Despite facelift, Hamas is as hostile to Israel as ever
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Analysis

Despite facelift, Hamas is as hostile to Israel as ever

In a new charter, the terror group is apparently toning down the rhetoric -- to appease the West and mollify Egypt; it won't be recognizing the Jewish state

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Yahya Sinwar (R) the new leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and senior Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh attend the funeral of Hamas official Mazen Faqha in Gaza city on March 25, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
Yahya Sinwar (R) the new leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and senior Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh attend the funeral of Hamas official Mazen Faqha in Gaza city on March 25, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

The Jewish people can finally breathe a sigh of relief. The new Hamas charter, set to be published in the coming days, will reportedly not include racist rhetoric against Jews akin to that in the original version, which made reference to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Rather, only statements negating Zionism and the State of Israel have made it into the updated charter, according to a draft leaked to the Lebanon-based news outlet al-Mayadeen this week.

The document reportedly states that the terror group “distinguishes between the Jews, as the people of the book (i.e., the Bible), and Judaism as a religion on the one hand, and between the occupation and the Zionist project, on the other, and believes that the conflict with the Zionist project is not a conflict with the Jews because of their religion.”

While Hamas will not of course recognize the State of Israel, it does agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, while stressing that it will preserve weapons of “resistance” in order to liberate the entire land of Palestine, including Israel.

Hamas' new leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar (2nd R) and senior political leader Ismail Haniyeh (L) sit next to the son of assassinated Hamas military leader Mazen Faqha on March 27, 2017, in Gaza City. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
Hamas’ new leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar (2nd R) and senior political leader Ismail Haniyeh (L) sit next to the son of assassinated Hamas military leader Mazen Faqha on March 27, 2017, in Gaza City. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

“There is no alternative to the liberation of the entirety of Palestine, from the river to the sea, no matter how long the occupation persists,” the leaked document continues, leaving no doubt as to the fact that the ultimate goal of the group, which has always included Israel’s destruction, hasn’t changed.

Indeed, for the State of Israel and its citizens, there is no actual relief here. But if we set aside our cynicism, we can still establish that Hamas of 2017 is, in fact, trying to convey a new message to the world.

The target audience for the revamped charter is not the Israeli public, a fact that should be remembered while examining it. Rather, it is intended for young Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and for the Arab public around the world, particularly in one critical country as far as Hamas is concerned — Egypt.

Let’s start at the international level: the case Hamas is making to the West is, “We are not anti-Semites, only anti-Zionists.”

Having internalized the enormous weight that the world attaches to anti-Semitic and other racist rhetoric, Hamas is trying to present a different face that would distinguish it primarily from the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. The group no longer speaks using the language of “Western infidels and crusaders,” as its even more radical competitors do.

Abu Ubaida, spokesman of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, speaks during a memorial in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on January 31, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)
Abu Ubaida, spokesman of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, speaks during a memorial in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on January 31, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

As for Egypt: a cursory reading of the updated charter reveals the miraculous disappearance of one of the most prominent sections of the original, which stated that “the Islamic resistance movement (Hamas) is an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.”

Indeed, the entire second section of that founding August 1988 charter highlighted the Egyptian-founded Muslim Brotherhood and the Gordian knot that entangled it with Hamas. But the new version of the treaty is entirely devoid of references to the Brotherhood — at least according to the drafts leaked to Arab media thus far.

The Brotherhood has been a critical point of contention between Hamas and Egypt in light of the de facto state of war between the regime of Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo and the group, whose democratically elected president Sissi deposed in a coup in 2013.

Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, attend a memorial in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on January 31, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, attend a memorial in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on January 31, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Hamas’s recognition of “the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital and the return of refugees and displaced persons” is intended to signal to the Palestinian public that the movement is pragmatic and flexible within the ideological space in which it operates.

When it comes to Israel, Hamas has no desire to signal that it is ready for peace, heaven forbid — only to make it clear that it does not live in a bubble.

In countless closed-door conversations and a number of media interviews, senior Hamas officials have been stating this position since the 1990s. “We are realistic,” they say. “The State of Israel exists and cannot be ignored.”

Yet to recognize the Jewish state would be a completely different thing. No senior Hamas official would do so, knowing that he would be immediately forfeiting his position.

This “new charter” — likely to be introduced by Khaled Mashaal before he resigns from his post as head of the movement’s political bureau later this year — will not bring about a change in relations between Gaza and Israel. Neither will it reduce the potential for military escalation in the Strip that has become an annual hallmark of the rapidly approaching summer months.

Rather, by adopting positions that seem closer to those of the Palestinian Authority, the amendment is intended primarily to show the Palestinian public that Hamas is prepared to go a long way towards national unity.

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