This week, Hamas succeeded in making itself a major news headline. The group finally had long been under pressure to update its 1988 founding charter; which called for the destruction of Israel, and for all the lands to be returned back to the Palestinians. Which it now finally ‘sort of’ adapted. The original charter defined the Israel-Palestinian conflict as a clash of religions – between Islam and Judaism and they promised never to give up their ‘sacred lands’.
However, with time it has become obvious, Israel is here to stay and will remain an important country in the Middle East and if the Hamas are to evolve and play a part in dialogues on Palestine their position has to evolve. However, Hamas needed to ensure that its followers do not believe they have backtracked on their promises. Before it revealed the exact nature of the changes made in the new document, Hamas prepared its anxious supporters by leaking clauses to see their reactions before any official release of its “new political document.”
“It is the outcome of a political dialogue that has been held over a very long time, but it is also about a feeling of necessity regarding interacting with the international community, and giving the right impression about themselves – a sign of maturity and a sign of political development.”
– Mustafa Barghouti
In order to manage optics, Hamas instead of revising the previous charter, Hamas released a new one and emphasized that this new document was not to replace or nullify the old one, indicating that Hamas might be concerned about the unity of its followers. Several Hamas leaders have repeatedly criticized the Charter, as did the opponents of the movement. Despite all of that, the Charter remained untouched for almost thirty long years.
The pressure to change the document dates back to the second Palestinian uprising in 2000 after the former Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin stated that Hamas was willing to accept the two-state solution as a temporary solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The timing of the document is also important, as the current leader of Hamas, Khalid Meshaal, is about to retire as leader of Hamas after 13 years. He alone was in the position to leave behind more practical charter for the new leader of Hamas to follow. The new document was announced on the eve of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Donald Trump’s meeting in Washington. Meshaal has already stated he expects Trump to play a role in the Middle East peace and he wants to make sure that Hamas is part of any plans.
The new document emphasizes the rejection of “sectarian extremism and bigotry” and affirms the support for the values of tolerance, justice, and minority rights. It also clarifies that Hamas’s conflict is with Zionism as a political movement, not Judaism.
“Hamas does not wage a struggle against the Jews because they are Jewish but wages a struggle against the Zionists who occupy Palestine. Yet, it is the Zionists who constantly identify Judaism and the Jews with their own colonial project and illegal entity.”
“Hamas is attempting to fool the world but it will not succeed.”
– David Keyes, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The document accepts a Palestine that will be based on the 1967 border with Jerusalem as its capital. The new document also insists that Hamas is a not a revolutionary force that seeks to intervene in other countries, a commitment that will be welcomed by states such as Egypt. However, Israeli Prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, pushed it aside saying: “Hamas is attempting to fool the world, but it will not succeed.” He went on to call the charter a ‘smoke screen’ saying “We see Hamas continuing to invest all of its resources not just in preparing for war with Israel, but also in educating the children of Gaza to want to destroy Israel.
Hamas has historically struggled not to appear to be seen as a follower of the PLO, especially since the PLO is constantly subject to local, regional, and international pressures. It would present Hamas as a defeated organization, which would have meant the loss of supporters.
However, since the end of the second Palestinian uprising, Hamas has shown increasing desire to participate in the administration of the Palestinian Authority, the PLO, and to partner up with all of the Palestinian factions.
After the release of the document, Hamas seems more capable of building this partnership and has confirmed to its opponents that their behavior is a proof of its readiness for a peaceful state.
Hamas, which initially presented itself as an Islamic movement and recognized armed resistance as the only form of resistance, is declaring itself a peaceful movement today and calling on the PLO to be “rebuilt on democratic foundations”.
“Hamas does not wage a struggle against the Jews because they are Jewish but wages a struggle against the Zionists who occupy Palestine.”
– Khaled Meshaal
Going forward, Hamas is expected to pay attention to it joining the PLO and will look forward to building Palestinian alliances with the possibility of accepting an agreement on the areas occupied in 1948.
“Hamas affirms that its conflict is with the Zionist project, not with the Jews because of their religion.”
– Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal
These changes in the movement’s ideology should make it easier for Palestinian supporters across the world to defend it; but, it is predicted that the movement will remain a party that the Western governments will refuse to deal with.
This week the Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal, called on US President Donald Trump Wednesday to break with past approaches to Middle East peace and use pressure to find an “equitable solution” for Palestinians. When asked if he believed Trump would be up to the task, Mashaal said he believed the current administration has a “greater threshold for boldness” than its predecessors.