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Does Hamas now indirectly recognise Israel?

Thousands of people gather to celebrate the 29th anniversary of the foundation of Hamas in Khan Yunis, Gaza on December 11 2016 [Ali Jadallah / Anadolu Agency]
Thousands of people gather to celebrate the 29th anniversary of the foundation of Hamas in Khan Yunis, Gaza on December 11 2016 [Ali Jadallah / Anadolu Agency]

In what informed analysts have deemed as a move that was a long time coming, Hamas unveiled its new and improved charter at an event on Monday in the Qatari capital of Doha. According to Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, the group's new charter will amend the previous document that has remained unchanged for almost three decades, and will set the Islamist movement on a trajectory that places it in alignment with other Palestinian factions on the question of establishing a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.

However, the amendments are not without their share of controversy, especially for the more conservative elements of the pro-Palestine camp, as it would now appear that Hamas has granted Israel de facto recognition while attempting to frame its decision as a continuation of the popular Palestinian muqawamma, or resistance, against the Jewish State by other means.

Having it both ways

While much of the discussion on the new charter focuses on Hamas' choice of language and the move away from what has long been described as anti-Semitic discourse that previously identified the Jews as the enemy rather than Zionism, the group's new charter appears to be part of a larger charm offensive to move the Islamist group closer to the international political mainstream.

As part of its attempt to make itself more palatable to an international audience, Hamas has decided to make it clear that it is willing to accept a Palestinian state based on the internationally recognised borders that were established as demarcation lines prior to the 1967 Six Day War that saw Israel decisively smash a coalition of Arab armies in less than a week and occupy even more Palestinian territory.

Read: Israel says Hamas trying to fool the world with new policy paper

As a group that has long called for the destruction of Israel and the liberation of all Palestinian territories "from the river to the sea", this declaration in article 20 of the new charter has the prima facie effect of Hamas recognising Israel. After all, and contrary to its repeated rejection of the "Zionist entity" and Israel, Hamas cannot very well establish a state based on borders established following a war with an apparently non-existent entity.

Although Hamas attempts to temper its language by saying that it does not recognise the legitimacy of Israel – rather than the existence of the political entity itself – it is inconsistent in its application. To establish their proposed state on the 1967 borders, Hamas would have to acknowledge Israel's right to exist or else the international community, led by the United States, will continue to sideline them.

Furthermore, the charter also calls for the full liberation of all Palestinian territories which it defines in article 2 as extending "from the River Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean in the west and from Ras Al-Naqurah in the north to Umm Al-Rashrash in the south." In other words, all land currently occupied by Israel.

Interim measure

As such, it is quite clear from the document that little has changed for Hamas, though it has made long overdue and much welcomed changes to its discourse by clearly differentiating between Jews and the Zionist colonial project.

Hamas sees the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders as "a formula of national consensus" which would perhaps give it and other factions a common cause from which negotiations would be possible. Although Meshaal does not see direct negotiations with Israel happening anytime soon, the fact that Hamas are acknowledging the two-state solution at a time when many consider it to be dead is interesting, to say the least.

Read: Hamas' acceptance of 1967 borders is impractical

The direct inference from this, particularly in light of its repeated calls for the full and total liberation of all Palestinian lands as defined above, is that Hamas sees a state based on the 1967 borders as being an interim measure that will allow Palestinians a degree of sovereignty and control from which they can develop a power base.

Hamas is unclear as to what the next steps against Israel would be in the event that their state is established, and this is likely to be a sticking point for the international community, and a political tool to be wielded by wily Israeli negotiators who will be – and already have been – levelling accusations that Hamas is not serious about the two-state solution but is in fact constructing a ruse.

Of course, such allegations would be rich coming from Israel who continues to approve and construct illegal settlements contrary to international law and UN Security Council resolutions, but the fact remains that state-level relations and negotiations remain heavily weighted in Israel's favour, and Hamas will have to deal with this.

Hamas will have to clarify how it can achieve its version of the two-state solution without recognising Israel. It will also have to answer whether or not it will pursue peaceful or military options for its formally declared intention to liberate all of Palestine. Such questions are not only of interest to the international community, but to Hamas' own supporters who may feel that the resistance just took a backward step by indirectly recognising the occupier.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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