In rare public criticism, Hamas official says group botched bid to court West

Ahmad Yousif argues that policy document issued in May 2017 attempting to show terror group was moderating failed to gain attention of Western countries since it came a decade late

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian women, one holding a picture of Hamas movement chief Ismail Haniyeh, attend a mass rally marking the 32nd anniversary of the founding of Hamas on December 14, 2019, in Gaza city. (AP/Khalil Hamra)
Palestinian women, one holding a picture of Hamas movement chief Ismail Haniyeh, attend a mass rally marking the 32nd anniversary of the founding of Hamas on December 14, 2019, in Gaza city. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

A mid-level Hamas official recently spoke out against the terror group in a rare public criticism, arguing a policy document it issued almost over two years ago seeking to broadcast a more moderate image, failed to open doors to the West.

Ahmad Yousif, who was an adviser to Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh when he served as Palestinian Authority prime minister, is considered to be a moderate figure in the terror group.

In May 2017, Hamas published a document declaring that its fight was not against Jews but rather Zionists; it also called for the “full and complete liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea,” but described the establishment of a Palestinian state along 1967 borders, with the return of refugees to Israel, to be “a formula of national consensus.”

Yousif contended that the Hamas policy document came out “late” and that “no one paid attention to it.”

“The changes were big,” Yousif told the Independent Arabia news site in an interview published last week, referring to the document.

“But the West did not deal with it. The reason is Hamas itself — because it was late in announcing it,” he said, stating it should have been published in 2006, when Hamas briefly led the PA government, rather than 2017.

The document was partially seen as an attempt by Hamas to make inroads with the Western world as well as distance itself from its controversial 1988 charter, which refers to Hamas’s “struggle against the Jews” and calls for the elimination of Israel.

While Hamas has recently stepped up its communications with the United Nations regarding informal ceasefire understandings with Israel, it has not made major headway in publicly developing ties with Western countries.

Hamas official Ahmad Yousif speaking to Al-Ghad TV on March 20, 2018. (Screenshot: Al-Ghad)

Yousif said that Hamas officials have held meetings with European officials behind closed doors, but the latter has said that appearing openly with the terror group will cause them “embarrassment.”

The US, Israel and a number of other Western countries have classified Hamas as a terror group.

Yousif added that Hamas’s “political rhetoric is still weak and many of its leaders are not skilled at dealing with the West.”

“The movement bears responsibility for that because it did not put the appropriate person in [the appropriate] place,” he said.

Since the publication of the policy document, Hamas officials have not backed away from praising deadly attacks against Israelis, which have been condemned by Western government officials. They also have continued to vow to not recognize Israel’s existence or accept signed agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Yousif also said that he had put forward a proposal to create a “a religion-based federation on Palestine’s land that includes all of its beings as a model for coexistence, but it was rejected.”

“If [Hamas] spoke to the West in this way, it would have achieved great ends,” he said.

Yousif’s comments published in the Independent Arabia did not state what specifically he believes a religion-based federation would entail.

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