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April 19, 2014

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Where’s the outrage against Hamas?

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You say you want to help the Israeli-Palestinian peace process? Here’s one small part we can all do, with thanks to Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal for the reminder.

Meshaal, exiled political chief of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group, has done us a great service by drawing an incandescent line between those who want peace and coexistence, and those who categorically reject negotiations, seeking only to destroy the enemy.

For those who would like to see peace, the choice is very simple. When Meshaal spoke in Gaza a few days ago, calling for Israel’s destruction, the entire world should have spoken out in outrage.

Of course, that did not happen. Reaction to the horrifying speech was rather muted, particularly in Europe, where some may equate criticism of a Palestinian leader with, heaven forbid, support for Israel. But those who want the best for Palestinians should recoil at the words spoken by the Hamas leader during the group’s anniversary celebrations in Gaza this month.

Nothing could be worse for Palestinians than embracing a position that rejects coexistence with Israel. That is a recipe for stalemate, suffering and continuing strife.

Hamas leaders, emboldened by the victories of their Muslim Brotherhood brethren elsewhere in the Arab world, have engaged in a self-defeating contest to see who is the most extremist among them. The Gaza-based leadership triggered a near-war against Israel a few weeks ago, and their rival Meshaal has now reiterated, “There will be no concession on any inch of the land,” explaining he demands all of Israel, “from the river to the sea,” including Haifa, Tel Aviv, Safed and, of course, Jerusalem. In keeping with efforts to deny any Jewish links to the city, he declared “Israel has no right to be in Jerusalem.”

When the speech came, European leaders were drafting a statement condemning Israel’s announcement that it is moving forward plans for settlement construction in the controversial E1 area. Condemning Israel comes easily in the EU. But when someone suggested the condemnation should also note that a Palestinian leader said Israel should be destroyed — to the cheers of tens of thousands of ebullient supporters, against a backdrop of a mock missile of Iranian design — the Europeans hesitated.

According to Israel Radio, four European countries — Denmark, Finland, Portugal and Ireland — wanted only to condemn Israel without mentioning the words of Hamas, despite the group’s essentially genocidal charter. More diplomatic minds prevailed and a very brief mention of the awful speech was included in the final EU document.

In the U.S., the writer Michael Tomasky chastised his friends. “The left in the developed world,” he wrote, “has let its hatred of imperialism and occupation prevent it from seeing and denouncing” problems within movements it has supported.

Meshaal’s words did not make a lot of waves. The world doesn’t really blink when someone calls for Israel’s destruction. That’s a pity because that silence magnifies Israelis’ fears that they cannot trust international opinion, and it makes them more skeptical of diplomacy.

Hussein Ibish, of the American Task Force on Palestine, called it correctly, describing Meshaal’s speech as “cynical, damaging and dangerous,” with potential “devastating” consequences for Palestinians, making reconciliation and ultimately independence harder to achieve.

Hamas’ Palestinian rival, Fatah, initially said nothing. After complaints from Israel, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas eventually condemned Meshaal’s rejection of Israel’s right to exist. He deserves credit for saying it, and I hope Israelis will hear him.

Unfortunately, Abbas’ Fatah sends mixed messages. A new logo reportedly drawn to mark Fatah’s 48th anniversary includes a map of an envisioned Palestine from the river to the sea, with no sign of Israel; exactly what Meshaal described.

Anyone who wants to do a small part for peace between Israelis and Palestinians should speak out in support of those who want coexistence, and condemn in the strongest terms those who reject the other one’s right to exist.

Frida Ghitis writes about global affairs for the Miami Herald.

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