The Palestinian militant group Hamas unveiled a new policy document Monday that sees the group accepting for the first time the idea of a Palestinian state that would fall within the borders that existed in 1967, before Israel took control of the West Bank, Gaza and all of Jerusalem.
The group has long been under pressure to update its 1988 founding charter, which calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and advocates violence to achieve its goal of restoring a Palestinian state.
However, the new document offers no recognition of the legitimacy of the “Zionist enemy,” the term Hamas uses for Israel. Instead, it seeks to draw a distinction between political and religious struggle: “Hamas affirms that its conflict is with the Zionist project, not with the Jews because of their religion,” said Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who introduced the “political document of principles and general policies” at a press conference in Doha, Qatar, where he lives in exile.
He added: “Hamas does not wage a struggle against the Jews because they are Jewish but wages a struggle against the Zionists who occupy Palestine.”
The new document also drops specific reference to Hamas’s own religious roots in the Muslim Brotherhood. That’s something likely designed to appeal to a number of Arab states, in particular Egypt.
And even though the new document accepts the idea of a Palestinian state on 1967 lines, this does not mean it foresees “any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.” And it defends armed resistance, stating, “The resistance to occupation, by all means and methods, is a legitimate right guaranteed by divine laws, customs and international laws.”
‘Hamas is attempting to fool the world’
The document drew a swift rebuke from Israel.
“Hamas is attempting to fool the world but it will not succeed,” said David Keyes, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Daily, Hamas leaders call for genocide of all Jews and the destruction of Israel. They dig terror tunnels and have launched thousands upon thousands of missiles at Israeli civilians. Schools and mosques run by Hamas teach children that Jews are apes and pigs. This is the real Hamas.”
Mohammed Shtayyeh, a senior member of the Fatah Central Committee which runs the Palestinian Authority, and an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, accused Hamas of being decades behind in its thinking.
“Hamas is debating things [the PLO] did 43 years ago,” he told CNN. “So what are they going to come up with? They are going to come up with a two state solution.”
“Hamas will try to present some sort of credentials to the international community to say ‘now we are partners,’ ” he said.
‘A sign of maturity’
But Mustafa Barghouti, an independent Palestinian politician, called the document “a sign of maturity and a sign of political development.”
“It’s the outcome of a political dialogue that has been held over a very long time, but it is also about a feeling of necessity regarding interacting with the international community, and giving the right impression about themselves,” he told CNN.
He added: “This has been an issue for so many years, and I am glad they have reached this point of maturity and are upgrading their political program.”
Meshaal is expected to step down soon as leader of Hamas after serving what the group says is a maximum two terms for its leaders. The new leadership will be announced in the coming days, the French news agency AFP reported, quoting a Hamas official.
The new document’s publication also coincides with the arrival of a high-level Palestinian delegation in Washington — President Abbas is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday.
Points in the conflict
Borders: There was keen interest in whether Hamas would make official its stance on which borders it would recognize as constituting a Palestinian state. In its old charter, Hamas called for a return to “historic Palestine” — which is almost all of modern-day Israel — as marked by borders from before the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Hamas has said over the past decade that it was open to recognizing the later 1967 borders.
International support: Hamas has sought to increase international pressure on Israel, particularly after several eruptions of Israeli-Palestinian conflict that have ended with significant death tolls. In the 2014 Gaza conflict, for example, more than 2,200 Palestinians were killed, while 73 Israelis were killed, UN data shows.
Militancy: There was also interest in whether Hamas would soften its language on the use of violence in the pursuit of its objectives. But the group’s decision to appoint Yehya al-Sinwar — considered a hardline founder of Hamas’ military wing in the 1980s — as Hamas’s leader in Gaza has been seen as a sign the group is not backing away from a militaristic approach.
Political vs. religious: Some Palestinians want the conflict framed as more political than religious.
Hamas has traditionally been shut out of the peace process and is designated a terrorist organization by the United States, Britain and the European Union. It has been behind countless bombings and attacks on Israelis since its founding three decades ago.