Hamas’s outgoing political leader Khaled Meshaal announced the release of a new political document this week in Qatar. Contrary to reports, this new document neither replaces the charter nor abrogates the group’s founding document. While it is a departure from the faction’s 1988 manifesto, it is not a sign of moderation. Rather, it is an effort to ease international isolation and appeal the rival Fatah party’s base of support.
Most notable in the new document is what is not included: any reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas is an offshoot of the global Islamist group. And while that was viewed as a benefit during the 2011 Arab Spring, it is now decidedly a vulnerability. With the rise of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt, the Brotherhood and all of its offshoots – including Hamas – have been subject to a merciless campaign designed to weaken the movement. For Hamas, this means that Sisi has kept the Rafah crossing with Gaza closed most days of the year while also destroying dozens of smuggling tunnels between the Sinai and Gaza that had been used not only to move weapons and cash, but also a wide range of goods. This has severely weakened the Gazan economy. Hamas is hoping its new document softens Sisi’s positions.
Hamas is also eager to win favor with other Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Both have soured on Hamas’s politics, thanks in part to the group’s ongoing ties to Iran. This was almost certainly also part of the Hamas calculus.
Observers yesterday were quick to point out that Hamas acknowledged the 1967 borders. At the press conference, Meshaal stated his willingness to accept the ’67 lines as the borders for a future Palestinian state. Yet in the document, Hamas merely states that the borders are a position of “national consensus,” not a position that the group necessarily adopts. In fact, the document defines Hamas’s goal as controlling the land “from the River Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean in the west.”
Observers have also noted that the new Hamas document omits calls for “obliteration” of Israel, but, in fact, it merely replaces that with a total rejection of the “Zionist entity.” The document calls for “all forms of resistance” – a euphemism for terrorism in Hamas parlance.
There are also some who believe the document opened the door for national reconciliation with the Fatah party and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), after a decade of internecine conflict. While it is certainly true that the document points to the PLO, currently under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, as the “national framework” for the Palestinians, the document also calls for the PLO to be “rebuilt on democratic roots.” This is consistent with Hamas’s calls to reform the PLO to ensure that Hamas and another terror group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, can enter the Palestinian political tent without renouncing terrorism.
Ultimately, this new document is a balancing act between Hamas’s various Arab and domestic audiences. In not abrogating the charter, Hamas is able to assure its hardline supporters that the original document is intact. Yet, with this new document, Hamas hopes to lure new supporters and international patrons by presenting its softer side. That the new document has the added benefit of stealing some of the thunder from Abbas’ summit with President Trump this week is icing on the cake.