Will Hamas change its ideology and recognize Israel's right to exist after signing the "reconciliation" agreement with Fatah?
According to the Palestinian Authority [PA], the answer is yes. But according to Hamas, the answer is a big no and a pledge to pursue terrorist attacks against Israel.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced last week that a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas representatives would not only recognize Israel, but also renounce violence.
Abbas told PLO officials in Ramallah that the unity government would not deal with the peace process with Israel. Abbas stressed that the PLO leadership would be responsible for the peace process, while the unity government's responsibilities would be restricted to dealing with the day-to-day affairs of the Palestinian public.
"The negotiations are a PLO matter because it represents all Palestinians," Abbas said. "At the same time, I recognize Israel and it will recognize Israel. I reject violence and it will reject violence. I recognize the legitimacy of international agreements and it will recognize them. No one can call this a terrorist government."
Abbas's statements came as a surprise to Hamas, whose leaders rushed to deny any intention to renounce terrorism or recognize Israel's right to exist.
But while Abbas's statements about recognizing Israel and renouncing violence received wide coverage in the mainstream media in the West, journalists hardly noticed Hamas's assertion that it would continue to work toward achieving its goal of destroying Israel.
Less than 48 hours after Abbas made his statements, Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Khaled Mashaal declared that his movement has not abandoned jihad [holy war].
Addressing Hamas supporters in Ramallah by phone, Mashaal said, "Our path is the resistance and jihad is our choice. This is the original Palestinian strategy. We want to build our homeland and liberate our land and holy sites, bring back the refugees and release the prisoners. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, inside and outside, our choice is resistance and the rifle is our way. There is no history or future without jihad and resistance."
Mahmoud Abbas (left) and Khaled Mashaal. (Image source: Abbas - European Union / Mashaal - Wikimedia Commons)
Mashaal was speaking during the funeral of two senior Hamas operatives who were killed by the Israel Defense Forces 16 years ago. The bodies of the two, brothers Emad and Adel Awadallah, were handed over to their families last week.
The funeral and a later rally commemorating the death of the Awadallah brothers turned into a massive show of force for Hamas in Ramallah -- also only two days after Abbas's announcement that Hamas would recognize Israel and renounce violence once it joins a unity government with his Fatah faction.
Palestinians said that the large turnout was an indication of Hamas's popularity among residents of the West Bank. At the two events, Hamas spokesman and supporters chanted slogans calling for revenge and more terrorist attacks against Israel.
Further evidence of Hamas's intention to stick to its ideology and terrorism was provided by another senior leader of the movement, Mahmoud al-Zahar.
In an interview with Reuters, al-Zahar, who is based in the Gaza Strip, strongly denied Abbas's claim that Hamas was about to change. He emphasized that a Palestinian unity government would not lead Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist and will not result in any Hamas members coming under the control of Mahmoud Abbas's authority.
"Abbas is not telling the truth," al-Zahar said. "He [Abbas] says, 'This is my government.' But it is not his government. It is a government of national unity. He is marketing it in this way to minimize the pressure."
Even some leading PLO officials closely associated with Abbas, such as Hanan Ashrawi and Saeb Erekat, have contradicted their leader's statements.
The two officials have been quoted in the past few days as saying that Hamas was not required to recognize Israel or change its ideology as a result of the "reconciliation" pact with Fatah.
While Erekat was quoted as saying that Hamas is not a terrorist organization, Ashrawi, in an interview with CNN, made it clear that there was no need for Hamas to change. : "Hamas does not have to recognize Israel because Hamas is a movement and movements don't recognize states," she said. "Only states recognize each other."
The "reconciliation" accord does not make any reference to the issue of terrorism or recognition of Israel's right to exist. Hamas signed the deal not because it has decided to abandon violence and accept Israel, but because it sees it as an opportunity to restore its relations with Egypt and other Arab countries, and benefit from the Western financial aid that is provided to the Palestinian Authority.
Abbas knows very well that Hamas has not changed and will not change. But as Hamas's Mahmoud al-Zahar said, Abbas is trying to appease the US and Israel following the signing of the "reconciliation" pact. Abbas is seeking to avoid a suspension of U.S. and European financial aid and potential Israeli economic sanctions and that is why he's trying to downplay the significance of his rapprochement with Hamas.
After coming out with his "dramatic" statement, Abbas is now waiting to see if the Americans, Europeans and Israelis will buy his claim that the unity government will recognize Israel and reject violence. If they do, he will take credit for ensuring continued financial aid not only to the Palestinian Authority, but also to Hamas. If they do not, Abbas will be forced temporarily to suspend the deal with Hamas to avoid losing the aid.
In the past, Abbas made similar statements about Hamas's intentions, but the movement has never taken one step indicating its willingness to change.
Abbas's statements may sound nice and heart-warming to Westerners. But they must bear in mind that he is not a Hamas spokesman. Above all, the world needs to pay attention to what Hamas itself is saying.