As the Palestinian Hamas movement gears up to release the long-awaited updated version of its founding charter, rumours surrounding the changes to the document have put many on edge.
On Monday evening, Hamas’ political leader Khaled Meshaal is expected to reveal the new document to the public after two years of work, and several occasional leaks of the document.
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It remains to be seen whether Meshaal will have the courage to affirm, quite unequivocally, that this new document replaces, supersedes and even abolishes, the old one. He needs to say that his current move is a correction of a mistake that should not have been made in the first place.
Hamas critics could find nothing more damning for the movement than its own charter, which was released to the public on August 18, 1988, less than nine months following its birth out of the womb of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Palestine.
Israelis and their supporters quote the Hamas Charter as proof that the movement is anti-Semitic and incites violence.
The old Charter speaks of the conflict in Palestine in religious, rather than political, terms.
It took Meshaal and his comrades 10 years to accept the fact that the Charter, which few of them thought was of any relevance to their work, was a major vulnerability and a weapon in the hands of their enemies.
The new charter, or political document as Meshaal prefers to call it, does away with much of what was considered to be erroneous in the old charter. The new document will state unequivocally that the conflict in Palestine is not a religious one:
“Hamas affirms that its conflict is with the Zionist project not with the Jews because of their religion. Hamas does not wage a struggle against Jews because they are Jewish but wages a struggle against the Zionists who occupy Palestine. However, it is the Zionists who constantly refer to Judaism and the Jews in identifying their colonial project and illegal entity,” the new document is expected to read.
Furthermore, unlike the old charter, the new document will be free from any conspiracy theory analysis. It provides a clear view of what the conflict is about:
“The Palestinian cause in its essence is a cause of an occupied land and a displaced people. The right of the Palestinian refugees and the displaced to return to their homes from which they were banished or were banned from returning to – whether in the lands occupied in 1948 or in 1967 (that is the whole of Palestine), is a natural right, both individual and collective. This right is confirmed by all divine laws as well as by the basic principles of human rights and international laws. It is an inalienable right and cannot be dispensed with by any party, whether Palestinian, Arab or international.”
The new document will define the movement in terms of national liberation, stating that:
“The Islamic Resistance Movement ‘Hamas’ is a Palestinian Islamic national liberation and resistance movement. Its goal is to liberate Palestine and confront the Zionist project. Its frame of reference is Islam, which determines its principles, objectives and means.”
However, as far as the objective is concerned, there has been no change of position. Hamas has long called for the “liberation” of the whole of historic Palestine, and is expected to continue to do so in the new charter.
“Hamas believes that no part of the land of Palestine shall be compromised or conceded, irrespective of the causes, the circumstances and the pressures and no matter how long the occupation lasts. Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.”
In what may be perceived as an element of pragmatism unseen in the old charter, the new document states that the movement would accept a de facto Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“However, without compromising its rejection of the Zionist entity [Israel] and without relinquishing any Palestinian rights, Hamas considers the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of the 4th of June 1967, with the return of the refugees and the displaced to their homes from which they were expelled, to be a formula of national consensus.”
This item is likely to stir up some controversy and draw accusations that the movement is being ambivalent. The truth is that this position has been mostly the outcome of considerable pressure exercised on the movement by regional and international actors who want to see it resume reconciliation talks with the Fatah movement and moderate its position towards Israel.
However, what the new document will express is a position that falls well short of accepting the two-state solution that is assumed to be the end product of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).
As for the Oslo agreements, signed between 1993 and 1995, the new charter is expected to say the following:
“Hamas affirms that the Oslo Accords and their addenda contravene the governing rules of international law in that they generate commitments that violate the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. Therefore, the [Hamas] movement rejects these agreements and all that flows from them such as the obligations that are detrimental to the interests of our people, especially security coordination (collaboration).”
The new document is also expected to express the movement’s unwavering rejection of the three demands of the Middle East Quartet, comprising of the United Nations, the United States, and the European Union and Russia, for the recognition of Hamas. The demands consist of the recognition of Israel, the renunciation of violence, and the adherence of previous diplomatic agreements.
On the issue of violence, the amended document is expected to state the following:
“Resisting the occupation with all means and methods is a legitimate right guaranteed by divine laws and by international norms and laws. At the heart of these lies armed resistance, which is regarded as the strategic choice for protecting the principles and the rights of the Palestinian people.”
Hamas has long promised to make changes to its charter, which has placed it at a disadvantage within the international community. The updates are long overdue, but the circumstances seem finally suitable for releasing a new document.
So why has the Hamas leadership decided to release the amendments to its charter now?
Firstly, the increasing pressure from a growing community of Hamas supporters around the world from Latin America to the Far East demanding that the Hamas leadership should do something about the Charter, which is often used against them in public discussions and in the media as proof that Hamas is anti-Semitic and is anything but a national liberation movement.
Secondly, the growing number of channels of communication between the movement and official as well as semi-official entities around the world, especially in Europe and the US, and the discussions these channels generated about what Hamas stand for and what it hopes to achieve.
Thirdly, the maturation of thinking at the grassroots level, as well as at the top leadership level regarding the nature of the conflict and the best means of promoting the cause worldwide.
Fourthly, the failure of the Oslo Accords in achieving peace and the ascendance of Hamas as a potentially major player in any future settlement. Israelis themselves were often eager to set up secret backchannels with Hamas to negotiate a prisoners’ exchange or a long-term truce arrangement.
And finally, the decision by Meshaal to retire and leave behind a legacy for which he would be remembered best.