Some naïve Israelis and Westerners have misinterpreted Hamas's readiness to accept a cease-fire with Israel as a sign that the Islamist movement has abandoned its desire to destroy Israel.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz even went as far as to criticize the Israeli government for failing to see the alleged change in Hamas's strategy.
In an editorial, the newspaper said that :instead of encouraging Hamas's new direction, expressing the hope that it will turn into a legitimate political party and supporting the establishment of a Palestinian unity government, Israel offered its routine response – "silence and apathy toward the declarations and a threat of a military operation [in the Gaza Strip]."
The "declarations" Haaretz is referring to are statements attributed to Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal to the effect that his movement is switching over from armed struggle to a popular struggle against Israel. Further, Mashaal was quoted as saying that Hamas's recent understandings with Fatah include the creation of a Palestinian state "only" in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
These "declarations" have thus far appeared only in Western media outlets. Mashaal's statements in Arabic, which were published in Hamas media outlets in the past few days, do not talk about accepting a two-state solution, recognizing Israel's right to exist or abandoning the armed struggle.
On the contrary, Mashaal and other Hamas leaders have made it clear that the armed struggle remains their most important strategy in the fight against Israel. And they have also made it clear that they will never recognize Israel's right to exist even though they are prepared to accept, for now, a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 lines.
But these statements are being ignored by Haaretz and other Western media outlets, which continue to insist that Hamas has changed.
In a separate news story, Haaretz claimed that Mashaal had ordered his movement to stop attacking Israeli targets. Hamas spokesmen insist that there was never such an order and that the report is baseless.
When Hamas talks about a cease-fire, it is because the movement wants to avoid another Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, and not because it does it has stopped believing in armed struggle. Hamas is merely worried that another massive Israeli attack would end its control over the Gaza Strip.
When Hamas talks about accepting a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, it is not because the movement recognizes Israel's right to exist. Hamas wants a temporary Palestinian state so that it can use it as a launching pad for "liberating all Palestine."
Hamas will change only on the day it abandons its dream of replacing Israel with an Islamist state, and renounces violence. Hamas needs to do this in Arabic ,and not in English.
This is not the first time that Haaretz and others have misinterpret Hamas's true intentions. In 2006, when Hamas participated in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, some Israelis and Westerners took this cooperation as proof that the movement had changed and was in the process of transforming into a political party. Hamas has perhaps changed its tactics, but definitely not its ideology and aspirations.