Hamas remains bent on 'liberating Palestine' in new document
New Hamas political program insists group bears no ill will against Jews, only against 'occupiers ' of Palestine; erases language explicitly calling for Israel's eradication, but remains wedded to goal of 'liberating Palestine and confronting the Zionist project.'
The Islamic militant Hamas on Monday unveiled what it hopes will be interpreted by the international community as a more pragmatic political program, despite its reaffirmation of the movement's commitment to 'liberating' territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, and 'confronting the Zionist project.'
With the new manifesto, Hamas rebrands itself as an Islamic national movement, rather than as a branch of the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood which has been outlawed by Egypt. It also drops explicit language calling for Israel's destruction, though it retains the goal of eventually "liberating" all of historic Palestine, which includes what is now Israel.
It's not clear if the changes will be enough to improve relations with Israel and Egypt, which have been enforcing a crippling border blockade against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip since the group seized the territory in 2007. Hamas has also been shunned by the West, which has set recognition of Israel and renunciation of violence as a condition for ties.
The five-page program, a result of four years of internal deliberations, was presented at a news conference in Doha, Qatar, by Khaled Mashaal, the outgoing Hamas leader in exile. The group has said Mashaal's replacement is to be named later this month, after the completion of secret leadership elections.
"We wanted to present a document that truly reflects Hamas' ideology and consensus and to present it to our supporters ... and the international community," Mashaal said.
A copy of the program was distributed to journalists in Gaza who followed the news conference by video link.
The new platform was presented at a time of escalating tensions between Hamas and its main political rival, the Fatah movement of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas drove out forces loyal to Abbas in its 2007 takeover of Gaza, a year after defeating Fatah in Palestinian parliament elections. Reconciliation efforts have failed.
Israel's Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan responded ahead of the document’s publications, dismissing it as a charade designed with the sole aim of “gaining international legitimacy. In practice, Hamas continues all the time to advance terror attacks and wildly incites for the murder of Israelis. It continues to refuse to recognize the right of Israel to exists,” Erdan said in a statement on Monday evening.
In recent weeks, Abbas has threatened to exert financial pressure, including cutting wage payments and aid to Gaza, as a way of forcing Hamas to cede ground. Leaders of the group have vowed they will not budge.
The war of words with Hamas was seen as an attempt by Abbas to position himself as a leader of all Palestinians ahead of his first meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday. The US president has said he would try to broker Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on a peace deal, despite repeated failures over the past two decades.
In its 1987 founding charter, Hamas called for setting up an Islamic state in historic Palestine, or the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, which also includes Israel.
Despite the new program, its overall goals appear to remain the same. Moreover, despite its references to a two-state formula, the wording suggests Hamas considers this to be an interim step, not a way of ending the conflict.
The document does not contain an explicit call for Israel's destruction, but says that the "goal is to liberate Palestine and confront the Zionist project." The document refers to historic Palestine, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, which includes Israel.
While the founding charter was filled with anti-Jewish references, the new document stresses that Hamas bears no enmity toward Jews. It says its fight is with those who occupy Palestinian lands.
Mashaal is to step down as Hamas leader later this month. Two possible contenders for the No. 1 spot are Moussa Abu Marzouk, a former Hamas leader, and Ismail Haniyeh, a former top Hamas official in Gaza.
The Mashaal announcement was initially scheduled for 7pm (1600 GMT) Monday, but was delayed after a Doha hotel withdrew consent at the last minute to host the Hamas news conference. Hamas scrambled to find a new venue.