Mashaal Cannot Change Hamas
The re-election last week of Khaled Mashaal as Hamas leader has been interpreted by some Arab and Western analysts as a sign of the radical Islamist's desire to march toward "moderation and pragmatism."
Hamas, according to political analyst Ahmed Rafik Awad, chose the "moderate" Mashaal in order to avoid internal differences.
According to Awad, Mashal is known for his "balanced personality and centrist positions, making him an extremely acceptable figure in the Arab and international arena."
Another analyst, Walid al-Mudalal, said that the re-election of Mashaal for another four years "would give him a chance to continue his effort to rearrange Hamas's relations with the West and convince the West that Hamas is not its enemy."
Some Western analysts have been quick to endorse this theory by pointing out that under Mashaal Hamas would adopt a new and moderate strategy, including accepting Israel's right to exist.
Their argument is apparently based on remarks made by Mashaal [in English, of course, but not in Arabic] to the effect that Hamas is prepared to accept the two-state solution.
What the optimists are ignoring, however, is Mashaal's assertion that acceptance of the two-state solution does not mean recognizing Israel's right to exist.
Mashaal is, in fact, saying that Hamas will accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem without giving up its struggle to eliminate Israel.
Hamas re-elected Mashaal not because he has become a pragmatist and a moderate. He was re-elected because Hamas believes that he has the skills to change the West's attitude toward Hamas. There is, after all, nothing better than a leader who can appear on CNN and try to market Hamas as a peace-loving liberation movement.
Mashaal may be a charismatic and pragmatic man, but at the end of the day he will not be able to change Hamas's charter calling for the destruction of Israel.
Nor will Mashaal be able to rein in Hamas's armed wing, Izaddin al-Kassam, which is responsible for hundreds of suicide bombings and thousands of rocket attacks against Israel.
Al-Kassam has many commanders in the Gaza Strip who do not share Mashaal's ostensible pragmatism and moderation. One of them is Mahmoud Zahar, an influential Hamas figure in the Gaza Strip.
Over the past two years, Mashaal has repeatedly failed to convince his rivals in Hamas to agree to unity with Fatah. When Mashaal signed the last Doha "reconciliation" agreement with Mahmoud Abbas in Qatar last year, most Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip came out against him.
So if Mashaal has been unable to convince his own movement to accept reconciliation with Fatah, he is less likely to persuade other Hamas figures and followers to abandon their radical ideology — let alone accept Israel's right to exist.
Further evidence of the challenges facing the new-old leader of Hamas was provided this week when leaders of the Islamist movement in the Gaza Strip repeated their commitment to violence.
In response to statements made by U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland to the effect that Washington would not conduct any dialogue with Hamas, leaders of the movement reiterated their refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist or their own willingness to renounce violence.
"We categorically reject these statements," said Hamas spokesman Ezat al-Risheq. "Hamas refuses to recognize the Zionist entity and the legitimacy of its occupation of Palestine," he said. "Palestinian resistance is not terrorism, but a legitimate project in line with international laws."
Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, also reaffirmed his movement's refusal to recognize Israel and renounce terrorism.
Those who expect real changes in Hamas following the re-election of Mashaal are living in an illusion. Even if Mashaal himself changes, Hamas will always remain the same Hamas.
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