I suppose one can never be surprised at the disingenuous coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the New York Times in general, and that by Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner in particular. Still, today's lead story--lead story, mind you--on the apparent political reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas baldly asserts that "The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority has negotiated for a two-state solution with Israel, whereas Hamas says Israel has no right to exist and continues to fire rockets at Israeli towns."
First, the implied suggestion that Hamas, out of the blue, fires rockets at Israeli towns, apparently for no other reason than to deny Israel's right to exist, is the usual distortion of a much more complex and even murky situation. By contrast, here's how the military correspondents of Haaretz covered the story:
March 23, 2011
"A small war is starting along Gaza border," by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff
"Israeli communities near the border are receiving a daily dose of mortars and rockets, and the Israel Air Force has been attacking Gaza. What began as a local escalation is steadily transforming into a broader conflict that the sides will apparently have difficulty stopping....The current tensions began exactly a week ago when Israel launched an air attack on a Hamas base in the ruins of the settlement of Netzarim, killing two Hamas men. That attack came in response to a Qassam fired from Gaza that landed in an open area. Hamas then responded with a barrage of 50 mortars on communities south of the Gaza Strip. But on Monday evening Israel launched a series of air attacks in which a number of Hamas militants were wounded." (emphasis added)
Subsequent Haaretz news stories suggested that many of the rockets may have been fired by Islamic Jihad, not Hamas--and while Hamas has tight control over Gaza, it is not absolute--in the past Islamic Jihad has defied Hamas policies.
But far worse is the statement that "Hamas says Israel has no right to exist." At best, that is a child's version of reality; at worst, it amounts to a deliberate distortion of a far more complex, or if you prefer, ambiguous situation. Actually, what I really believe is that it amounts to a lie, since there can be no doubt that Bronner and Kershner know that "Hamas says" much more than "Israel has no right to exist."
If I may cite myself, here's what I have written on the issue, in the context of discussing what alternatives Israel had to its "Cast Lead" attack on Gaza at the end of 2008.
"The best way for Israel to have ended the rocket attacks would have been to negotiate a political settlement with Hamas. The record leaves no doubt that Israel made no attempt at such negotiations before it attacked Gaza, despite a number of indications that Hamas was becoming increasingly amenable to a reasonable political settlement.
Well before the Israeli attack, there were reasons to believe that Hamas might be about to follow in the footsteps of Yasir Arafat’s PLO, as well as of many other radical movements that became much more moderate when they had countries to run. To be sure, prior to the Israeli attack on Gaza, there were no guarantees that Hamas would duplicate the evolution of the PLO, for it had not repudiated its anti-Semitic founding ideology and 1988 charter, which explicitly states that it is a religious obligation to eliminate Israel and the Jews from the Islamic holy land. Nonetheless, there had been a number of indications that Hamas was moving towards a pragmatic, if reluctant, acceptance of the realities of Israeli power and was becoming increasingly amenable to a de facto if not de jure two-state political settlement.
* In January 2006 Hamas published its official platform for the upcoming Palestinian parliamentary election; it included no language calling for the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic state in all of Palestine..... Shortly after Hamas won the election Ismael Haniyeh, the new Gazan prime minister, sent a written message to George Bush, offering a truce for many years in exchange for a compromise political settlement; the Bush administration did not reply to this and additional overtures.
*Soon afterwards, Hamas began to go public with its new position. For example, in May 2006 Haniyeh told Haaretz that the Hamas government would agree to a long-term truce with Israel if it withdrew to the 1967 lines, and a few months later he told an American scholar that “We have no problem with a sovereign Palestinian state over all of our lands within the 1967 borders, living in calm.” In the same year, Khaled Meshal, one of the most militant Hamas leaders, said that Hamas could not oppose the unified Arab stance, expressed in an Arab League summit conference, which offered Israel full recognition and normalized relations in exchange for a full Israel withdrawal from the occupied territories and a solution to the refugee problem.
*Of particular importance was a May 2006 joint statement of senior Hamas and Fatah members who were imprisoned in Israel. The prestigious “Prisoner’s Declaration” went much further than the earlier Hamas overtures: abandoning the previous ambiguities, it called for the establishment of a Palestinian state “in all the lands occupied in 1967,” and reserved the use of armed resistance only in those territories.
*In yet another significant indication that Hamas was moving towards the moderate position of Abbas’s Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank, in March 2007 Hamas and the PA formed a national unity government to negotiate with Israel; Hamas officials stated at the time that they agreed that Abbas should play the leading role in any negotiations.
*Throughout 2008 Hamas’ political position continued to evolve, including that of its hardliners. In particular, in April 2008 Meshal publicly announced his support of a ten-year truce if Israel withdrew to the 1967 borders.
Israel and its U.S. ally ignored all these overtures or contemptuously termed them “tricks.” It is undeniable that prior to the Israeli attack the Hamas position still contained ambiguities and inconsistencies. Yet, well before the Israeli attack on Gaza, the general direction was clear, and in historic terms the evolution had been rapid, as indeed was acknowledged by some former high-level Israeli government officials. For example, in late 2006 Yossi Alpher, a former deputy head of the Mossad and a pillar of the Israeli establishment, wrote: “Hamas’ conditions for a long-term hudna or ceasefire…are almost too good to be true. Refugees and right of return and Jerusalem can wait for some other process; Hamas will suffice with the 1967 borders, more or less, and in return will guarantee peace and quiet for ten, 25 or 30 years of good neighborly relations and confidence-building.”
Ami Ayalon, the former head of the Shin Bet, and Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad and the national security adviser in Ariel Sharon’s 2002-03 government, also argued strongly for negotiations with Hamas. In particular, shortly before the Israeli attack Halevy argued that Hamas militants “have recognized…[their] ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future.” Instead, “they are ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state in the temporary borders of 1967…[and] they know that the moment a Palestinian state is established with their cooperation, they will be obligated to change the rules of the game: they will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original ideological goals.” Halevy concluded, dryly, that “Israel, for reasons of its own, did not want to turn the ceasefire into the start of a diplomatic process with Hamas.”
Since Cast Lead, there is no evidence that Hamas has abandoned its probable pragmatic willingness to settle for a two-state settlement, though it can scarcely be expected to announce it daily, faced with the utter rejectionism of Netanyahu and the no-bottom political cowardice/fatuity (choose your own characterization) of the Obama administration.