Few people noticed that when Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal unveiled his “document of general policy principles” at a press conference on Monday, he was not presenting a new charter that will replace the old one.
Hamas has not left behind its founding charter. It presented a new document that is aimed mainly at public relations during one of the terror group’s lowest points.
The new document is mainly geared to public opinion in the Arab world and to Palestinians as Hamas continues to try to paint itself as an alternative to the Palestine Liberation Organization, which up until now has been regarded as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
Recently, the Gaza Islamist group has been focusing on the international — including the European — community, organizing international conferences in European and African countries, while its financial situation deteriorates.
Gulf states are closing the funding taps one by one and income from inside Gaza is dropping.
It is for this reason that the need arose to present a “friendlier face” to the world via this document of principles.
The document is also a kind of attempt by the Qatar-based Mashaal — who is due to retire as leader of the Hamas political bureau later this year — to leave a “political will” which looks more moderate, but in practice includes only slight changes to the 1988 charter and its basic principles.
Mashaal’s message to the Hamas leadership and the Palestinian public is that Hamas is an organization that can show a certain flexibility but of a sort which stays faithful to its principles, in stark contrast to the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, and that it can step into the PLO’s shoes.
It is a masterful example of verbal acrobatics in the Arabic language and of the thin line being trod by senior figures in Hamas.
There is no direct call to eradicate the state of Israel, but recognition of the Jewish State is prohibited and liberated Palestine is to stretch from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
Elsewhere in the document, similarly, Hamas is willing to accept a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 “lines” (not borders, because borders are fixed by two states and that would mean recognizing the State of Israel), but it retains its right to fight for every centimeter of Palestine.
Hamas comes from the same stable as the Muslim Brotherhood, but is a nationalist Palestinian movement, and it is in its relationship with the Brotherhood that the document does departs from the original Hamas charter. Here, the message that there is no connection between the two organizations is aimed at the authorities in Egypt, whose President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has been battling the Islamist group ever since overthrowing the former president, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi, in 2013.
The new document rejects past agreements and initiatives — hinting strongly at the Arab Peace Initiative but not mentioning it directly. That 2002 Saudi-led initiative offers recognition for Israel by dozens of Arab and Muslim nations in exchange for allowing the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
At the end of the day, the main change is one of tone – no expressions against Jews, far fewer quotations from the Qur’an and Hadiths [traditions or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad], and so on, but no significant change in content.
For many Palestinians, the document constitutes proof that the organization is undergoing change and is willing to be flexible. It caused uproar within Hamas and sparked opposition from those for whom it smacked of compromise.
Israel, by contrast, regards it not merely as insignificant, but as almost ridiculous.