To Israel’s horror, Hamas brings ‘two-state solution’ back into focus

The cradle, May 2, 2024 ─  

After seven months of a brutal military assault on Gaza, it is abundantly clear that Israel has not succeeded in eradicating Hamas. Instead of delivering a decisive military victory, the occupation state finds itself being drawn kicking and screaming into negotiations over a two-state solution. 

Withstanding the impracticality of establishing a genuinely independent, sovereign Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, this scenario is becoming increasingly likely despite long-standing opposition from the Israeli government. It is an extraordinary development, particularly as Tel Aviv’s strategy, as articulated by foreign policy advisor Ophir Falk, was mainly to “destroy Hamas” and its military and governance capabilities entirely.

Today, the two-state option is frantically being resuscitated in Washington, of all places, and by stalwart allies of Tel Aviv.

Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel and staunch supporter of the occupation state, argues in Foreign Affairs magazine that far from being “dead,” the two-state solution now looks to be the only reasonable game in town:

The reason for this revival is not complicated. There are, after all, only a few possible alternatives to the two-state solution. There is Hamas’ solution, which is the destruction of Israel. There is the Israeli ultra-right’s solution, which is the Israeli annexation of the West Bank, the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the deportation of Palestinians to other countries. There is the ‘conflict management’ approach pursued for the last decade or so by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which aimed to maintain the status quo indefinitely – and the world has seen how that worked out. And there is the idea of a binational state in which Jews would become a minority, thus ending Israel’s status as a Jewish state. None of those alternatives would resolve the conflict – at least not without causing even greater calamities. And so if the conflict is to be resolved peacefully, the two-state solution is the only idea left standing.

Disarmament for statehood? 

In widely publicized comments last week, Khalil al-Hayya, deputy head of Hamas in Gaza, has appeared to endorse the 1967 borders for a future Palestinian state explicitly. 

In a recent interview with AP, Hayya spoke of “a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the return of Palestinian refugees in accordance with the international resolutions” along Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

Most significantly, though, he hinted that the resistance movement’s military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades, could potentially dissolve itself and/or fold its cadres into a Palestinian national army:

All the experiences of people who fought against occupiers, when they became independent and obtained their rights and their state, what have these forces done? They have turned into political parties and their defending fighting forces have turned into the national army.

Instead of embracing these possibilities, Falk dismissed Hayya as a “high-ranking terrorist” and sought to redirect the conversation back to intransigent Israeli demands: 

“Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government set a mission to destroy Hamas’ military and governing capabilities in Gaza, free the hostages, and ensure that Gaza does not pose a threat to Israel and the rest of the civilized world in the future,” he said, adding, “Those goals will be achieved.”

Diplomacy in Doha and Istanbul 

Although Hayya emphasized that his views are aligned with Hamas’ historical positions, as articulated by the resistance movement’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, in 1998 and reiterated in its 2017 charter of general principles and policies, his public statements highlight the immense political pressures faced by Hamas, notably from political allies Qatar and Turkiye. 

These pressures aim to foster high-level international and regional talks that could potentially end the conflict and establish ‘permanent stability.’ As with any negotiation, there are essential questions to address: Who will have the authority to enforce these terms? What limitations will be imposed? These are critical issues for Palestinians besieged in Gaza and for their broader cause – as well as for Al-Qassam and the entire resistance.

Behind the scenes, both Qatar and Turkiye have been instrumental in shaping Hamas’ new diplomatic approach. The movement’s external leaders, including Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh, have participated in discussions facilitated by both countries in Doha and Istanbul. 

Earlier this month, in a joint press conference with his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Turkiye’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan was explicitly supportive, also highlighting the west’s positive stance toward intensifying peace efforts based on the two-state solution.

“In our political talks with Hamas for years, they have accepted a Palestinian state to be established within the 1967 borders,” Fidan told reporters. 

“They have told me that following the establishment of the Palestinian state, Hamas would no longer need an armed wing and they would continue as a political party,” he added.

The ball is in Israel’s court 

Although Israel’s western allies have long sought to exclude Hamas from any and all Palestinian processes, it has become abundantly clear that Gaza’s military leadership, particularly Al-Qassam Brigades, is set to play a crucial role in any negotiation process. 

This is an extraordinary victory of sorts for Hamas, which has successfully managed to insert itself into future deliberations, not only on Gaza but Palestine as a whole. The movement’s tactical decision to endorse the 1967 borders not only aims to position Hamas as a credible negotiator but also strategically corners the far-right coalition government of Benjamin Netanyahu. 

By signaling willingness to demilitarize in exchange for statehood, Hamas aims to place the onus on Tel Aviv, toying with the inherent vulnerability of its coalition government and potentially precipitating its collapse. This move not only improves Hamas’ leverage in any forthcoming negotiations but, ironically, also aligns with the US interests in seeing regime change in Israel. 

It is clear that Hamas has – whether out of conviction, under pressure, or as a wily tactic – become a necessary partner in broader and long-term political negotiations concerning the future of Palestine and the region. 

Over the years, the movement has itself been compelled to engage in several rounds of indirect negotiations with Israel, most notably at the end of the first decade of the millennium when Hamas was still based in Damascus. That was part of a larger regional effort spurred by Ankara to rejuvenate the peace process. 

Twenty-six years ago, Khaled Meshaal met with former US President Jimmy Carter in Damascus during the latter’s nine-day West Asia tour aimed at breaking the deadlock between Israel and Hamas early in their governance of Gaza. 

The Palestinian resistance movement enjoyed considerable leeway for political maneuvering due to the geopolitical climate at the time. Carter reported that Hamas expressed willingness to accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders if agreed upon by the Palestinians and acknowledged Israel’s right to exist peacefully as a neighboring state. 

Compelling Israel to do Hamas’ will 

But today, Hamas’ renewed strength comes from two main factors:  the relentless, unified military pushback by the region’s Axis of Resistance in support of their Palestinian allies and unprecedented global condemnation of Israel’s Gaza genocide – both sharply impacting and confounding Tel Aviv’s initial, over-confident war objectives. 

Rather than defeating Hamas, Israel now finds itself on the back foot, engaging in negotiations that center around the one outcome it had least expected – that of a two-state solution. 

Tel Aviv’s disturbing dilemma also showcases the political acumen of Hamas and the Palestinian resistance, who recognized the utility of hard power in achieving political ends rather than as an end in itself – in sharp contrast to Israel’s approach throughout this conflict. 

The fact that, seven months after Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, Hamas retains its array of capabilities signifies not only the abject failure of Israel’s military and political objectives but also an unexpected humbling of Tel Aviv. Israel, today, is being forced into negotiations on Palestinian statehood that it has assiduously avoided for 30 long years. 

This shift is undoubtedly energized by the unprecedented US student protest movement and other anti-colonial voices around the world, adding a global dimension to the local struggle. These developments are yet another ace in the hand for Hamas and another nail in the coffin for Israeli leverage.

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