What does Hamas mean when it says that it "accepts" an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem without recognizing Israel's right to exist?
Is this a sign of moderation and pragmatism on the part of the extremist Islamic terror movement? Or is it just another ploy intended to deceive everyone, especially gullible Westerners, into believing that Hamas has abandoned its strategy of destroying Israel in favor of a two-state solution?
Recent reports have suggested that Hamas is moving towards "declaring a Palestinian state over the 1967 borders."
According to the reports, Hamas is also contemplating changing its charter so that it would no longer include anti-Semitic references. The charter, which was drafted in August 1988, contains anti-Semitic passages and characterizations of Israeli society as Nazi-like in its cruelty. The same reports also claimed that Hamas's revised charter will also state that the terror movement is not part of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Some analysts in Israel and the West have interpreted these reports as a sign that Hamas is finally endorsing a policy of pragmatism toward Israel and Jews. They are particularly excited about Hamas's purported intention to declare (in its revised charter) that its conflict is "only with Zionism and the occupation, and not with Jews around the world."
Judging from the analyses published by some commentators and Palestinian affairs "experts" in the past few days, one might conclude that Hamas is on its way to making a dramatic change in its vicious ideology. Unfortunately, however, the facts suggest otherwise.
Changes or no changes, the movement has no intention whatsoever of abandoning its jihad to destroy Israel and kill Jews.
The purported shift in Hamas's policy is illusory. What Hamas says, day and night, in Arabic, tells the real story. In fact, Hamas officials are very clear and straightforward when they address their people in Arabic. Yet some Western and Israeli analysts do not want to be bothered by the facts.
When Hamas talks about "accepting" a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 lines without recognizing Israel's right to exist, it is actually saying, "Give us a state so that we can use it as a launching pad to destroy Israel."
Indeed, senior Hamas official Ismail Radwan leaves no room for ambiguity when he explains this point. Hamas, he says, does not oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 "borders," but this does not mean that "we will recognize the Zionist occupation and that the entire Palestinian land belongs to Palestinian and Islamic generations." He also repeated Hamas's opposition to any form of negotiations with Israel.
Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar was also quick to refute claims that his movement was headed toward accepting the two-state solution. Calling for stepping up the "intifada" against Israel, Zahar said that Hamas's goal was to "liberate all of Palestine."
Hamas has also denied its intention to cut off its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. "The reports are aimed at tarnishing the image of Hamas in the eyes of the world," explained a top Hamas official. He also denied that Hamas was planning to abandon the armed struggle against Israel in favor of a peaceful popular "resistance."
Some reports have suggested that Hamas leaders Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniyeh are the ones pushing for the changes in the movement's charter. However, even if Mashaal and Haniyeh succeed in their mission, there is no guarantee that Hamas's military wing would comply.
Hamas's recent internal and secret election saw the rise of Yahya Sinwar as the top leader of the movement in the Gaza Strip. His election is seen as an indication of the growing influence of Hamas's military wing. Sinwar, a convicted murderer, was released from Israeli prison a few years ago. The rise of Sinwar to power is also a sign that Hamas is headed toward more extremism and terrorism and preparing for the next war with Israel.
The Hamas military wing has a rather spotty history of following the directives of the movement's political leaders. For example, recurring attempts by Mashaal and Haniyeh to end the dispute with Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority (PA) have been repeatedly thwarted by the Hamas military wing and other leaders of the movement, first and foremost Zahar.
Let's remember, for a moment, the annual rallies held by Hamas's military wing in the Gaza Strip. At these rallies, masked Hamas terrorists remind the world that their true goal is to "liberate all of Palestine."
Armed Hamas militiamen on parade with a vehicle-mounted rocket launcher in Gaza, in August 2016. (Image source: PressTV video screenshot)
At one such rally, Zahar announced that Hamas already has an army whose mission is to "liberate all of Palestine." He continued: "By God's will, this army will reach Jerusalem."
Hamas continues to remain committed to all forms of terrorism against Israelis. There are no signs whatsoever that the movement is on its way to endorsing a peaceful and popular resistance against Israel. Quite the opposite is true: Hamas never misses an opportunity to clarify that it continues to encourage terrorism against Israel. The latest assertion from Hamas came this week when one of its spokesmen, Abdel Latif Al-Kanou, issued a statement praising a stabbing attack against two Israeli policemen in Jerusalem. Hailing the attack as a "heroic operation," the spokesman stressed that the "intifada" against Israel would continue.
This is not the first time that Hamas has talked about "accepting" a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines.
In the past, some Hamas officials were quoted as saying that they do not rule out the possibility that their movement would one day accept such an idea. But these statements always came in the context of Hamas's effort to rid itself of its growing isolation in the Gaza Strip.
The latest reports concerning floated changes in Hamas's charter, too, ought to be seen in the context of the movement's ongoing effort to end its isolation. But it is nothing but a smokescreen to mislead the international community into believing that it is on its way to toning down its murderous intentions.
So, what is prompting this disingenuous "change of heart"?
Reports that the Trump Administration is considering the possibility of designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group. In all likelihood, Hamas is simply seeking to appear as if it is moving toward moderation. In other words, Hamas is prepared to lie -- at least in English -- about its independence from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Disturbingly, some Westerners are already marketing Hamas's deception tactics as a "major shift" in the movement's ideology and plans. Facts, however, are that Hamas remains a terrorist organization that has not and will not abandon its plans to eliminate Israel and kill as many Jews as possible. Here is a dose of deadly reality: Hamas seeks to extend its control to the West Bank as part of its plan to destroy Israel. It wants Israel to give the Palestinians more land so that it would be used as a launching pad to drive the Jews into the sea. This is Hamas, like it or not.
Bassam Tawil is a scholar based in the Middle East.