Hamas is ready for dialogue


BEIRUT. (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya.) -- A delegation of Hamas, the radical Islamic group that won the January elections in Palestine and got the right to form the government, will come to Moscow on March 3. The visit will not bring any sensations, such as a pledge to stop fighting or to recognize Israel's right to existence.

In fact, Russia does not expect this; its goal for the forthcoming talks is to clarify the movement's stand. It wants to determine if the international community can hold a constructive dialogue with the Islamic movement and eventually convince it to make peace with Israel.

Hamas seems to be ready for talks, though the dialogue will not be simple or easy.

Russia will present the stand of the international Quartet of intermediaries in the Middle East settlement, which includes also the United States, the European Union and the UN. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, "the recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence, and respect for signed agreements are what the international community wants" from Palestine. At the same time, Russian diplomats said they would not demand anything from Hamas, who has the right to respect or reject the opinion of Moscow and the Quartet as a whole.

This approach seems to be justified, as Hamas's stand will not change overnight, especially in the absence of Israel's response steps.

"Why are you talking about our recognition of Israel but do not mention the need for Israel to respect the rights of the Palestinian people?" Usama Hamdan, the official spokesman of Hamas in Beirut, asked RIA Novosti.

He said that the Palestine-Israel agreements did not stipulate respect for the rights of Palestinians and put off the solution of vital problems, such as the border, the right of refugees to return to their homes, and the status of Jerusalem, until later. Hamas will honor only those agreements that do not look like capitulation.

This is the essence of problems that will complicate the Moscow talks and future relations between Hamas and the international community. Russian diplomats said the movement would have to respect agreements with Israel to fulfill its election promise to improve the life of Palestinians. If the radical Islamic group persists, the Middle East settlement will remain deadlocked, which means that Palestinians will not be able to solve their social and economic problems. Therefore, the task of Russian diplomats is to see the "borderline" beyond which Hamas will not go.

The movement's spokesmen say Hamas would not do many things - "we will not recognize Israel or stop the resistance struggle" - but there is a hint of readiness for dialogue in the way they say it.

Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal told the Russian daily Vremya Novostei: "Russia may advance its offers. We do not keep our eyes closed; we are ready to discuss any ideas. But we have our own vision of the problem, which we will put forth in Moscow."

However you look at it, this statement means that Hamas is ready to search for a way out of the Middle East deadlock. Nearly all of Hamas's official spokesmen mention dialogue, though they know the talks in Moscow will be difficult because Russia will not abandon its stand coordinated with the Quartet. "The start of the discussion of our and their positions and interests, our goals and their vision of the region will certainly bring results," said Mousa Abu Marzook, deputy chief of the Hamas political bureau. This is a statement made by a pragmatic, not a fanatic.

We must admit that the radical Islamic movement wants to talk in order to create the basis for new agreements. Russian and Western diplomats will find it hard to accept the fact that the previous Palestine-Israel agreements are dead and they must search for new approaches to the problem. But these agreements have played their positive part by encouraging the movement toward settling the Palestine-Israel conflict. Now that the situation has been deadlocked again the agreements should be overhauled to suit new realities. This is a natural process.

It is notable that nobody mentioned the denunciation of previous agreements. The crucial task now is to reaffirm that the sides have the intention to settle the conflict, sooner or later, which is the fundamental principle of all previous agreements. Moscow expects such confirmation from Hamas, even if shrouded in the movement's traditional rhetoric.

The way to peace agreements will be long and difficult, because for the moment the attitudes of Hamas and Israel seem to be diametrically opposite. Neither side is ready to retreat and, at first glance, has nowhere to retreat. But the situation keeps changing in Israel, on the Palestinian territories and on the international scene, influencing developments in the zone of the Palestine-Israel conflict. Therefore, the immediate task of international diplomacy is to keep the door to peace open, and try to reduce the number of victims in Israel and Palestine.

This is the background for Hamas's expected visit to Moscow.

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