Hamas has recently released a new Charter. Despite obvious contradictions and attempts at finding balances within the region’s increasingly tight political margin, the new document is far savvier than its old Charter of 1988.
Following the announcement of the new Charter, the soon-to-depart Hamas’ leader, Khaled Meshaal, conducted several high profile media interviews, explaining the evolution in Hamas’ political discourse.
In a televized interview with CNN, Meshaal called on US President, Donald Trump, to seize a “historic opportunity” for peace. He said that Trump has a “greater threshold for boldness”, thus is able to pressure Israel and “find an equitable solution for the Palestinian people.”
It is not the first time that Hamas has called upon a US president to change his country’s divisive political approach to Palestine and to pressure Israel. But unlike previous calls to former President Barack Obama, for example, Hamas’ ‘plea’ this time is far less confrontational.
The Hamas leadership is keen to assure its supporters that the shift is in language only, and that its old values are still strongly guarded. But this might not be the case.Dr. Ramzy Baroud
“This is a plea from me to the Trump administration - the new American administration,” Meshaal told CNN. “Break out from the wrong approaches of the past and which did not arrive at a result. And perhaps to grab the opportunity presented by Hamas’ document.”
Trump is due to visit Israel on May 22, and is expected, aside from declaring his unconditional support for the Jewish state, to propose an ‘ultimate deal.’
While many Palestinians are not impressed, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is still counting on American political validation and financial support to survive.
However, seeing Hamas joining the official Palestinian chorus, pleading and imploring Trump to be fairer than his predecessors is quite an interesting shift in both attitude and style.
The Hamas leadership is keen to assure its supporters that the shift is in language only, and that its old values are still strongly guarded. But this might not be the case.
The old and the new
Undoubtedly, Hamas’ first Charter, which was released to the public in August 1988, a few months after the formation of Hamas - itself a creation from the outcome of the Palestinian Uprising of December 1987, which saw the killing of thousands of Palestinians, mostly stone throwing children - reflected a degree of intellectual dearth and political naïveté.
It called on Palestinians to confront the Israeli occupation army, seeking “martyrdom, or victory”, and derided Arab rulers and armies for their apathy in the face of ‘grave crimes by the Jews’ against the Palestinians.
At the time, the Hamas leadership was a grassroots composition, made up almost entirely of Palestinian refugees.
While Hamas founders attributed their ideology to the Muslim Brotherhood Movement, their politics was formulated inside Palestinian refugee camps and Israeli prisons.
Although Hamas desired to be part of a larger regional dynamic, it was mostly the outcome of a unique Palestinian experience.
The language of Hamas’ first Charter reflected serious political immaturity, lack of true vision and an underestimation of their future appeal.
However, it also reflected a degree of sincerity, accurately depicting a rising popular tide that was discontented with Fatah’s domination of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Fatah, and other PLO factions, became increasingly disengaged from Palestinian reality after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
The 1987 Intifada reflected popular frustration, both with the Israeli military occupation and the failure, corruption and irrelevance of the PLO.
The signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, but especially the failure of the accords and the so-called ‘peace process’ to meet the minimum expectations of the Palestinian people, gave Hamas another impetus.Dr. Ramzy Baroud
Thus, the formation of Hamas during that specific period of Palestinian history cannot be understood independently from the Intifada, which introduced a new generation of Palestinian movements, leaders and grassroots organizations.
Due to its emphasis on Islamic (vs. national) identity, Hamas developed in parallel, rarely converging with other national groups in the West Bank and Gaza.
Towards the end of the Intifada, the factions clashed, inflicting violence towards fellow Palestinians. Internal strife exhausted the Intifada from within, as much as it was mercilessly beaten by Israeli occupation soldiers from without.
The signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, but especially the failure of the accords and the so-called ‘peace process’ to meet the minimum expectations of the Palestinian people, gave Hamas another impetus.
Since the period of ‘peace’ saw the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements, the number of illegal settlers doubling and the loss of more Palestinian land, Hamas’ popularity continued to rise.
