Hamas is a band of "murderous terrorists," the embattled leader told his deputies. There will be "no dialogue" with them.
This statement did not come from the prime minister of Israel, or even the president of the United States. The words were those of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was speaking in the wake of Hamas’ recent bloody takeover of the Gaza Strip.
The fact that Abbas’ newly expressed views on Hamas resemble those of Western leaders is cause for encouragement among those who hope for a genuine and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
For too long, Abbas pursued a political accommodation with Hamas without requiring the organization to renounce terrorism, accept Israel’s right to exist, and embrace previous agreements concluded between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He seemed blind to the impossibility of seeking peace with Israel while governing alongside a group that sought its destruction.
Now, the Palestinian president has kicked Hamas out of the Palestinian government and formed a new leadership that accepts the international community’s three conditions.
Abbas’ action suggests that he finally recognizes Hamas for what it is — a terrorist group whose program threatens not only Israel but also the future of the Palestinian majority, which professes a desire to live side by side in peace with the Jewish state.
History ultimately judges leaders by the actions they take and the sacrifices they make to realize their lofty visions.
Israel’s recent past is full of instances in which leaders made painful concessions for the sake of peace with the Arab world and the Palestinians.
Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, for example, fully withdrew Israeli citizens and soldiers from Gaza and parts of the west bank in ‘005, reversing decades of Israeli policy. After Sharon was incapacitated by a stroke, Ehud Olmert was elected to succeed him on a platform that promised further territorial concessions.
Most recently, almost immediately after the formation of the new Palestinian government, Israel announced the release of hundreds of millions of dollars in withheld tax revenue to the PA and began planning to bolster the Hamas-free PA leadership by releasing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and easing west bank security measures.
Similarly bold steps are now required of Abbas. Initial decrees from his emergency government are promising.
It has banned the carrying of arms in the west bank without a license. Salam Fayyad, Abbas’ new prime minister, vowed in a recent speech to collect the illicit arms "and replace them with pens and books." The prime minister has also warned clerics to stop inciting their congregations to violence against Israelis, stating that religion should be "a way of tolerance, not a cover for bloodshed."
These statements reflect a promising realization of what will be required to root out Palestinian terrorist groups and replace a culture of violence with one that recognizes the imperative of making peace with Israel.
Should the new Palestinian government follow through with a crackdown on the myriad terrorist organizations in the west bank, it will have lived up to the expectations raised by such stirring and honest rhetoric.
Howard Kohr is executive director of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.