Could Hamas' new charter end stalemate in Gaza?

Could Hamas' new charter end stalemate in Gaza?
Comment: Hamas' new charter might be more moderate, and make explicit reference to the two-state solution. Daoud Kuttab asks: Could this be key to their political integration?
4 min read
06 Apr, 2017
Senior Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh is likely to take on the organisation's leadership [Anadolou]
As the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, known by its Arabic acronym - HAMAS - is set to elect its political offices, there are strong indications from Gaza suggesting a new moderation in its politics.
Hamas - which has lost its two major sponsors (Syria and Iran) due to the crisis in Syria - is treated with extreme hostility by the anti-Islamist Egyptian administration, and is in dire need of reform.

Hamas' policies have isolated it regionally and internationally, and its local support base has decreased dramatically in recent years.
To counter this trend, the Hamas movement appears to be set on electing a relatively moderate Hamas official as its top leader. Ismael Haniyeh, who served briefly as Palestinian prime minister, is the most likely candidate to replace Khaled Meshal on his retirement.

At the same time, Hamas is letting everyone know that it is planning to make some substantive changes to its charter - and therefore its general political approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The current Hamas charter was issued in 1988. The 12,000-word document mentions "God" 73 times, it uses the term "Islamic" 64 times, "Jihad" is repeated 36 times - while the term "Palestine" appears only 27 times.
To counter this lopsidedness; full of religious and extremist terminology, the new charter will publicly distance the movement from the Muslim Brotherhood - a decision that should warm its relations with Egypt, and the oil-rich United Arab Emirates.
The new charter will publicly distance the movement from the Muslim Brotherhood - a decision that should warm its relations with Egypt and the oil-rich United Arab Emirates
Reportedly, Hamas will also remove those terms that have seen the charter labelled anti-Semitic, by for example removing the words "Jew" and "Jewish". Where it refers to Israel or Israelis, the new charter will use the term "occupier".
A crucial issue for the new Hamas charter will be how it deals with the two-state solution. 

Will this be the ceiling of its demands, or will it continue to call for a Palestinian state from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea? In addition, whether or not it publicly recognises Israel and Israelis, or keeps the issue of recognition for any future negotiations, will also be critical.
Indications coming from Hamas circles suggest that it will speak publicly about the two-state solution without explicitly referring to the state of Israel by name.

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Such changes are unlikely to register much with the current right-wing Israeli government, but will go a long way in helping to warm relations with other Arab countries.
Hamas officials, including Khaled Meshal, have in the past addressed this issue - including support for the two state solution. But previous hints that such a solution would be supported were seen more as trial runs, rather than serious policy changes, or any reversal of the overwhelmingly anti-Israel rhetoric repeated by Hamas officials and media on a daily basis.
Hamas has had a few opportunities to do this before, but this is the first time it has seemed like a real possibility.

When the pro-Hamas Change and Reform list headed by Ismael Haniyeh won most of the seats in the Palestinian legislative elections in 2007, they refused to accept the international community's demands to cooperate.
Whether or not it publicly recognises Israel and Israelis, or keeps the issue of recognition for any future negotiations, will also be critical
At the time the international community, represented by "the Quartet" (US, EU, UN and Russia), called on the newly formed Palestinian government to accept three principles:
·         A Palestinian state must recognise the state of Israel without prejudging what various grievances or claims are appropriate
·         To abide by previous diplomatic agreements, and
·         To renounce violence as a means of achieving goals
While there was not yet any Palestinian state, and while previous diplomatic agreements calling for the renunciation of violence had been unsuccessful, it seemed possible the new government headed by Haniyeh could overcome these demands by simply accepting to abide by previous Palestinian agreements.
Hamas' policies have isolated it regionally and internationally
After all, Hamas has participated in elections that were made possible because of the Oslo Accords and previous agreements between the PLO and Israel. But alas, Hamas at the time refused to make this concession, and as a result the new government was unable to work with the international community.

All banks subsequently refused to recognise the signature of the Hamas minister of finance, and Hamas militants soon were trapped in a violent struggle that allowed Hamas to rule only a besieged Gaza Strip.
Since then, every attempt to create a unity government between Hamas and Fatah, the party that dominates the Palestinian Authority and which rules the West Bank, has also been conditioned on any new government accepting these demands of the international community. A change in the charter and a new leadership structure could allow for the integration of Hamas into the political scene, and may even see an​ end to the current stalemate in Gaza.

Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.

Follow him on Twitter: @daoudkuttab

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.