One hundred years of oppression have not diminished or erased the Palestinian hope for freedom. Throughout this year, 2017, they are marking the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which started their tragedy. The occasion is about the past, as well as the future. And, it is in this context that the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas has launched its new General Policies and Principles Document.
When Hamas issued its founding Charter in August 1988, the occupied territories were in the grip of the First Intifada (uprising). Both the content and tone of its message was then largely one for its followers and the “stone-throwing generation” who had risen up against the occupation. Thirty years on, things have changed drastically. The occupation has become more inhumane while transforming itself into a system of apartheid rule. A new political framework is, therefore, needed to give not just hope, but direction to the Palestinian people as well.
Politics aside, Hamas is plainly positioning itself to occupy the moral high-ground left vacant by other national forces. The leadership which brokered the ill-fated Oslo Accords two decades ago still remains in power; albeit now discredited and mistrusted by large sections of Palestinian society. Despite their best efforts, they seem incapable of shaking off the image of a self-serving and corrupt elite.
Rightfully, Palestinians yearn for an all embracing and inclusive leadership; one that honours their sacrifices, respects their will and pursues their legitimate rights. With this in mind Hamas has carefully framed its General Policies Document in a language that resonates with Palestinians of all political and religious persuasions. While affirming a willingness to recognise a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, Hamas, nonetheless, remains committed to its declared objective of a free Palestine, from Naqurra in the north to Rashrash in the south, and from the Jordan River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west.
No doubt, some may argue that this new document has been long overdue. The truth, however, is that Hamas has over the years shown a capacity to critique its political positions and explore options that were not mentioned in its founding Charter as long as they did not compromise national interests. Hence, while still in prison Sheikh Ahmad Yassin proposed a long-term cessation of hostilities (hudnah) with Israel for the first time in 1994. In 1997 he told the Associated Press that Hamas would accept a ten-year truce if Israel would withdraw its troops and settlers from all of the West Bank and Gaza.
Similarly, Dr Abdel Aziz Rantissi, another founding leader of the movement, told Reuters on 27 January 2004: “We accept a state in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. We propose a 10-year truce in return for [Israeli] withdrawal and the establishment of a state.” Two years later, in May 2006, these very ideas were adopted in the document that came to be known as the National Conciliation Document of the Palestinian prisoners. It was signed by representatives of the four largest Palestinian factions: Marwan Barghouthi of Fatah, Sheikh Abdel Khaliq Al-Natsche of Hamas, Sheikh Bassam Al-Saadi of Islamic Jihad and Abdel Rahim Malouh of the PFLP.
Many of the points embodied in the Prisoners Document such as the acceptance of a state within the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital, the right of return and the right to resist are all now asserted in Hamas’ new General Policies Document. Having signed up to the Prisoners Document Hamas has, furthermore, demonstrated a willingness to be part of a national project that secures the rights of all Palestinians and not only its supporters.
Since the Lebanese-based Al-Mayadeen TV station published a leaked draft copy of the new document cynics have wasted no time searching for contradictions and compromises. Apart from the issue of a state within the 1967 borders, they point to the fact that whereas the founding Charter identified the movement as an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood this new General Policies Document makes no such mention. Nor does it deny its ideological links with the Brotherhood. As for any supposed organisational connection and the co-ordination of political strategies within a unified leadership, that was never the case. Indeed, what Hamas does in its new General Policies Document is to identify itself as a national liberation movement.
Hamas of 2017 is a significantly different body from what existed in the late 20th century. Today, for better or worse, it finds itself in a position where it has to administer the Gaza Strip and provide jobs and social services for its two million people. Its regional and international standing has also changed. Hence it has to respond to all the challenges that these entail. Foremost among these is to maintain adherence to its strategic political positions such as the right to resist, non-recognition of Israel and adherence to the liberation of Mandatory Palestine. At the same time, it has to avoid being crippled by ideological dogma.
The new General Policies Document is an attempt to do just this. Its completion shows an honesty to acknowledge and correct errors. For example, in 1988 the founding Charter framed the conflict in these words; “Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious.” This is manifestly wrong. The conflict has always been one between the Palestinian people and the Zionist colonisers who conquered Palestine and now occupy it.
Hamas’ founding Charter was written in the last quarter of the 20th century. Politics is never static anywhere; and it certainly is not in Palestine. Conditions change rapidly. The wider region is itself in a state of continuous flux where alliances are formed and broken. By taking this audacious step to write this new General Policies and Principles Document Hamas is laying out its vision for Palestine in the 21st century. One that would guide and enable the Palestinian people to liberate their land and enjoy the security and freedom from oppression and discrimination that they richly deserve. It is a vision and framework to create opportunities that would ultimately lead to the control and development of their natural resources, as well as realise their full human potential.
Is there any justification to deny them these fundamental human rights?