by Khaled Abu Toameh
U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry may be able to force Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, under threats and pressure, to sign a "framework agreement" with Israel. But as this week's rally of hatred in the Gaza Strip shows, even after the signing of a Palestinian-Israeli "peace" treaty, a large number of Palestinians will not abandon there dream of destroying Israel.
"Jihad in Palestine is not terrorism. Jihad in Palestine is a sacred duty." — Yusef Rizka, representative of Hamas
A mass rally held in the Gaza Strip on March 23 showed that Hamas continues to enjoy popular support among Palestinians. Tens of thousands of Palestinians took to the streets to attend the rally commemorating the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
Hamas officials claim that nearly one million Palestinians attended the rally in the center of Gaza City.
The mass rally supporting Hamas in Gaza, March 23, 2014. (Image source: The Palestinian Information Center)
This means that Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, remains as strong as ever in the Gaza Strip, despite Egypt's undeclared war against the Palestinian Islamist movement.
The Egyptian war has indeed hurt Hamas, especially in wake of the destruction of hundreds of smuggling tunnels along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Hamas's popularity among Palestinians, however, as shown by the mass rally, evidently remains unaffected.
Addressing the crowd, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh admitted that the Egyptian war has harmed his movement. "Hamas is going through difficult times," he said. "We are also facing harsh challenges."
Haniyeh added that despite Egyptian security measures against his movement and the Gaza Strip, Hamas was not in a state of panic.
At the rally, defiant Hamas leaders repeated threats to pursue terror attacks against Israel. One Hamas official, Fathi Hammad, even expressed optimism that his movement and other Palestinian terror groups would be able to destroy the "Zionist entity in a few years."
Hamas seems to be hoping, however, that the rally will send a message not only to Israel, but also to the Palestinian Authority and Egypt. The message that Hamas is seeking to relay to Egypt is that, despite the ongoing Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip, the movement is not showing any sign of weakness.
As Hamas representative Yusef Rizka explained, "This is a message to those who are trying to undermine Hamas and damage its reputation. We do not meddle in the internal affairs of Arab countries."
Addressing the Egyptians, who have accused Hamas of involvement in terrorist attacks inside Egypt, Rizka said, "Jihad in Palestine is not terrorism. Jihad in Palestine is a scared duty."
Still, the strongest message coming out of the rally was directed toward the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian Authority [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas has good reason to be worried in the aftermath of the latest show of force by Hamas. When tens of thousands of Palestinians take to the streets of the Gaza Strip to call for the destruction of Israel and an end to the peace talks between the PA and Israel, it is clear that a large segment of Palestinian society remains opposed to any compromise with Israel.
The pro-Hamas rally is also aimed at sending a message to the U.S. Administration that Mahmoud Abbas does not have a mandate to sign any document that declares an end to the conflict with Israel.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry may be able to force Abbas, under threats and pressure, to sign a "framework agreement" with Israel. But as this week's rally of hatred in the Gaza Strip shows, even after the signing of an Israeli-Palestinian "peace" treaty, a large number of Palestinians will not abandon their dream of destroying Israel .
Khaled Abu Toameh
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