Freed Palestinian prisoner Mohammed al-Bashiti, who served 12 years in an Israeli jail after he was convicted of being a member of Hamas’s armed wing, gestures as he holds a weapon in a pickup truck with Hamas militants upon his release, in the southern Gaza Strip, last year.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In an effort to improve its regional and international relations, the Gaza Strip’s ruling Hamas Party on Monday released a policy document that nominally softens its official position on Israel while still calling for “the complete liberation of Palestine.”
Hamas political bureau chairman Khaled Mashaal presented the long-awaited document at a televised press conference in Doha, Qatar, and said the new policy was “an example of openness and dealing with reality in a conscious manner without undermining...[Hamas’s] principles or our people’s rights.”
Israel rejected the document as an effort to deceive the world.
The document labels as “a national consensus” the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state along pre- 1967 lines with the return of refugees to their homes in Israel. However, it also “rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.”
In its 1988 founding charter, Hamas called for the establishment of an Islamic state in the lands of historic Palestine between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
While the new document appears to bring Hamas somewhat closer to the international consensus of a two-state solution, it clearly reaffirms Hamas’s approval of armed conflict with Israel.
“Resisting the occupation with all means and methods is a legitimate right guaranteed by divine laws and by international norms and laws,” the document states. “At the heart of these lies armed resistance, which is regarded as the strategic choice for protecting the principles and the rights of the Palestinian people.”
Hamas has long backed violent confrontation with Israel and has participated in three wars against it in the past decade. The group also supports armed attacks and has praised Palestinians who have carried out stabbing or automobile-ramming attacks against Israelis.
The document flatly dismisses recognition of Israel, which it describes as “a racist, anti-human and colonial Zionist project,” as well as agreements signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Hamas propaganda video about destruction of Israel
“There shall be no recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist entity,” the document reads.
Without Hamas accepting the international consensus – including renouncing violence and recognizing Israel and previously signed agreements with it – the United States and Europe are likely to maintain their distance.
The policy document, unlike Hamas’s founding charter, says the group is not opposed to Judaism, but rather to Israel and Zionism.
“Hamas affirms that its conflict is with the Zionist project, not with the Jews because of their religion,” the document reads. “Hamas does not wage a struggle against the Jews because they are Jewish, but wages a struggle against the Zionists who occupy Palestine.”
The founding charter, which is rife with antisemitic language, clearly defined the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one between Muslims and Jews.
Moreover, in an apparent nod to Egypt, the document redefines Hamas as “a Palestinian Islamic national liberation and resistance movement,” without mentioning any ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Its founding charter, on the other hand, stated Hamas was “one of the wings of the Muslim Brothers in Palestine.”
Egypt, which has dealt harshly with Hamas by imposing a strict blockade on Gaza, considers the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
According to some experts, Hamas officials hope that their official disengagement from the Muslim Brotherhood will propel Egypt to lighten its blockade.
“Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is here to stay and his war on the Brotherhood and [his] clamping down on Rafah has hit Hamas particularly hard. By renouncing ties to the Brotherhood, Hamas is betting on softening Sisi’s policy,” said Grant Rumley, a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman David Keyes dismissed the document by saying, “Hamas is attempting to fool the world.”
“Daily, Hamas leaders call for genocide of all Jews and the destruction of Israel. They dig terrorism tunnels and have launched thousands upon thousands of missiles at Israeli civilians,” Keyes said. “This is the real Hamas.”
Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub’s reaction to the document was more positive. “The Hamas document represents an accomplishment in the interest of the Palestinian national project,” he said. “The document has brought forth a transformation in Hamas... It has become clear that pragmatic thinking is a part of Hamas’s program.”
What remains unclear is the extent to which the document could bring Fatah and Hamas closer, since many policy gaps between the two parties still remain.
Over the last several weeks, Hamas and Fatah have been at loggerheads over control of Gaza. Hamas has accused the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority of neglecting Gaza, while Fatah has said Hamas is blocking the PA from operating in the Strip.
The announcement of Hamas’s new policy document coincides with an expected change in its top leadership.
Mashaal, who served as political bureau chairman for 11 years, is expected to step down from his post in the coming weeks. The main contenders to replace him are the former Hamas Gaza chief Ismail Haniyeh and Mousa Abu Marzouk, deputy chairman of its political bureau.