The Things People Say

Just as you can apparently be hailed as a brilliant reporter for peddling bogus conspiracy theories about Iraqi links to al-Qaeda, it seems that stringing together random nutty quotes from Hamas figures to draw the conclusion that Hamas is an organization of unappeasable madmen now counts as brilliant analysis. But of course the problem with this sort of thing—and precisely parallel efforts with regard to Iranian leaders or Hezbollah leaders or whomever else—is that when you look at the record as a whole it turns out that people say all kinds of things. Yesterday, for example, Israel killed a senior Hamas guy named Said Sayyam who was prone to saying stuff like this:

The air strike on Sayyam was apparently an attempt by Israel to deliver an image of victory in its offensive against Hamas. The Israel Defense Forces understands that Hamas’ agreement in principle to the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire in Gaza signals that the campaign is nearing its end.

In an interview with Haaretz in November 1995, Sayyam said, “I do not hate [Israelis] for being Jewish or Israeli but because of what they have done to us. Because of the acts of occupation.”

In response to a question about whether he saw a chance for change in relations between Palestinians and Israelis, he said, “It is difficult to forget what was done to us. If the reason for the hate will not exist, everything is possible.”

Now what’s the “real” Hamas here? Honestly, I have no idea. I have no idea how it is that people reach such firm conclusion about who it is and isn’t possible to negotiate with. I think the record of history is simply that these things are very uncertain. If you look, for example, at the series of events from the Anglo-Irish War through the Irish Civil War and the Irish Free State era, I don’t really know how anyone would have predicted in advance which people would turn out to be the irreconcilables and which would turn out to be open to compromise.