A contradiction in terms? That would have been the reaction of most unbiased observers – until yesterday. After all Hamas, an acronym of Harakat al Mawqawama al Islamiyya, means "Islamic Resistance Movement."
Founded in 1987, just after the start of the first intifada, Hamas first engineered a series of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks in order to sabotage the Oslo Accords and peace process. They've followed the same unyielding line ever since.
The principles of Hamas are set out – at inordinate length and in extraordinarily flowery Islamic prose – in their Charter. Inter alia, it states:
1. "The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up."
2. "There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavours."
Nothing could be clearer. And those principles have consistently governed the words and actions of Hamas leaders. They underlie their using Gaza – which they seized from Fatah in a rather bloody coup in June 2007 – as a base for the sustained barrage of rocket attacks on Israel that led to Israel's retaliation in Operation Cast Lead a year later.
Hamas leaders have appeared on numerous TV news and discussion programmes – the BBC among them – to reiterate that they would never recognise Israel's right to exist, and that they perceive Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority since January 2005, as a traitor to the Palestinian cause by participating in moves towards peace based on the two-state solution.
And now – what?
Yesterday Aziz Dwaik, Hamas's most senior representative in the West Bank, the elected speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council – and, incidentally, only recently released after nearly three years in an Israeli jail – is reported to have declared that Hamas has accepted Israel's right to exist, and would even be prepared to nullify its charter which, of course, calls for Israel's destruction.
"No one wants to throw anyone into the sea," Dwaik is reported to have said.
Dwaik, who was meeting British millionaire David Martin Abrahams in Hebron, reportedly went further saying that other Hamas leaders – including the Gaza prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, and Khaled Mashaal, who is based in the Syrian capital, Damascus – support the idea of setting up a sovereign Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders.
David Martin Abrahams is due to brief British foreign secretary, David Miliband, this coming weekend.
[Subsequently Dwaik vehemently repudiated this account, lock, stock and barrel. It seems to have been a classic case of mis-information peddled for political and propaganda purposes.]