Meanwhile, the PLO was sidelined to make room for the Palestinian Authority. Established in 1994, the PA was a direct outcome of Oslo. Its leaders were not leaders of the Intifada, but mostly wealthy Fatah returnees from Arab capitals abroad.
The late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, understood the need to maintain a semblance of balance in his treatment of Palestinian opposition forces. Despite tremendous Israel-US pressure to crack down on the ‘infrastructure of terrorism’, he understood that suppressing Hamas and others could hasten his party’s eroding popularity.
Soon after his passing, local Palestinian elections - in which Hamas participated for the first time - changed the political power dynamics in Palestine. Hamas won the majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).
Hamas’ election victory in 2006 prompted a western boycott, massive Israeli crackdown on the movement and clashes between Hamas and Fatah. Ultimately, Gaza was placed under siege, and several Israeli wars killed thousands of Palestinians.
Search for alternatives
During the last ten years, Hamas has been forced to seek alternatives. It was forced out of the trenches to govern and economically manage one of the most impoverished regions on earth.
The siege became the status quo. Attempts by some European powers to talk to Hamas were always met by strong Israeli-American-PA rejection.
Hamas’ old Charter was often used to silence voices that called for ending Hamas’ isolation, along with the Gaza siege. Taken out of its historical context, Hamas’ Charter read like an archaic treatise, devoid of any political wisdom.
On May 1, Hamas introduced the new Charter, entitled: “A Document of General Principles and Policies.”
The new Charter makes no reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. Instead, it realigns Hamas’ political outlook to fit somewhere between national and Islamic sentiments.
It consents to the idea of establishing a Palestinian state per the June 1967 border, although insists on the Palestinian people’s legal and moral claim to all of historic Palestine.
It rejects the Oslo agreements, but speaks of the PA as a fact of life; it supports all forms of resistance, but insists on armed resistance as a right of any occupied nation.
Expectedly, it does not recognize Israel.
Hamas is slowly, but decidedly losing that quality, as Fatah already did. If the movement continues on this path it could soon find itself reliving Fatah’s past, which sent Palestinians into years of political disarray and self-defeating internal conflict.Dr. Ramzy Baroud
Hamas’ new Charter seems like a scrupulously cautious attempt at finding political balances. The outcome is a document that is - although it can be understood in the region’s new political context - a frenzied departure from the past.
Hamas of 1988 may have seemed unrefined and lacking savvy, but its creation was a direct expression of a real, existing sentiment of many Palestinians. Hamas of 2017 is much more stately and careful in both words and actions, yet it is adrift in new space that is governed by Arab money, regional and international politics and the pressure of ten years under siege and war.
The current conventional wisdom among Hamas leaders is that a balance is still possible, where political pragmatism and armed struggle can go hand in hand. In fact, the future of the movement, and its brand of politics and resistance will be determined by the outcome of this dialectics.
However, it behooves Hamas to carefully study the political journey of its rivals in Fatah. The latter’s ideology was a blend of nationalism and religion. At times, it too tried to strike the right balance, but failed.
Nearly 47 years ago, Fatah leaders modeled their revolutionary movement after the guerrilla war and resistance in Algeria, which eventually dislodged bloody French colonialism.
Before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, Fatah still argued that armed struggle could go hand in hand with the so-called ‘peace process.’
Even today, Fatah’s popular rallies still utilize the language of yesteryear although, in reality, neither the ‘peace process’ delivered the coveted peace, nor is armed struggle – or any form of centralized resistance – part of the official Fatah strategy.
One can find clear similarities by comparing the experiences of Fatah and Hamas. Perhaps unwittingly, Hamas seems to slowly adopt Fatah’s past legacy.
What ordinary Palestinians found appealing about Hamas in the past was its ability to articulate a Palestinian position, however amateurish it was, independent from American pressures and Arab influences.
In fact, this is what many Palestinians also found appealing about Fatah in the 1960s.
Hamas is slowly, but decidedly losing that quality, as Fatah already did. If the movement continues on this path it could soon find itself reliving Fatah’s past, which sent Palestinians into years of political disarray and self-defeating internal conflict.
Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include “Searching Jenin”, “The Second Palestinian Intifada” and his latest “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story”. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net and he tweets @RamzyBaroud.