Soon after it became known that the attack in Jordan on Hamas leader Khalid Mish’al involved Israeli agents, media outlets including CNN and the Associated Press reported that 2 days before the attack Hamas had offered Israel a 10 year truce. These reports portrayed the Hamas offer as "credible," and Israel as intransigent for refusing it.
CNN’s Ralph Wenge stated on October 5th that Israel received the alleged peace offer and "yet, presumably, the Israeli government and Mr. Netanyahu continued with their plan on the assassination." (CNN World Report, 5 October 1997)
A CNN web article on October 5th (attributed to Jerrold Kessel) claimed that Israel "ignored a credible offer from Hamas for a 10-year cessation of hostilities and bombings."(CNN has since removed the word "credible" from the posted story.)
Walter Rodgers reiterated on October 6th that "CNN has learned … the Netanyahu government went ahead [with the attack on Mish’al] without heeding the Hamas peace feeler." (CNN Newsroom Worldview, 6 October 1997)
On October 7th, in a web story entitled "Hamas founder sets Israel truce terms" (attributed to Walter Rodgers), CNN states:
In the past, militants within Hamas have never indicated a willingness to negotiate. Instead, they have spoken of a "holy war" to establish an Islamic state in all of what is now Israel.
Also on October 7th, on CNN Today, Natalie Allen introduced a Walter Rodgers report by characterizing the Hamas truce offer as "… a far cry from the group’s earlier call for a holy war…"
The AP also portrayed the "truce" offer as a change in Hamas policies:
The offer … indicated the Islamic militant group was willing to negotiate rather than destroy the peace process. Hamas leaders have previously spoken only of a "holy war" to establish an Islamic state in all of what is now Israel. (AP, 7 October 1997)
In fact, this is not the first time Hamas has offered such a "truce," nor have these offers been "credible" or intended as a prelude to peaceful coexistence.
The Hamas Definition of a "Truce"
In Hamas ideology a truce can be offered to the enemies of Islam only for tactical reasons — principally when the enemy is strong and the Muslims are weak. The truce period is to be used to change the balance of forces. When this is accomplished, and the stage has been set for a Muslim victory, the truce must be broken. This strategy follows the practice and teachings of Islam’s founder, the Prophet Mohammed, who arranged a 10 year truce with the Quraysh tribe in 628, when his forces were not yet powerful enough to defeat the Quraysh. The truce has been known since then as the "Treaty of Hudaybiyah," after the site near the Quraysh city of Mecca where it was negotiated. Less than 2 years later, when Muslim forces were sufficiently strong, the Quraysh were defeated by the Muslims and Mecca captured. The Arabic term used to describe the truce with the Quraysh was hudna — the same word used by Hamas in their "truce" offers to Israel.
With this historical background the words of the recently released Hamas leader, Sheikh Yasin, can be properly understood:
It is impermissible for Muslims to stop jihad as long as an Islamic territory is occupied, only in [ie except for] cases of truce with the enemy and until a sufficient force for liberation is gathered. (interview in al- Muharrir (Paris) published on 26 December 1994)
In a later interview Sheikh Yasin declared:
Reconciliation with the Jews is a crime … If reconciliation means a truce and a cessation of fighting for a specified period of time, Islam allows the imam [leader] of the Muslims to undertake such a reconciliation if he believes that the enemy is strong and the Muslims are weak and need time to prepare and buildup. I single out Palestine in particular, because it is a land of holy places and an Islamic religious endowment (waqf) that cannot be conceded by any ruler, president or king. Nor may any generation concede it, because it is the property of all generations of Muslims until the Day of Judgement.
As for the permitted duration of the truce, many Islamic jurists are of the opinion that it must not exceed 10 years.(Filastin al-Muslimah (London), March 1995)
Within the same historical context other Hamas leaders have also spoken on the conditions for a truce. For example, in an interview in al-Hayat (London) published on 11 March 1996, the Hamas representative in Jordan, Muhammad Nazal, answered the question of what Hamas wanted in return for stopping its "military action" (ie, suicide bombings):
An end to the occupation. Our political programme is based on the premise that there will be resistance as long as there is occupation. The occupation is still there… The search for a solution must be dissociated from the Oslo agreements.
Of course, by occupation, Sheikh Yasin and Mr. Nazal are referring to all of "Palestine," not just the West Bank and Gaza. That is, while they are not against a tactical, temporary truce, their attacks will cease permanently only when Israel ceases to exist.
Even with that caveat, truces are offered and then disavowed by Hamas on a regular basis. Thus, while Reuters headlined a "conditional truce" offered by Hamas on 20 June 1996, on 21 June 1996 al-Ayyam (Ramallah) reported that the Hamas representative in Lebanon termed the truce story "fabricated and baseless," and that "Hamas sources in Gaza" also disavowed any truce offering.
The most recent claims of Hamas "moderation" and willingness to reach a truce have also been quickly disavowed by senior Hamas leaders. For example, interviewed by telephone from Gaza on October 6th, Hamas spokesman Abdel Rantissi stated:
… we are not thinking of this [a truce] at all, nor have we thought of it. I was surprised by yesterday’s reports on this point. This is utterly untrue. We have never contemplated such an issue. There are great causes, there is the cause of Palestine, a holy land and Islamic property. All Muslims must liberate Palestine. We will pursue this line until the last Zionist occupier leaves the Palestinian land. (Radio Monte Carlo, Paris, as translated by BBCSWB, 8 October 1997)
Despite this history of promoting and inciting violence, and of empty truce proposals which are denied as quickly as they are offered, many media outlets continue to portray Hamas leader Sheikh Yasin as a moderate willing to live in peace with Israel. For example, this is how NPR’s Eric Weiner reported recent statements by the Sheikh:
In public comments since he was released last week, Sheikh Yassin has struck a fairly conciliatory tone. Speaking to reporters in Jordan, he said Arabs and Jews can live together if Palestinian rights are respected. (Eric Weiner, All Things Considered, 6 October 1997)
Contrast NPR’s version with reports of what Yasin actually said:
… the rights he wants from the Jews consist of an entire Palestine from the river to the ocean. Yasin was replying to a question of what he meant about coexistence with the Jews. Sheikh Yasin said that this can only take place if they live among the Muslims as people of the book, as was the case in Prophet Muhammad’s era. He added: This is the only way they can live with us. … He stressed the need to pursue violence to liberate all of Palestine; however, the Hamas leader said he is willing to accept a temporary truce … In response to a question concerning his health, Sheikh Yasin said: Today I am like iron, and tomorrow I will be like an incendiary bomb in the face of the occupiers. (al-Arab al-Yawm, Jordan, 6 October 1997, as translated and summarized by BBCSWB, 8 October 1997)
Echoing Yasin’s calls to violence, Hamas spokesman Abdel Rantissi explained what Hamas had in mind for the Jews of Israel in an IMRA interview on 8 October:
IMRA: What do you see ultimately happening to the people who moved into Israel? We have people who came from Europe, Russia, the Arab states.
Rantissi: I will tell you something. I feel that it is justice for us to [do] with Jews as they did with us.
IMRA: To let them stay?
Rantissi: In the same way that they dispossessed our people. They killed thousands of Palestinians in tens of massacres and they destroyed homes. So I think it is just to do with them as they did with us.