Tuesday,24 April, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1343, (4 - 10 May 2017)
Tuesday,24 April, 2018
Issue 1343, (4 - 10 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Radical revisions

Hamas’ new charter signals a major shift in the movement’s position

Mashaal and Haniyeh
Mashaal and Haniyeh

Hamas Political Bureau Chief Khaled Mashaal, whose term is due to end soon, unveiled a new Hamas charter in a news conference held in Doha on Monday. The Document of General Principles and Policies, as it is called, is the resistance movement’s second charter since its founding in 1987. The first charter, or “covenant”, appeared in August 1988.

The new charter contains 42 articles, six more than the 36 articles in the 1988 version. The style is also different: it is direct, succinct and diplomatic. It is also noteworthy that its release was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and announced a couple of days in advance of President Mahmoud Abbas’ visit to Washington.

The charter addresses Hamas’ organisational structure and disassociates the group from the Muslim Brotherhood. Article 2 of the 1988 charter which stated that “the Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] is one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine” has been eliminated in the new charter, as has the Brotherhood slogan: “God is its purpose, the prophet is its model, the Quran its constitution, Jihad is its path and death for the sake of God is its loftiest of hope.”

The new document no longer describes the movement as “universal” as did Article 7 of the old charter which stated, “As Muslims who adhere to the approach of the Islamic Resistance Movement are spread across the world and work to support it, promote its stances and strengthen its jihad, the movement is a universal one.”

Hamas official Ismail Radwan told Al-Ahram Weekly from Gaza that the new document makes it clear that “Hamas is a Palestinian national liberation movement that has no organisational relationship with any other party. Hamas’ compass is its cause: the Palestinian state and Jerusalem.”

An important development embodied in the new charter is Hamas’ acceptance of the 1967 borders as a frame of reference. Article 20 of the Document of General Principles and Policies states: “We will not concede any part of Palestinian land, regardless of the circumstances, conditions or pressures, no matter how long the occupation lasts. Hamas refuses any alternative to the full liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea. Nevertheless — and this does not signify any recognition of the Zionist entity or a renunciation of any Palestinian rights — Hamas regards the creation of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state within the 4 June 1967 borders and with Jerusalem as its capital, along with the recognition of the right of refugees to return to their homes, as a common national consensual formula.”

The new charter underscores the right of return, as enshrined in numerous UN resolutions, in other articles. Article 12 states: “The Palestinian cause is essentially the cause of an occupied land and a displaced people. The right of return for all Palestinians that were driven from or prevented from returning to their homes, whether in the areas occupied in 1948 or in those occupied in 1967 is a natural, collective and individual right affirmed by all divinely revealed religions, basic human rights principles, and international law.”

Mashaal said Hamas “supports the creation of a transitional Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders without recognising Israel or relinquishing any rights”.

Hamas insists the pre-June 1967 formulation was proposed in the spirit of national consensus and not the result of any form of pressure or enticement.

According to Mohamed Gomaa of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, “the full implications of this may not be apparent though in the future there will be repercussions.”

Hamas’ relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) is another important focus of the new charter. It states that the PLO is a “national framework for the Palestinian people at home and must be preserved, while working to develop it and restructure it on democratic foundations that ensure the participation of all components of the Palestinian people and that safeguard Palestinian rights.”

This article comes under the heading “Political System”, beneath which also appears Article 30: “Hamas stresses the need to build Palestinian national institutions and authorities on sound and firm democratic foundations, foremost among which are free and fair elections, and on the principle of national partnership, in accordance with a clearly defined programme and strategy that remains committed to the resistance and that meets the aspirations of the Palestinian people.”

This differs markedly from Article 27 of the old covenant which condemned the PLO for its secularism.

The new charter provoked mixed reactions. “It took Hamas 30 years to come out with our positions and accept the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders,” said official Fatah Spokesman Osama Al-Qawasmi. “Hamas’ new document matches the position taken by the PLO in 1988.”

Radwan rejects that reading and insists that Hamas still sets itself apart from Fatah inasmuch as its new charter adheres to the movement’s principles, has not relinquished the right of armed resistance and remains true to the movement’s history of struggle.

“We are not like others who abandoned the gun for the sake of a settlement process in Oslo and commitment to a security context in the framework of a Palestinian Authority that serves the occupation. We are not trying to become an alternative to Fatah or any other faction.”

Jibrail Al-Rajoub, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, said he was pleased with Hamas’ “belated” approval of the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the pre-June 1967 borders.

“Political racism and Palestinian patriotism are the way to end the occupation, achieve the aspirations of our people and thwart the Israeli project which is founded on negating us.”

“Our differences with Hamas are political and revolve around the nature of the political solution. We do not believe, after today, that there is much distance between us. We must achieve unity. We hope that the Hamas position will form the basis for a new effort to forge national unity.”

Israel rejected the new document out of hand, describing it as an attempt on the part of Hamas to dupe the world into believing it has become more moderate. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Spokesman David Keyes said “Hamas is attempting to fool the world but it will not succeed... They dig terror tunnels and have launched thousands upon thousands of missiles at Israeli civilians. This is the real Hamas.”  

In the opinion of Arab Israeli political analyst and columnist Jackie Khouri the response of Israeli politicians is being determined by the likelihood of elections being called next year. They are happy to denounce Hamas in fiery rhetoric but, says Khouri, the Israel government actually favours keeping Hamas in power in Gaza if only because of the lack of a viable alternative capable of maintaining calm. There is also a perception in Israel that Hamas is gripped by internal crises which may have motivated the production of a new charter. These crises are thought to be related to disputes with Qatar over funding.

Meanwhile Israel, in order to maintain the status quo both in terms of the leadership in Gaza and the separation between Gaza and the West Bank, sends in humanitarian aid and avoids any serious negotiations.

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