestinian factions.
If Mr. Meshaal follows through on his pledge, it would mean that Hamas would no longer attack Israel without the agreement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader, who has long opposed violence.
Aides to Mr. Abbas said that in closed-door negotiations in Cairo ahead of the signing of the Egypt-brokered reconciliation agreement, Mr. Meshaal said his movement was prepared to adopt a strategy of nonviolent resistance, at least for the time being. "They accept nonviolent resistance. That's what Meshaal said in closed meetings," said Nabil Shath, a senior aide to Mr. Abbas who was present in those meetings. "He said 'we cannot do violence and you do nonviolence. It does not work out.' "
Hamas has scaled back its use of violence in recent years, halting suicide bombings and reining in the firing of rockets at Israel. Still, Hamas militants in the West Bank were responsible for a number of shootings of Israeli settlers in the West Bank last year. Last month, Hamas militants in Gaza fired an antitank missile at an Israeli school bus, killing one child.
Palestinian leaders have said they hope the agreement can strengthen their hand in dealing with Israel. Yet Israel has shown no indication that it is considering softening its position toward Hamas.
A senior Israeli official said Mr. Meshaal's recent comments were unlikely to convince Israel that Hamas was moving away from violence. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called on Mr. Abbas to annul the agreement with Hamas.
"We don't buy that," the official said. "Its actions prove otherwise and Hamas's charter clearly calls for the destruction of Israel and all-out jihad."
Obama administration officials said they were studying Mr. Meshaal's comments in recent days as well as the policy implications of the unity government that has been formed between Hamas and Fatah.
These officials said the U.S. remained open to including Hamas in the Mideast peace process, provided they formally renounced violence and recognize Israel's right to exist, as set out by the so-called Quartet of nations and entities mediating the peace process.
"We're going to wait and make our assessment as we actually see what unfolds from this moment on," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday.
In the past, Hamas and Fatah, the two dominant Palestinian factions, have usually worked at loggerheads, with Hamas at times using violence to derail peace talks with Israel, and Fatah using its control over the security services to weaken Hamas politically.
A short-lived 2006 power-sharing agreement didn't require the rival factions to take decisions together, but rather delegated different responsibilities to each faction, with Hamas overseeing domestic governance and Fatah handling negotiations with Israel. That division contributed to the deal's collapse as both factions appeared to use their areas of control to weaken the other.
Diana Buttu, a former aide to Mr. Abbas, said she expects a joint Fatah-Hamas strategy on Israel would mean Hamas gives up violence, while Fatah abandons its strategy of negotiation. That could lead to the pursuit of legal action against Israel, civil disobedience and popular protest campaigns.
"This partnership will either fail very quickly or they will come up with some strategy that is completely new," said Ms. Buttu.
—Jay Solomon contributed to this article.
Write to Charles Levinson at firstname.lastname@example.org
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I visited Hevron in November 2000 after the outbreak of the Rosh Hashanah War to see what could be done to assist in the face of the growing daily attacks on the community. After returning to work for the community in the summer of 2001, a bond and a love was forged that grows to this day. My wife Melody and I merited to be married at Ma'arat HaMachpela and now host visitors from throughout the world every Shabbat as well as during the week. Our goal, "Time to come Home!"