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Hamas' new platform is an opportunity for political manoeuvres

The wait for Palestinian freedom appears to be never-ending. The resistance to Israel occupation has been ongoing for almost 70 years, and has taken many forms. The latest of many historic steps by resistance groups has just been announced in Qatar.

The Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, known as Hamas, has revised its 1988 charter which was written during the first intifada. The head of Hamas's political bureau, Khaled Meshaal, announced the newly-drafted general principals and policies which have been prepared with the help of international law experts.

The founding charter of the movement emphasised the religious character of Hamas and its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as its uncompromising attitude towards the Israeli occupation. The document's revision and more moderate language may provide opportunities for political manoeuvres.

Read: Hamas outlines its vision for Palestine in the 21st century

Compared to the 1988 document, the new version is more balanced and shows that the organisation is well aware of developments in the region and internationally. Hamas has not been able to develop relationships with countries such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates because of the Brotherhood connection; it is considered as a terrorist organisation by the governments of those countries. This was a huge obstacle for an organisation trying to govern in the Gaza Strip, which has been under a decade-long siege imposed by Israel and supported by the international community, including Egypt. The siege means that there are power cuts for up to 18 hours a day, or longer. The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has recently stopped paying the salaries of PA employees in Gaza in a move intended to turn the people against Hamas (which won the last Palestinian elections in 2006 and still has the most legitimate claim to govern Palestine, not just Gaza). Egypt has kept the Rafah border closed for most of the time, blocking the Palestinians' only gateway to the outside world from Gaza. By dropping reference to the Muslim Brotherhood links in the new charter, Hamas may have more opportunities for better relations with Egypt, which is an important player in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

Furthermore, it is important that the charter distinguishes between the religion of Judaism and the political ideology of Zionism behind the Israeli occupation. While the 1988 document blames "the Jews" for the suffering of the Palestinians, the new version sees Zionism as the target of its resistance. This is relevant primarily because Zionism is a secular ideology developed in the 19th century with the intention of gathering Jews from around the world in a "Jewish State" (Palestine was eventually chosen as the location) under a new secular identity. The majority of Jews did not accept Zionism as part of their religious or cultural identity until the advent of the Holocaust; some still reject it. The Hamas charter's original language and reference to Judaism has been taken as anti-Semitic, not only by Israel but also by those who are sceptical of both Israel and the resistance movement. The new charter tries to overcome this.

In the short term, the new approach is not expected to bring major advantages by staying away from a religious tone; Hamas, though, may be able to gain ground by developing a more nationalistic approach. This might garner not only international support but also more support from Palestinians. The Israelis' accusation of anti-Semitism against Hamas should thus lose traction and credibility.

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

What is striking is that the new charter accepts the 1967 borders while maintaining Hamas's traditional position about non-recognition of Israel. While Hamas would now accept a Palestinian state along the pre-June 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital, the original charter referred to the liberation of every inch of Palestine. The movement still does not explicitly recognise the state of Israel, though.

The new document has clearly been drafted with a Palestinian audience in mind. It sees the acceptance of the 1967 border as the basis for possible consensus with the rival Fatah movement, and the non-recognition of Israel is preserved to show that it has not given up entirely on its aim to liberate all of historic Palestine. What's more, the border issue may open the way for engagement with the international community.

Image of the Palestinian parliament in session [Apaimages]

Image of the Palestinian parliament in session [Apaimages]

It is clear, therefore, that Hamas has made a great deal of compromise in the new charter; Israel could well reciprocate in the long run. That's why the movement should focus on the vision of the main party in Israel's ruling coalition, Likud, whose vision does not allow for any kind of compromises when it comes to Palestinian rights or land. The party wants the West Bank, which is accepted as Palestinian territory by every proponent of the two-state solution, to be under Israeli sovereignty; Likud refers to the occupied territory by the Biblical names Judea and Samaria. In the same spirit, Hamas is not withdrawing its demand for Palestine to be liberated from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. Despite the fact that the new charter reflects the Hamas belief that there has to be compromise within a national consensus, the initial Israeli reaction was to accuse the movement of ''fooling the world''. Thus, we can take it that Israeli diplomacy will still provide no room for political solutions to the conflict, even though a major plank of its argument against Hamas — that the movement wants to "wipe Israel off the map" — does not feature any more.

Even though the new charter definitely gives Hamas more room to manoeuvre, it is naïve to expect positive steps towards Hamas by the international community in the immediate future. If a consensus is reached between Fatah and Hamas under a restructured PLO, however, we could see a very different picture emerging.

The Middle East Quartet — the US, Russia, the EU and the UN — has set conditions that Hamas must recognise Israel's legitimacy, end the armed struggle and accept a two-state solution. It is too early to say if the movement fulfils the Quartet's condition to recognise the Zionist state. Nevertheless, the new charter gives more room for states and groups such as Turkey, which has diplomatic and trade links with Israel, to act as a mediator for Israel-Hamas rapprochement. If nothing else, the document announced by Khaled Meshaal should be considered as an initial step to be followed by others after changes of approach made by the other main players.

 

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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