The Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas, which is currently celebrating the 29th anniversary of its founding, misses no opportunity to broadcast its stated reason for being: to wage jihad (holy war) in order to achieve its goal of destroying Israel. Those who allege that Hamas is moving toward pragmatism and moderation might take note.
Last week, tens of thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of the Gaza Strip to participate in rallies marking the anniversary of the founding of Hamas. As in previous years, the rallies were held under the motto of jihad and "armed resistance" until the liberation of all Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Another message that emerged loud and clear from the rallies: Hamas will never recognize Israel's right to exist.
This year's rallies once again also served as a reminder of the enormous popularity that Hamas continues to enjoy among Palestinians -- not only in the Gaza Strip, but also in the West Bank, where supporters of the Islamist movement celebrated the occasion, but on a smaller scale and with a lower profile, out of fear of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israeli security forces.
Khalil Al-Haya, a senior Hamas official, outlined in a speech before his supporters in the Gaza Strip his movement's strategy, namely to pursue the fight until the elimination of Israel. "We will not recognize Israel because it will inevitably go away," he declared.
"And we will not backtrack on the option of armed struggle until the liberation of all Palestine. Since its establishment, Hamas has been -- and will remain -- a Palestinian Islamic national and resistance movement whose goal is to liberate Palestine and confront the Israeli project. The liberation of the Gaza Strip is just the first step toward the liberation of Palestine -- all Palestine. There is no future for the Israeli entity on our homeland."
When Hamas leaders talk about the "liberation" of the Gaza Strip, they are referring to the total unilateral Israeli disengagement from that area in 2005. Hamas and many Palestinians have never viewed the full withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as a gesture on the part of Israel. Nor have they ever considered the disengagement as a sign that Israel is no longer interested in controlling the lives of nearly two million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.
On the contrary, Hamas and many Palestinians continue to see the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip as a sign of weakness. In fact, this disengagement is why Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006, when it took credit for driving Israel out of the Gaza Strip through suicide bombings and rockets. Back then, this abandonment of land by Israel drove the Palestinian vote for Hamas. It also explains why many Palestinians continue to support Hamas -- because they still believe that violence is the way to defeat Israel.
Many Palestinians see Israeli concessions, gestures and unilateral moves as proof of capitulation, rather than positive signs testifying to Israel's peaceful intentions. These "concessions for peace" by Israel further increases Palestinians' appetite for launching armed attacks against Israel. Today, many Palestinians are convinced that they can achieve more through stabbings, vehicular rammings and shooting attacks than sitting with Israel at the negotiating table.
The Qatar-based Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal, seized the anniversary as an opportunity once again to remind everyone of his movement's real goals. Speaking on the Al-Jazeera TV network, which serves as a platform for the Muslim Brotherhood organization (Hamas is an offshoot of Muslim Brotherhood), Mashaal said:
"We are moving forward with our resistance to achieve our national project... We are looking forward to liberating Palestine and cleansing the Al-Aqsa Mosque and protecting it from division and demolition. We also seek the return of the refugees to their homeland and the liberation of our prisoners from Israeli jails."
When he talks about "cleansing" Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Hamas leader is referring to Jewish visits to the Temple Mount. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have been exploiting these visits to incite their people against Israel. They claim that Jewish visitors are "desecrating" the holy site and should not be allowed to set foot there. These words mirror those used by President Mahmoud Abbas, who said that Palestinians will not allow Jews to "defile with their filthy feet" the Al-Aqsa Mosque (although no Jew has entered the mosque itself).
Mashaal, who in the past few years has been living as royalty in Qatar (the country that is the main patron of Muslim Brotherhood), went on to emphasize that Hamas has "not changed its strategy of liberating Palestine." He also said that, "Military work remains the backbone of liberation." Hamas, he added, "Continues to believe in the full liberation of Palestine and that jihad and resistance are the only means to expel the occupation and liberate Palestine and the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque." According to Mashaal, Hamas continues to look toward Arab and Islamic countries, including Iran, for the military, financial and political support to achieve its goal of destroying Israel.
