Hamas’ new manifesto and attempt at diplomacy

11 Mayıs 2017

The Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, better known as Hamas, issued a new political document in Doha, Qatar on May 1. The document, titled “General Principles and Policies,” contains 42 articles and was an outcome of four years of internal deliberations among various fractions of Hamas, from Gaza and in prison or in exile. It is an attempt to modernize Hamas’ founding charter of 1987 with slight changes of its basic principles and practical applications.

The timing of the announcement was also important as it came ahead of a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington, and also coincided with the 69th anniversary of the independence of Israel on May 2. As Trump, like many U.S. presidents before him, will soon be trying to reinvigorate negotiations between Israel and Palestine, Hamas wishes to show its “dynamic and adaptive” character in order to be able to take part in the peace process from which it has been excluded up to now.

Moreover, President Abbas had recently unveiled punitive measures against Hamas, in addition to the long-running isolation of Gaza Strip imposed by Egypt and Israel. Gaza has been under the control of Hamas since it replaced the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Since then, living conditions have worsened considerably as a result of its isolation. As the pressure is increasing and resources are drying up, Hamas aims to show that it is also capable of moderation to ease the blockade and open the way for international aid.

The most notable changes in the document were downplaying Hamas’ close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, emphasizing a distinction between Jews and Zionism, and accepting an independent Palestinian state within 1967 lines.

Hamas originally identified itself as a part of the Muslim Brotherhood in its founding charter. However, this close connection has become a source of tension with Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia since the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt in a military coup in 2013. Rebranding itself as an “Islamist national movement,” Hamas hopes to mend its relations with Egypt, which maintains the blockade on Gaza and has declared the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

It has also tried to redefine the boundary between Jews and Zionism after three decades of insisting otherwise. As stated in the document, Hamas pledges to wage a war against the Zionists, who use religion for the occupation of Palestine, not the Jews as a group because of their religion. What is more, there is no explicit emphasis on Israel’s destruction either, though it continues to identify Israel as an entity that employs a racist, aggressive and colonial Zionist project.

Finally, Hamas, as an important concession, accepted the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the lines of June 4, 1967, before the outbreak of the Six-Day War. Though it also reiterated that it will continue to resist the Israeli occupation until liberation is accomplished.

It is clear that Hamas wanted to show to the world at large that it is open to change and dialogue ahead of the stepping down of its leader - Khaled Meshaal, who lives in exile in Qatar - on May 6. The entire document and statements from Meshaal attempts to demonstrate that “Hamas is not a rigid ideological organization” and can adapt to the political necessities of the time. 

Even the election of Ismail Haniyeh last week as Hamas’ new leader, after his extensive contacts with Abbas and several other Middle Eastern leaders, was an important message to the outside world. Thus, Hamas is bidding to turn a new page in Middle East politics with its new manifesto and new leader. Time will show whether these rhetorical changes will be reflected in practice.