There is a moment in Stephen Sackur’s recent BBC Hardtalk interview with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal when one throws up one’s hands in despair.
Having tried repeatedly to get Mashaal to disavow his organisation’s opposition to the existence of the state of Israel, Sackur is rebuffed: “The whole world knows Hamas has never stated it believes in a two-state solution,” Mashaal says, “…the issue is not the two-state solution…” At which point, Sackur seeks to correct the Hamas leader with reference to opinion polls suggesting the Palestinian people support a two-state solution, the implication being that Hamas should, too. “Isn’t it time for some new thinking, from you?” he later asks.
Stephen Sackur is probably the BBC’s best political interviewer. I have never had the impression he bears the kind of visceral hostility to Israel of so many of his colleagues. That makes his forlorn line of questioning all the more illustrative of where the Western media get things so badly wrong.
The first error is to misunderstand the nature of Hamas. It is an extreme, Judeophobic Islamist terror outfit that derives its support from those Palestinians committed to violent opposition to Israel’s very existence. If it were to abandon that position, its supporters would shift allegiance to another violent rejectionist group.
Thus, whenever any Hamas operative (usually courting Western gullibility) hints that some sort of peace deal with Israel could be accepted, the leadership quickly reassures its supporters there has been no shift whatsoever from core principles. This was what Mashaal did on Hardtalk.
The second error is to believe Hamas rejectionism is not shared by a majority of the Palestinians. Polls (eg from The Israel Project) show that significant numbers of Palestinians support a two-state solution only as a stepping stone to a one-state solution by which Israel would be destroyed.
Fatah and its supporters differ from Hamas and their supporters in that, at present, they believe violence is tactically wrong and that there is mileage in cosying up to Western governments by talking up the two-state solution. Whenever they are offered one, they then proceed to reject it.
It is Palestinian rejectionism that explains why a resolution to the conflict is so elusive. But that’s a reality the BBC seems incapable of accepting.