The Lebanese news agency Al Mayadeen has published the text of Hamas’ new political charter. This document was released alongside the so-called “Shura elections,” which is the process by which Hamas chooses its leadership. Some commentators have described the document as showing signs of new-found moderation within the movement.
However, a review of the text shows that Hamas has not renounced its principles but simply “powdered” them slightly. Furthermore, angry reactions to the new text show that it is unacceptable to the movement’s power base in Gaza.
The conclusion is that this change has more to do with the West Bank than with Gaza, and serves the interests of Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Khaled Mashal and, as such, cannot be acceptable to the movement in Gaza.
To understand this, we must go back to the Seventh Fatah convention, where senior Tanzim operative Jibril Rajoub placed first, just behind the honorary place reserved for Marwan Barghouti, who is currently serving five life sentences for murder without the possibility of release. The convention was funded by Qatar, which harbors Khaled Mashal. The intent was for Jibril Rajoub to inherit the leadership from Mahmoud Abbas and invite Mashal to lead with him, thereby allowing Hamas access to the West Bank via the PLO.
Indeed, a significant part of the new Hamas document discusses rehabilitating the PLO and Hamas joining it. Hamas already acknowledges the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians. The document further discusses Hamas’ right to declare a tahdiya with Israel, meaning a tactical, non-binding ceasefire. (The document avoids using the term hudna, which is a binding religious term.)
However, Hamas in Gaza is unwilling to recognize the PLO because it is part of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and thus is not willing to recognize the new Hamas plan – hence, Khaled Mashal’s need to leak the document.
Many Israelis who are seeking any sign of Palestinian moderation will be delighted that such a document has been published. Yet, even in this new guise, Hamas is still sworn to Israel’s destruction, even without explicitly saying so. Hamas is devoted to war with Israel and therefore is opposed to any security cooperation with it. Yet all this is said in softer words than the old, blatantly anti-Semitic charter.
Khaled Mashal has already published similar positions in the past, after prominent Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars and also a resident of Qatar, managed to agree with representatives of the West on the principles of “political Islam,” an understanding which was the basis for the “Arab Spring” which has been destabilizing the region in recent years.
Mashal is preparing to inherit the Palestinian leadership from Mahmoud Abbas and is willing to trade harsh wording for a softer style. However, Hamas in Gaza is unwilling to accept this new style. So even if Khaled Mashal is allowed to compete for Abbas’ position, and even if Mashal declares his willingness to implement a tahdiya in the West Bank, this will not obligate Hamas in Gaza.
In other words, in return for dismantling the PA’s security cooperation with Israel, Israel will receive Mashal’s “word,” and we all know what that is worth.