The dreamers in English still have it: "Hamas and Israel, Israel and Hamas. Maybe one day...who knows." And then the Arabic-language truth rolls in: "Death to Israel, always!"
Some Arab and Western political analysts have mistakenly interpreted Hamas's agreement to participate in the Palestinian local and municipal elections, scheduled for October 8, as a sign of the movement's "pragmatism" and march toward recognizing Israel's right to exist.
They falsely assume that Hamas's readiness to take part in the democratic process shows that the leaders of the extremist movement are also prepared to abandon their dream of destroying Israel and abandoning the "armed struggle" against it.
These arguments about Hamas's purported "pragmatism" and "moderation" were also made back in 2006, when Hamas contested the Palestinian parliamentary election. Then too, many political analysts claimed that Hamas's decision to run in the election was an encouraging sign that the movement has endorsed a new, moderate approach toward Israel and the peace process.
Reality, however, has proven these assumptions utterly false. Hamas's victory in the 2006 parliamentary election did not bring about any changes in its extremist ideology. Hamas did not change its charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel. Nor did Hamas abandon its murderous terrorist attacks against Israelis.
To recall, here is what the Hamas charter openly states about this issue:
"The Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] believes that the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Wakf throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it. There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except Jihad. The liberation of that land is an individual duty binding on all Muslims everywhere. In order to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape from rising the banner of Jihad. This would require the propagation of Islamic consciousness among the masses on all local, Arab and Islamic levels. We must spread the spirit of Jihad among the Islamic Umma [nation], clash with the enemies and join the ranks of the Jihad fighters."
The 2006 Hamas victory, in fact, further emboldened Hamas and increased its determination to stick to its ideology and terrorism, in addition to the indoctrination and incitement against Israel. The following year, in 2007, Hamas even waged a coup against the Palestinian Authority (PA) and seized full control over the Gaza Strip.
Likewise, Hamas's decision to participate in the upcoming local and municipal elections will further strengthen the movement and pave the way for it to extend its control from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.
So, an electoral win or loss for Hamas is totally irrelevant. Hamas is not going to change its ideology or soften its position toward Israel and the "peace process." And, of course, Hamas is not going to recognize Israel's right to exist. Its leaders continue to assure their people of that -- in public and on a daily basis.
As in the parliamentary election, Hamas may even emerge stronger and more resolved, especially if it wins the upcoming local and municipal elections, as it seems destined to do.
Hamas sees its participation in elections as a golden opportunity for "the reinforcement of its positions and for the encouragement of its Jihad," as it clearly and unequivocally states in its charter.
In other words, Hamas sees elections as a chance to pursue its fight to eliminate Israel. So Hamas is not running in the upcoming elections in order to provide the Palestinians with improved municipal services, but, as it states in its charter, "in order to make possible the next round with the Jews, the merchants of war" and "until liberation is completed, the invaders are vanquished and Allah's victory sets in."
Yet, incredibly, some Western political analysts and Palestinian affairs "experts" dismiss the Hamas charter as irrelevant. This dismissal is now based on statements attributed sporadically to some Hamas leaders and spokesmen in various media outlets. These comments are, for them, "encouraging" and "positive" signs from Hamas. They even take the foolhardy step of advising world leaders to listen to these voices and take them into account when dealing with Hamas.
Let us examine, for a moment, one of those statements.
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was recently reported to have voiced his movement's readiness to recognize Israel's right to exit if it withdrew to the pre-1967 lines, namely the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip (Israel already pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005).
Mashaal is reported to have told representatives of Asian media organizations during a briefing in Doha, Qatar, that he was prepared to accept Israel's right to exist and the "two-state solution."
Within hours, the Hamas leadership denied that Mashaal had made such remarks concerning Israel's right to exist. Hamas called the reports "lies" and "fabrications" and reiterated its refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist. "These suspicious and fabricated statements are aimed at distorting the image and positions of Hamas and its leadership," read a statement issued by the Islamist movement in the Gaza Strip.
Slander and defamation: that is how Hamas views the talk about its leaders' purported readiness to recognize Israel. This, to them, is the worst thing that could happen to Hamas -- to accept the presence of Israel in the Middle East. The Hamas denial is aimed at protecting its reputation and image in the eyes of its supporters, lest they believe, God forbid, that the Islamist movement has abandoned its desire to eliminate Israel.
To set the record straight, another senior Hamas official, Musa Abu Marzouk, declared this week: "The Zionist entity will not be part of this region. We will continue to resist it until the liberation of our land and the return of our people." With tongue in cheek, Abu Marzouk, who is being groomed as a potential successor to Mashaal, stated that Hamas's goal behind its decision to participate in the October 8 local and municipal elections was to "serve our people." Addressing his rivals in President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction, the top Hamas official added: "Our differences will not reach the level of enmity. Our only enemy is Israel. Our political rivalry should not exceed its limit."
How precisely Hamas intends to "serve" the Palestinians by running in the elections is somewhat murky. Abu Marzouk did not talk about building new schools and parks for the Palestinians. When he talks about "serving" the people, he means only one thing: recruiting Palestinians to Hamas and jihad against Israel and the Jews.
In recent weeks, Hamas supporters have been launching various campaigns highlighting the Islamist movement's "achievements" in the Gaza Strip in a bid to win the hearts and minds of voters. One campaign, entitled, "A More Beautiful Gaza," features scenes of clean streets and public parks in some parts of the Gaza Strip. Yet the rosy picture that Hamas is painting is silent as to the extraordinarily high rate of unemployment and poverty in the Gaza Strip, or the fact that thousands of Palestinian families have lost their homes in wars with Israel that were the direct result of bombarding Israel with rockets and missiles. Nor does the campaign talk about Hamas's repressive measures against women and journalists.
This campaign of disinformation is aimed at persuading Palestinian voters that the two million residents of the Gaza Strip are living in a utopia under Hamas, and that this experience now needs to be copied in the West Bank.
There is no doubt that many Palestinians will fall into this trap and cast their ballots for Hamas. They will do so because they will be convinced that Hamas will solve all their economic and social problems and bring them peace and stability at home. But many Palestinians will also vote for Hamas for other reasons. The first of these is that they identify with Hamas's ideology, as expressed in its charter, and believe that jihad is the only way to "liberate Palestine." Second, Hamas has managed to convince a large number of Palestinians that a vote for another party or candidate other than Hamas would be a vote against Islam and Allah.
History seems to be repeating itself and the lessons from the Hamas victory in the 2006 parliamentary election have not been learned. Hamas is fooling not only many Palestinians by promising them a better life and prosperity under its rule; it is also fooling some Westerners, who talk about "signs of moderation and pragmatism" coming from the Islamist movement.
Since its establishment in 1987, Hamas has been single-minded about its charter-documented desire to wage jihad against Israel. Its leaders continue to state this in Arabic on a daily basis. It is not rocket science: the movement has not changed and will not do so in the future, regardless of whether it wins or loses any election.
Hamas has made itself perfectly clear. What is not so clear is why some Westerners continue to talk about its "policy shifts." Also difficult to understand is why some in the West are not asking President Abbas and his Palestinian Authority what they intend to do if and when Hamas wins the local and municipal elections. Finally, why Abbas is pushing ahead with preparations for the elections, when he knows that his Fatah faction could easily lose to Hamas, is a true mystery.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.