Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas leader, struck back in the campaign's final days, playing to Hamas's political base in the destitute Gaza neighborhoods and refugee camps that have supplied many Hamas suicide attackers and that revere them as martyrs. Before crowds of thousands, he and other candidates went out of their way to deny they would ever give up their insistence on the destruction of Israel and the right to armed struggle.
Zahar hammered home a fiery stump speech at several campaign stops, including one extravaganza that featured masked and camouflaged Hamas performers leaping through flaming hoops and rappelling down buildings into an enraptured crowd.
Hamas's armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, will never be dismantled, as Israel and the US-backed road map peace plan demand, he said.
''They will remain, they will grow, they will be armed more and more until the complete liberation of all Palestine," he said, stressing that Palestine includes not just the West Bank and Gaza Strip that Israel occupied in 1967, but all of Israel as well.
He vowed to send the brigades to take up positions along Gaza's borders -- a step Israeli officials would surely view as a provocation -- to prevent Israel from sending its army back into the strip it vacated last summer, as Israeli officials have threatened to do if they deem it necessary for security.
Or the West?
A senior State Department official said the United States would not deal directly with members of Hamas in a new government.
"Our position is simple, in order to be an effective partner for peace, the Palestinians have to accept the idea of the state of Israel and renounce violence. That is currently the position of the Palestinian government."
"We will not accept terror on any basis," he added.
Asked directly whether the U.S. would recognize a new Palestinian government that contained large numbers of Hamas members, he said: "Let's see what happens first."
"It is very difficult for us to be in the position of negotiating or talking to Hamas unless there’s a very clear renunciation of terrorism," said Mr Blair at his monthly press conference today.The answer is that, as always, wishful thinking will replace real facts. Hamas will use the PLO playbook and start floating possible less-terroristic scenarios to the West while continuing to support full Jihad against all Jews in the Middle East in Arabic. The West (including Israel) will want to believe that Hamas has turned over a new leaf so much that it will all ignore the inconvenient calls for genocide and jump on every word or omitted words that could be construed as being more moderate.
Get ready to see the words "moderate" and "Hamas" go together more often to justify the inevitable thaw, and get ready to see Palestinian Islamic Jihad used as the corresponding "extremists."
The irony, of course, is that Hamas is no less moderate than Fatah is, but Fatah had better PR and better liars. But in the end, both groups explicitly demand the destruction of Israel, both groups explicitly cheer suicide bombings and call the dead terrorists "martyrs", and both groups' supporters celebrate dead Jews - and dead Americans.