Khaled Abu Toameh
More than two years after Hamas came to power following the January 2006 parliamentary election - and nearly a year after the movement took full control of the Gaza Strip - its main goal remains to gain the recognition of the international community.
Hamas's argument is simple: We won a free and democratic election, and that's why we are entitled to recognition.
But Hamas knows that without accepting the conditions set by the international community - recognizing Israel's right to exist, renouncing violence and accepting previous agreements between the Palestinians and Israel - it would be difficult to persuade the world to change its position vis-á-vis the movement.
Hamas appeared to have scored a symbolic victory in the past few days, when former
Their hope is that the meetings with Carter will mark the beginning of the end of the international boycott of Hamas and the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip. The officials expressed hope that Carter's talks will pave the way for other prominent figures from the West to meet with Khaled Mashaal and top representatives of Hamas.
Yet, as it emerged from the results of Carter's talks, Hamas remains as defiant as ever, and is still far from making serious concessions that could lead to ending the boycott.
The only concession Carter managed to extract from Mashaal was a promise to allow kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit, who has been held in the Gaza Strip for almost two years, to send another letter to his family.
Otherwise, Hamas's position regarding the major issues, such as a truce with
The Hamas leaders rejected Carter's proposal for a unilateral 30-day truce, insisting that any cease-fire must be "mutual and simultaneous."
Hamas's long-standing policy has been that a cease-fire must include the
Had Carter done his homework before making the proposal, he would have discovered that the Egyptians and other Arab countries had already failed to convince Hamas to accept the same offer.
With regard to Schalit, Hamas believes that time is on its side, and that the longer it waits, the more it will get. This is why Mashaal dismissed Carter's offer that
Hamas sees Schalit as a valuable asset, and is convinced that
Besides, Hamas is most likely to lose points on the Palestinian street if it strikes a "bad deal" on Schalit.
The Palestinians have paid a very heavy price (more than 800 killed in
Hamas has also dismissed Carter's demand to recognize
Even Hamas's pledge to "honor" a Palestinian national referendum on any peace agreement between the Palestinians and
However, he made it clear that the agreement was part of a comprehensive accord between Hamas and Fatah, and was contingent on its fulfillment by both sides. Since the accord has collapsed, Hamas knows that it would be impossible to hold a referendum under the current circumstances of the Palestinians having two different entities, one in the West Bank and the other in
Given the ongoing crisis, the chances of rapprochement between the two parties are as remote as ever.
Buoyed by the results of public opinion polls showing that Hamas continues to enjoy the support of many Palestinians, the movement has endorsed a two-fold strategy to force the international community to lift the blockade on
On the one hand, Hamas has decided to step up its armed attacks on Israel, with the hope that this will lead to an all-out Israeli military operation - with heavy casualties on both sides - after which Israel would be forced, under pressure from the international community, to ease travel restrictions and reopen the border crossings into Gaza.
On the other hand, Hamas, with the help of the popular Al- Jazeera TV network, has waged a diplomatic offensive aimed at winning support for its demand to end the boycott. Last week, Hamas scored yet another PR victory when Carter condemned the blockade of the Gaza Strip as an atrocity.
The Hamas campaign is not directed only at
Sources close to Hamas say the movement is unlikely to change its strategy regarding all the major issues. The most Hamas can agree to is a temporary truce with
Last Saturday's attack on the Kerem Shalom border crossing was part of Hamas's effort to carry out a mega operation that would shock
Khaled Abu Toameh
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