Palestine's Islamic Resistance Movement – Hamas – has finally revealed its new charter. The document was launched by the head of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Meshaal, at a press conference in Doha, Qatar on 1 May. The charter's formal title is, "A Document of General Principles and Policies" and Hamas has released an official English translation which can be read in full on its website.
Hamas is one of two main wings of Palestine's national movement, the other being Fatah (or the Palestinian National Liberation Movement), which is led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The new document comes after several months of press reports that the movement was close to replacing its original 1988 charter, and after a reported two years of internal deliberations and debates within the movement. However, the roots of the new document actually go back much further. It represents a coalescence of the movement's political thought over the past decade or more. The new charter formalises several evolving aspects of Hamas's political thought which have been apparent in its public pronouncements for a long time.
Media reports about the new charter have focused on two aspects: Hamas's accommodation of the so-called "two-state solution", and the movement's attitude towards the issue of Judaism versus Zionism. The document envisions a conceptual framework around Israel of colonialism and occupation, rather than a religious conflict in its essence. This is indeed an improvement on the original Hamas charter, which was written by one man in the late 1980s when the movement was still emerging.
The new charter, however, takes nothing away from the essentially Islamic nature of Hamas:
Its frame of reference is Islam, which determines its principles, objectives and means.
While emphasising that "Palestine is an Arab Islamic land," it also stresses that
the Palestinian people are one people, made up of all Palestinians, inside and outside of Palestine, irrespective of their religion, culture or political affiliation,
and it "rejects the persecution of any human being or the undermining of his or her rights on nationalist, religious or sectarian grounds."
For this very reason, the charter emphasises the essential Palestinian national consensus, the rejection of Zionism:
The Zionist project is a racist, aggressive, colonial and expansionist project based on seizing the properties of others; it is hostile to the Palestinian people and to their aspiration for freedom, liberation, return and self-determination.
The new charter holds on to the main points of the Palestinian national consensus. These include the right of return of all Palestinian refugees, and their descendants, who were expelled by Israel and the founding Zionist militias which pre-dated the state, expelling the majority of Palestinians in 1947-48's Nakba, or Catastrophe (an act of ethnic cleansing which wiped Palestine off the map).
Palestine is still defined as extending "from the River Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean in the west." The right of return, moreover, is noted to be "an inalienable right" which "cannot be dispensed with by any party, whether Palestinian, Arab or international."
Hamas also emphasises the Palestinian right to bear arms to use against Israeli occupation forces, something which, again, has massive popular support amongst the Palestinian people: "armed resistance… is regarded as the strategic choice for protecting the principles and the rights of the Palestinian people… the liberation of Palestine is a legitimate activity, it is an act of self-defence, and it is the expression of the natural right of all peoples to self-determination."
As an occupied people living under a colonial regime of oppression, international law and basic morality enshrine the right to resistance and armed self-defence. While Hamas has as much obligation as anyone to engage militarily according to accepted rules of war — by not targeting civilians, for example — the so-called international community hypocritically requires Palestinians to drop the right of self-defence altogether; Israel, of course, is never asked to "stop the violence" and is instead armed to the teeth by the Western states of this "community".
In recent years the armed wing of Hamas has waged a just and entirely defensive liberation war. Contrary to Israeli propaganda, and in stark contrast to the bloody tactics of the Israel Defence Forces, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades have gone out of their way to target Israeli soldiers and only soldiers.
The previous Hamas charter, now nullified, contained favourable mentions of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic forgery concocted by the Tsarist regime in Russia. As well as being wrong in and of itself, this gave soft ammunition to Israeli propagandists to undermine the movement. The new charter sets this right, which is to be welcomed. In reality, though, Hamas leaders have in any case made it clear for many years that the movement's struggle is not against Jews per se, but against the occupation of Palestine and Israel's crimes.
The document launched in Doha sets this out in black and white: "Hamas affirms that its conflict is with the Zionist project not with the Jews because of their religion. Hamas does not wage a struggle against the Jews because they are Jewish but wages a struggle against the Zionists who occupy Palestine."While the new charter promises "no recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist entity" and points out correctly that "rights never lapse," it offers an accommodation for the "two-state solution", accepting a Palestinian state based on the 1949-1967 armistice ("Green") line.While the document does not say so in as many words, this implies a degree of recognition of Israel within part of historic Palestine. This is certainly a tension in the charter:
However, without compromising its rejection of the Zionist entity and without relinquishing any Palestinian rights, Hamas considers the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state… to be a formula of national consensus.
Much of the new charter simply reflects Palestine's national consensus. Nevertheless, the emphasis on accommodation with the "two-state solution" seems anachronistic at a time when calls for a single democratic state are growing amongst Palestinians themselves.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.