Hamas's armed wing, Ezaddin Al-Qassam, boasted on this occasion that 22 of its men have been killed since the beginning of 2016, while preparing for the next war with Israel. Most of the Hamas men were killed when the tunnels in which they were working in collapsed. Hamas continues to build new tunnels and renovate those that were destroyed during the last war with Israel in 2014. Hamas says it wants to use these tunnels in the future to infiltrate Israel and kill or kidnap Israeli civilians or soldiers.
Ironically, while Hamas pursues its round-the-clock efforts to prepare for war against Israel, its leaders do not hesitate to depict themselves as victims, and warn of supposed Israeli plans to launch a "new aggression" against Palestinians. Hamas believes that Israel does not have the right to defend itself against rockets and terror attacks. It even considers Israel's self-defense as an "act of terror."
Take, for example, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum's recent assessment. Lashing out at U.S. aid to Israel, Barhoum said that the American military and financial aid to Israel constitutes "official support for terrorism."
This is effectively Hamas's message to the new U.S. administration: Stop supporting Israel with weapons and money because that hinders our goal of destroying Israel. In yet another sign that exposes Hamas's ongoing preparations to attack Israel, the movement last week held a drill with live ammunition in the northern Gaza Strip. The drill enacted, among other things, an incursion into a civilian populated area. Hamas said the drill was the fruit of 380 hours of non-stop military training of its "Special Units."
Hamas's rhetoric and actions leave no room for doubt as to its intentions. Twenty-nine years after its establishment, a defiant Hamas continues to believe that Israel can, and should, be destroyed. The dream to eliminate Israel remains alive and well among many Palestinians, as evidenced at Hamas rallies by the massive turnouts.
Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, however, are kissing cousins when it comes to Israel. Hamas's talk of jihad against Israel is right in line with Abbas's speech before the 7th Congress of Fatah, which convened in Ramallah two weeks ago. "What has been achieved so far is a small jihad, and the big jihad is still awaiting us," Abbas declared.
According to Abbas's aides, the PA president was referring to a different type of jihad -- one that relates to his ongoing efforts in the international arena to isolate and delegitimize Israel, to force it to make far-reaching concessions to the Palestinians. Abbas's diplomatic warfare against Israel began several years ago, with the PA's efforts to join international institutions and seek unilateral recognition in the UN of a Palestinian state. His ultimate goal is to have the international community exert pressure on Israel to withdraw fully to the pre-1967 lines. Abbas wants to establish a Palestinian state with the help of the international community, and not through direct negotiations with Israel. He is convinced that his "diplomatic jihad" against Israel is no less effective than the Hamas jihad of terrorism.
This Abbas talk of "small" and "big" jihad comes at a time when Abbas and Hamas are in courting mode. Some reports have suggested that Abbas recently sent conciliatory messages to Hamas in yet another bid to end the dispute between the two sides. He and Khaled Mashaal have had regular phone contact, with both expressing a desire to end the conflict between them. The reports have even suggested that the two rival parties may be preparing to resume their "reconciliation" talks in Doha under the auspices of Qatar. Last October, Abbas met in Doha with Mashaal and another Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, as part of his rapprochement with the Islamist movement. The meeting was said to be held in a cordial atmosphere, and some Palestinian political analysts point to a warming of relations between the two sides.
Yet even if Abbas manages to achieve reconciliation with Hamas, this move should not be seen as a sign of pragmatism on the part of the Islamist movement. Under no circumstances will Hamas relinquish its policy of the destruction of Israel and its replacement with an Islamist state. The movement's own words on its anniversary provide the best proof of this intention. To their credit, Hamas leaders are nothing if not honest about their commitment to Israel's destruction. Abbas certainly will not attempt to convince Hamas to abandon this fundamental goal. So, as far as Hamas is concerned, reconciliation means that Abbas will move closer to the Islamist movement and not vice versa.
In fact, Mahmoud Abbas seems to believe that Hamas's and his jihads complement each other. Thus, Hamas will continue its deadly jihad, while Abbas will pursue his "diplomatic jihad" against Israel. From his point of view, Hamas's terrorism will only increase the pressure on Israel to capitulate. Here Abbas has an ally in Hamas: to multiply jihads to force Israel to its knees.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.