Time magazine reports: The leaders of the two biggest Palestinian parties met in Cairo on Thanksgiving, and just going by the headlines afterward, you’d have thought nothing had happened. “Palestinians talk unity, no sign of progress,” said Reuters. AP: “Palestinian rivals talk, but fail to resolve rifts.” But read the stories, and it becomes clear that a great deal is going on, with immense implications for the future of peace talks with Israel.
Israel’s government dismissed the meeting with a wave of the terrorist card. Hamas is regarded by the West and Israel as first and foremost a terrorist organization, and so Mark Regev, who speaks for prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, framed the reconciliation as something that can only contaminate the pacifist credentials of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah party chief widely known as Abu Mazen:
“The closer Abu Mazen gets to Hamas,” Regev said, “the farther he moves away from peace.”
But what if Abbas is holding still, and Hamas is moving closer to Abbas? That’s what’s been happening, from nearly all appearances, for the last two or three years, and everything coming out of the Cairo meeting points in the same direction. The head of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, and Abbas spoke for two hours, Abbas in the big chair, Meshaal on the couch with two others. Afterwards both met the cameras smiling. “There are no differences between us now,” Abbas said. Mashaal went with: “We have opened a new page of partnership.” And on whose terms? Hamas stands for resistance, its formal name being the Islamic Resistance Movement. But in the Gaza Strip where it governs, Hamas has largely enforced a truce with Israel since January 2009. And in Cairo it signed a paper committing itself to “popular resistance” against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. That’s “popular” in contrast to “violent” or “military” resistance. We’re talking marches here. Chanting and signs, not booby traps or suicide bombs.