'New' Hamas charter at least a decade old

'New' Hamas charter at least a decade old
Comment: Much of Hamas' 'new' charter can be found in old policy documents, with minor changes likely motivated by a desire to appease the UAE and Egypt, writes Imogen Lambert.
5 min read
19 May, 2017
While the document shifts away from its original charter, it reflects recent 'pragmatic' policies [Getty]
Following Hamas' release of their "new" charter, a wealth of analysis has commented on a potential "new Hamas of pragmatism".  

In contrast with their fiery 1988 charter, widely criticised for hostility to other Palestinian factions, anti-Semitism and violence, the new charter appears to be more humanistic and appealing to the international community. 

Yet this does not reflect a "new Hamas". Not because the group is still "hateful", as Netanyahu complained, but because much of the material in the new charter can be seen in the 2006 Hamas Draft Programme for a coalition government following a deal with Fatah - and even in their 2004 electoral manifesto. 

Additionally, rather than reflect an attempt to placate Israel or the international community, the new charter can also be seen as the latest in a long string of attempts to reconcile Hamas with Egypt and her supporter, the UAE - efforts which have been ongoing since the downfall of President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

More than ten years ago, following their electoral success, their draft programme for a coalition government with rivals Fatah displayed a willingness to join the PLO, recognising its secular character, to respect previous international peace agreements and recognising the two-state solution.  

Although the group reaffirmed the right of return for refugees in that programme, all references to Palestine's land referred to "1967 borders", albeit not to Israel proper.  Article five promised to work with the international community to "achieve a complete withdrawal from the lands occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem".

And although the new charter is still heavily critical of the Oslo accords, their 2006 draft programme stated Hamas "will deal with the signed agreements with high responsibility and in accordance with preserving the ultimate interests of our people and maintaining its rights without compromising its immutable prerogatives".
Although Gaza usually makes international news during its devastating wars, it is not its rocket retaliations against Israeli aggression that has defined Hamas in everyday life since their takeover

Similarly, the group's 2004 electoral manifesto seems to have a minimal preoccupation with religion. Instead, parts of it read like extracts from the UK Green Party's pledges, with promises to plant more trees, establish recycling plants to reduce food waste and reinvigorate women's cottage industries such as weaving.  

Although Gaza usually makes international news during its devastating wars, it is not its rocket retaliations against Israeli aggression that has defined Hamas in everyday life since their takeover. They - remarkably quickly - transformed Gaza from a wild-west-esque region (complete with kidnapping, mafias, competing clans, uncontrollable militant groups and rampant corruption) into a highly organised policed pseudo-state, resembling a technocracy far more than a theocracy.  

Thus, for years the 1988 Hamas charter has been as representative of their policies, as Fatah's charter has been of the security co-ordinating Palestinian Authority; the Fatah constituation still appears to laughably describes the group as a "revolutionary nationalist", "anti-imperialist force" which appeals for an "armed public revolution".

The reason Hamas kept the charter unchanged for so long was probably to placate popular Arab public opinion, as while the western press has praised Hamas' "new" pragmatism, commentators in the Arab world have expressed outrage at the group for abandoning its former stance. Analyst Mohammed al-Tammimi even called Hamas "unbelievers" in a particularly heated al-Jazeera Arabic segment last week. 

Such has been the controversy in Arabic media that prominent firebrand leader Mahmoud Zaher has stressed that the new charter has not replaced the old one.

So the question remains: why now?

It's all about the Rafah crossing

The most important - and telling - change of the new manifesto, which was not so much of a priority a decade ago, is the removal of references to the Muslim Brotherhood.  

This comes as part of a continued attempt to appease Egypt, despite Cairo's hostility - accusing the group of being behind Egypt's woes from the growth of the Sinai's Islamic State group franchise to political assassinations to attacks on Christians. 

The main reason for this desperation is Egypt's blockade on Gaza via the Rafah crossing, which has severely worsened conditions in the blockaded strip, turning public opinion among the Strip's residents against Hamas.
Despite his brutal crackdown in Gaza, Dahlan has been repeatedly meeting with Hamas figures since 2011, sources have told The New Arab

Egypt, along with the UAE, have what could be termed a phobia of the Muslim Brotherhood, reflected in their brutal crackdowns on the movement and numerous reports confirming they would not accept the movement taking part in any governments of Arab states - and that heavy sanctions should be imposed on its affiliates.  

An important figure within the intelligence communities in Egypt and the UAE is former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan. Despite his brutal crackdown in Gaza, Dahlan has been repeatedly meeting with Hamas figures since 2011, sources have told The New Arab

Prominent Hamas leader Ahmed Youssef told The New Arab last year that the group should resolve differences with Dahlan that are now eight years old.

Hamas' desperation to distance themselves from the Brotherhood even extends to removing images of the Muslim Brotherhood from posters in Gaza, taking down banners showing the Emirs of Qatar and Turkey's President Erdogan, along with signs showing the commandments of the spiritual founder of the group, Hassan al-Banna.

Most recently, former Hamas militant Yehya Sinwar was elected prime minister of Gaza. Again, the repeated analysis that he was a "hard liner" was missing the point somewhat; Sinwar, hailing from Hamas' armed wing, the Qassam brigades, has a positive relationship with Iran. Iran has continued to fund the group's paramilitaries through a budget separate from Hamas' political department, who were cut off by Tehran after siding with rebels in Syria.

Despite his militant credentials - he also has a more positive relationship with Egypt. 

And so, although Hamas' new charter does display a certain pragmatism, it follows in the line of many inevitable moves towards moderation since the armed movement transitioned to a formalised government. 

Imogen Lambert graduated from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and has worked in social and economic rights in Cairo.

Follow her on Twitter: @InnogenLamb

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