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At closed meetings in hotel suites in Beirut and Damascus, Hamas has been developing a new charter that is designed to showcase a more moderate and non anti-Semitic face, one of those advising on its content has told The Jerusalem Post.
Yet this new document, acknowledged Dr. Azzam Tamimi, 51, the Hebron-born director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London, would still call for an end to the Jewish state and the creation of a Palestinian state on all of mandatory Palestine.
It would, he said, provide for the possibility of a long-term hudna (cease-fire accommodation) with an Israel limited to its pre-1967 borders.
He added that Hamas's success in last month's elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council would delay the introduction of the charter change, since Hamas would not wish to be seen as capitulating to outside pressure. In the cities and refugee camps of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, meanwhile, Hamas leaders said they never heard of the planned change.
Rather than texts assailing the Jews, as in the current charter, said Tamimi, "The whole language [in the new document] will be changed to political language."
Tamimi, who has given interviews defending suicide bombings that kill Israeli civilians, added in a telephone interview from London, "All that nonsense about The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and conspiracy theories - all that rubbish will be out. It should have never been there in the first place."
The Hamas charter, written in August 1988 shortly after the group was founded, is rife with anti-Semitic statements. One reads: "Our struggle against the Jews is very great... [and will be pursued] until the enemy is vanquished and Allah's victory is realized... 'The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'"
The present charter also calls for "jihad" to liberate all of mandatory Palestine and declares that "so-called peaceful solutions contradict the principles of Hamas." It blames "Zionists" for the French and Russian revolutions, and cites the Protocols as a legitimate document.
"Any respectable group would not fall into such a trap because this is a totally false book," said Tamimi, who also advises Hamas leaders on media issues.
Recently elected Hamas leaders in Gaza and the West Bank, who said they knew nothing about plans for a new charter, did not rule out changing it.
"This is a very special issue which would be addressed by the highest level of Hamas," Sheikh Yasser Mansour, No. 5 on the Hamas national electoral list, told the Post by phone from his home in Nablus. Mansour added that, in principle, "it is true that we could discuss changes. The charter is not the Koran."
That sentence was repeated by other Hamas leaders interviewed by the Post.
Sheikh Salah Abu Rukbeh, recently elected from the Hamas list to the council of Gaza's Jabalya refugee camp, believes that the charter could ultimately be changed to recognize Israel.
"It will be very easy to change the charter if Israel changes its stance about the Palestinians," he said. "We are ready to change our charter, but is Israel willing to recognize a Palestinian state? Until now it hasn't. The PLO recognized Israel and changed its charter but Israel did not give us anything."
Some Hamas leaders in the territories said they didn't know that the charter took viciously anti-Jewish positions.
"The charter doesn't speak about the Jews," insisted Jamila Shanty as she sat behind a desk at the Emad Aqel Women's center she runs in Jabalya. The professor of psychology at the Islamic University is No. 3 on the Hamas list, making her the faction's highest-ranking woman. "It says we don't have a problem with the Jews," she told the Post. "Our problem is with the Israelis who took our land."
Abu Rukbeh, whose deeply wrinkled face makes him appear much older than his 45 years, also insisted that the charter did not speak of Jews, only Israelis. "There is a difference between Jews and Israelis and one must differentiate between the two," he said.
Dr. Yoram Meital, chairman of the Herzog Center for Middle East Studies at Ben-Gurion University, said that a changed charter, if it came to pass, would reflect a desire by the Hamas leadership to be perceived as having matured politically.
"The central leadership will continue to make an effort to be perceived as moderate in the eyes of the Western world, and not just by the Arabs," said Meital, adding that he believes Hamas has been becoming more pragmatic.
By contrast, Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) noted that the Hamas Web site this week newly presented the parting video messages of two Hamas suicide terrorists, from 2004, which included a "message for Jews, whose blood Hamas promises to drink until Jews 'leave the Muslim countries.'"
The anti-Jewish declaration ran: "My message to the loathed Jews is that there is no god but Allah, we will chase you everywhere! We are a nation that drinks blood, and we know that there is no blood better than the blood of Jews. We will not leave you alone until we have quenched our thirst with your blood, and our children's thirst with your blood," PMW reported.
After filming their good-byes, the two Hamas terrorists went to the Karni crossing and killed a soldier, PMW said. "The clip includes scenes of preparation of a tunnel, and hiding explosives in the tunnel," it reported.
In an article in Tuesday's Al-Ayyam, PMW also reported, the Hamas representative on the National and Islamic Forces Prisoners Committee, Nabil Nassar, was quoted as saying that if a Hamas-led government was unable to secure the release of prisoners held by Israel by peaceful means, it would "take care" of the issue by kidnapping Israeli soldiers.
Tamimi said the changed Hamas charter "will describe the history of the problem which made Palestinians a victim of occupation. The main emphasis is that this [objection to Israel] is not a problem between us and the Jews. The problem is the occupation."
Mansour echoed this distinction, saying, "We don't have a problem with the Jews. We have a problem with the occupation. The Jewish people deserve respect and freedom to observe their traditions." He added that Israeli Jews would be free to live in a Palestinian state as Palestinian citizens.
Tamimi, who in a 2004 BBC interview defended suicide bombings that kill Israeli civilians - he said he would carry out one himself in the right circumstances since "sacrificing myself for Palestine is a noble cause" - told the Post that jihad would remain a component of the charter, but as a political right to armed struggle to be free of occupation, rather than as a religious imperative.
Israel would not be accepted as a state with a legitimate right to exist, because it was established where Palestinians once lived, he went on.
But the charter will provide the ability for Hamas to negotiate with Israel over a long-term hudna if Israel pulls backs to the 1967 borders and recognizes Palestinian rights, including the "right of return."
Tamimi said that clauses in the 1988 charter declaring that that the land on which Israel exists is Islamic Wakf land - "consecrated for the future of Muslim generations until Judgment Day" and thus religiously forbidden to be given to a non-Muslim nation - would be either removed or, "because it does not reflect the reality accurately," diluted.
"All the land conquered by Muslims was Wakf land, but this doesn't matter. We're not struggling to get Spain back. That's just in the minds of a few idiots."
The charter-changing process began in earnest some three years ago, said Tamimi. For one year, Hamas leaders discussed potential changes in bilateral and trilateral meetings. Then in 2004, Hamas leaders began holding "charter workshops" with experts on Islam, political thought and the media. They met, five to six people, in hotel rooms in Beirut and Damascus.
Tamimi, who is pushing for major changes to the document, calling it "the worst thing that has happened to Hamas," said he has attended two such workshops. "We sit and eat and drink and talk and talk and talk," he said. "Some people want to leave [the charter] as it is."
He said that among those supporting a changed text is Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. "If you notice, Khaled Mashaal never quoted it because he was not happy with it," he said. "Sheikh [Ahmed] Yassin never quoted it because he was not happy with it."
Tamimi, 51, said he is a supporter but not a member of Hamas and is close to leaders such as Mashaal. His family moved to Kuwait before the 1967 war. He said Israel's "military occupation" has prevented them from returning.
Author of a soon-to-be-published book entitled, Hamas, the Unwritten Chapters, Tamimi said: "I am someone who is closely associated with the movement. I don't have an official capacity, but I help as much as I can within the limits of the law."
While Hamas is outlawed as a terrorist organization in the EU, US and Canada, its landslide victory in January's PLC elections has made helping Hamas "easier," he said. "[Now it is known that] Hamas is truly representative of the Palestinian people, I can speak with more ease about Hamas."