Hamas charts a new, more tolerant course
The announcement, made from Doha by Hamas' political chief Khaled Meshaal is the product of nearly four years of internal discussion and debate to produce a document that serves to replace the organisation's founding charter which is three decades old.
The new document is notable both for what it states and what it does not state. Further, it is significant because of the effort it reflects on behalf of the organisation and the direction it suggests the organisation aims to pursue.
Perhaps the most anticipated position in the document is the position toward the "two-state solution". The two-state solution represents - for better or worse - a broad official international consensus for an outcome in Israel-Palestine.
Hamas' original and outdated document, which predates both the Oslo peace process and the international consensus around a Palestinian state, called for the establishment of a Palestinian state from the river to the sea.
Over the years, Hamas officials have indicated support for the idea of a Palestinian state and have noted they would respect any negotiated outcome, including a two-state solution, if it secured majority support in a referendum among the Palestinian people. Never before had the stances on the two-state solution been codified in an official organisational document, however, until now.
The position of Hamas in this document is still to lay claim to all of Palestine, from the river to the sea, however, it also recognises a Palestinian national consensus around a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital and a right of return for refugees. This sentiment reflects a second and equally important position in the charter on the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
|The new document is notable both for what it states and what it does not state|
Hamas has always recognised that it is part of something larger, albeit a distinct part with its own positions as a political faction. But while its support for the concept of the PLO in this updated document is not novel, it is particularly important at this time. The divide between Hamas and Fateh, which manifests itself both politically and geographically in the split between the West Bank and Gaza, is part of a bigger question on the lack of legitimacy in Palestinian leadership and the need to reinvigorate Palestinian representative institutions.
|Read more: New Hamas Charter: Too little, too late?|
While these institutions had never achieved stellar democratic records, the Oslo process and the implosion of the PLO into the PA into Fateh over the past 30 years has further debased and diminished them. A reconciliation process or a process that brings Hamas into the PLO offers an opportunity to strengthen the legitimacy of Palestinian leadership by allowing it to claim a broader and unified constituency.
|Hamas' support for the concept of the PLO in this updated document is not novel, it is particularly important at this time|
A third and import point regarding the content of this new document concerns the anti-Semitic and conspiratorial language regarding Jews that existed in the earlier version.
On the contrary, this new version removes that language and instead stresses the difference between Zionism and Judaism and how the organisation claims to oppose discrimination on the basis of identity.
|This new version removes that language and instead stresses the difference between Zionism and Judaism and how the organisation claims to oppose discrimination|
This is important mostly because such bigotry should not be tolerated and also because the notion that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is an intractable, religiously motivated conflict between sides that hate each other is flawed and counterproductive.
Fourth is also a point that is notable for its absence. The new document does not mention the Muslim Brotherhood in any way, making clear that Hamas is a Palestinian national movement focused on Palestine and not part of broader regional political projects. This is important precisely because Hamas' association with the Muslim Brotherhood is thought to be a key dynamic in its difficult relationship with Sisi's Egypt.
Hamas' new document is a significant development, and those dismissing it are making a mistake. Hamas is a Palestinian organisation. It is also not Fateh, and has watched on the sidelines as Fateh has made costly blunders in the effort to be welcomed by the West.
|This document reflects a recognition on the part of the organisation that it must adapt its positions for the current times|
What this document reflects is a recognition on the part of the organisation that it must adapt its positions for the current times, and that as it matures it can better balance its principles with an effort to be included in the broader conversation whether that is with Egypt, the Europeans, the Americans or the entire international community.
Israel, predictably terrified that it might lose one of its favourite boogeymen, has reacted by immediately dismissing the document as insignificant and representing no change. That should be a message to Hamas that this move was an important one. What is left to be seen is whether this move has simply come a few decades too late.
Dr. Yousef Munayyer is a Middle East Analyst at Arab Center Washington DC and Executive Director of US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.
Follow him on Twitter: @YousefMunayyer
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.