Abbas cornering Hamas

WHATEVER the long-term consequences turn out to be, there is much-needed wisdom in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's ultimatum that the Islamist movement Hamas either accept a two-state solution as the basis for negotiations with Israel or face a referendum on the issue.

The demand Abbas announced Thursday deftly deprives Hamas of its claim to incarnate both the popular will of Palestinians and the will of God. Abbas's recourse to a referendum -- which he can call as Palestinian Authority president -- reflects his confidence in repeated polls indicating a large majority of Palestinians desire negotiations with Israel leading to the establishment of two states living alongside each other in peace.

If Hamas refuses to drop its one-state doctrine -- a single Sharia-based state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea -- then Abbas will have cornered Hamas into conceding that, despite the parliamentary majority it won in January's elections, the Islamist party hardly reflects the popular will.

If Hamas accepts negotiations for a two-state peace accord with Israel, Abbas will have not only obliged Hamas to abandon core principles in its charter. He will also have made possible the resumption of suspended international aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Should Hamas heed Abbas's advice to ``stop with the slogans and start dealing with reality," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would be hard pressed to go on saying he has no Palestinian partner for peace and so must plan for unilateral steps leading to the establishment of permanent borders for Israel.

The Abbas ultimatum is also aimed at ending violent clashes in Gaza between Fatah and Hamas on Abbas's terms. It was this internecine warfare on the streets of Gaza that led to marathon talks between Hamas and Fatah leaders beginning Thursday. The talks were held under the auspices of a delegation from Egypt, and in asking for a unified stance in favor of negotiations with Israel, Abbas pointedly warned: ``The Arab countries are waiting for this realistic position, to work in harmony, to push the Palestinian cause ahead. They cannot do anything for the Palestinian cause if the Palestinians are rejecting everything."

This was Abbas's shrewd way of saying that if Hamas refuses to endorse either an Arab League peace plan approved at a Beirut summit in 2002 or a similar framework for negotiations with Israel drafted recently in an Israeli prison by notables of Fatah and Hamas, then Hamas alone will bear the blame for thwarting the will of the Palestinian people.

Abbas deserves Israeli and international backing for his peaceful, political effort to make Hamas choose between its doctrinal fantasies and the real interests of the Palestinian people. 

© Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company