New Hamas Charter: Too little, too late?

New Hamas Charter: Too little, too late?
Comment: While Hamas' new charter does not amount to recognition of Israel, it formally softens its stance in a few key areas. How might this change things? asks Tristan Dunning.
6 min read
02 May, 2017
Hamas will be hoping to formalise ties with Norway, Sweden and Switzerland [Getty]

The changes announced in the Hamas charter are both positive and long overdue but, in many ways, these are perhaps too little, too late to make any meaningful change to the dynamics of the Palestine-Israel conflict.

Nevertheless, the new charter is a further sign of Hamas' ongoing evolution as a key player in the ongoing conflict in the Holy Land.

Previously, the choice to retain the charter's original language has been counterproductive, especially as the the charter has often been used both as an excuse to exclude Hamas from peace talks, and a means to tar the Palestinian cause in general.

Retaining the original charter without some sort of concessions from Israel had previously been seen as a point of principle for the movement, however misguided; for the anti-Semitic - or, more specifically, anti-Judaic - language has been regarded as unacceptable in the West since the end of the Second World War. 

However, this is nothing new for anyone who has been paying attention to the statements of Hamas leaders over the last decade; they haven't used the charter as point of reference for the movement's policies for over 20 years.
Indeed, it has been amenable to some kind of permanent solution with Israel since the mid-1990s. For years, Hamas has quite clearly stated that it would accept a two-state solution, provided the deal is put to a referendum and approved by the Palestinian people.

The the charter has often been used both as an excuse to exclude Hamas from peace talks

This was especially the case both before and after Hamas' participation in the 2006 election, when its manifesto accepted a two-state solution in the territories occupied in 1967, i.e. East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. 

In effect, the movement already gives Israel de facto rather than de jure legitimacy; that is to say, while Hamas does not recognise Israel's legitimate right to exist, it recognises that Israel does exist, that nothing is going to change this any time soon, and thus proceeds to deal with it pragmatically on a day-to-day basis, albeit uneasily and with sometimes tragic results, as evidenced by the wars in Gaza in 2006, 2008-09, 2012 and 2014.

  Read more: Hamas eases stance on Israel with new charter

Underscoring the conflict as political rather than religious – i.e. that the conflict is about occupation, not Judaism - is another welcome change, in light of the rise of IS and a resurgent al-Qaeda.

This may be a further attempt by the movement to disassociate itself from the extremist Islam propagated by such entities. If so, the movement is looking to present itself as a moderate Islamist alternative open to negotiations, and to avoid getting caught in some kind of all-encompassing anti-Islamist dragnet.    

Given the timing of its release, the new charter is also aimed at drawing attention to Hamas' pragmatism just prior to a meeting between the movement's principal rival Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and US President Donald Trump on May 3.  

The new charter also aims to reach out to a variety of external actors, and to end its regional and international isolation.

Hamas will be hoping that European countries such as Norway, Sweden and Switzerland will formalise contacts with the movement

First, by disassociating itself from its historical roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas is hoping to reach out the Egyptian government, which views the Brotherhood as a "terrorist" organisation, and likely Saudi Arabia and Gulf States. In particular, Hamas is hoping that Egypt will open the borders with Gaza after years of uneasy relations following the 2013 coup against the first freely elected President of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In addition, Hamas lost one of its patrons in Syria when it refused to publicly back the Assad regime. This, in turn, strained relations with Iran. As such, Hamas may be looking to realign itself with Sunni states allied to the US.

Second, Hamas will be hoping that European countries such as Norway, Sweden and Switzerland will formalise contacts with the movement, and that the EU in general will become more accommodating. 

Third, by accepting the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the "national framework" for the Palestinian cause, Hamas is possibly hoping that this may enable some kind of unity government with Fatah and the West Bank Palestinian Authority that will, in turn, be recognised by the international community.

It is extremely unlikely that Israel will change tack

However, the movement has not renounced violence - and nor is it likely to do so while diplomatic measures fail to produce tangible results. Hamas still will not meet the preconditions required for recognition imposed on it by the International Quartet of the US, the EU, Russia and the UN following the movement's electoral victory in 2006.

But, frankly, why would Hamas accept such dictates? The PLO and the PA have been negotiating with Israel for decades and a viable Palestinian state is nowhere on the horizon. This has, for many, not only discredited Fatah and the PLO, but but also the whole idea of negotiations in general. 

Israel, moreover, has never abided by these agreements. Indeed, the current Israeli government, dominated by the far-right has declared that the two-state solution is dead. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu unequivocally stated this during the last election.

Already, Israel has responded, shrilly accusing Hamas of calling for "genocide" – as if it is somehow Hamas occupying Tel Aviv, rather than the Israeli army in the West Bank and policies that render the Gaza Strip a giant open-air prison. 

If and when Hamas' overtures are met with Israeli and US intransigence, this will reinforce the idea that the peace process is a sham

As such, it is extremely unlikely that Israel will change tack and it wouldn't be surprising if it deliberately seeks to provoke the Palestinians by announcing more settlements in the West Bank.  This is even more so given that Donald Trump has not stated his support for the two-state solution, and that references to it have been removed from the Republican Party's platform.

Many commentators are of the view, moreover, that the possibility of a two-state solution has been dead for years due to the proliferation of settlements in the West Bank, thereby rendering the possibility of a future viable Palestinian state extremely remote, if not impossible. 

If and when Hamas' overtures are met with Israeli and US intransigence, this will reinforce the idea, already prevalent among Palestinians and their supporters, that the peace process is a sham designed to shield Israel from criticism, while enabling the creeping annexation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Inevitably, this will lead to further conflict and loss of life - perhaps sooner rather than later given that this June will mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War and Israel's occupation of the Palestinian Territories. 

Dr Tristan Dunning is an adjunct research fellow in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Queensland in Australia.  He is the author of Hamas, Jihad and Popular Legitimacy: Reinterpreting Resistance in Palestine published as part of Routledge’s Critical Terrorism Studies Series in February 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @trisdunning

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.