The Israeli far-right and its supporters have just suffered another stinging blow in its campaign to smear Hamas as an Al-Qaeda clone (yes, Bibi had the chutzpah to use that no outrageous comparison today). During the Hamas-Fatah signing ceremony for their unity deal, Hamas’ leader had this to say about his movement’s political goals:
“We will have one authority and one decision,” Mr. Meshal said from the podium. “We need to achieve the common goal: a Palestinian state with full sovereignty on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital, no settlers, and we will not give up the right of return.”
What happened to the blood-curdling calls for the elimination of Israel? For drinking Jewish blood? Killing Jewish babies? Nowhere to be seen.
Even Ethan Bronner, who wrote this story, couldn’t bear losing an opportunity to quote his usual narischkeit about Hamas’ avowed goal of eliminating the Jewish state, when he wrote:
Hamas, the Islamist group that rejects Israel’s existence…
Bronner usually subtly changes the phrasing depending on context. Note, he couldn’t very well claim as he usually does, that Hamas wishes to destroy the Jewish state, when its chief leader has just essentially said he would accept a Palestinian state in ’67 borders. So instead, he merely claims that Hamas “rejects Israel’s existence.” Since Meshal made no statement about Israel, Bronner’s on solid ground, at least in his view. But the truth is that Hamas doesn’t follow the narrative Bronner and other Israelis have constructed for it.
Now we’ll hear from them that Meshal was slyly concealing his true beliefs in Israel’s demise and telling a world audience what it wanted to hear.
The truth is that Hamas, no matter what we might think of it and how much we dislike its political-theological agenda, is a pragmatic movement. When it perceives it has something to gain in the long-term, it has shown it can moderate its political agenda. This happened during the PA election campaign. And it’s happening now. Never before has Hamas been treated with respect by the Egyptian government. Never before has the PA shown real willingness to reconcile and hold new elections. Never before has the world been closer to declaring a Palestinian state.
This is not to say that Hamas will become a conventional Social Democratic party any time soon. Nor that we will not read conflicting statements from its leadership on these and other subjects. But the point is that Hamas, like any political movement, can change when it perceives it has something to gain. As long as the international community shows Hamas that it does have something to gain, it can expect pragmatism. But if the General Assembly refuses to recognize Palestine, or Fatah pulls a fast one, or Israel invades Gaza again, we can expect the same old rejectionist Hamas, and we’ll have only ourselves to blame for that.