In a bid to better its international standing, Hamas unveiled its new political platform May 1 in Qatar. Despite what are being marketed as ideological compromises, the new document is depressingly similar to its old political platform. What it reveals, instead of any meaningful movement toward a lasting peace, is a cynical attempt by Hamas to ingratiate itself with the region’s Sunni powers.
Since Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and began its authoritarian stranglehold on the citizens of Gaza, the so-called quartet of Middle East peacemakers (the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia) have demanded the group renounce violence, recognize Israel, and adhere to past Palestinian agreements before receiving international recognition. Hamas has routinely refused. But the group’s frayed ties with Iran have forced it to go cup in hand to neighboring Egypt and other Sunni nations, which led to this new document.
Hamas’s 1988 charter focuses on four central themes: Hamas’s allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood; Palestine’s sanctity as part of the greater Arab nation; Israel’s illegitimacy as a state; and Hamas’s dedication to destroying Israel through armed conflict and only armed conflict. The document is also peppered with anti-Semitic tropes that make clear that Hamas’s outrage is directed at all of “the warmongering Jews,” not just Israelis. For example, Article 28 specifies: “Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Moslem people.”
Gone from the new policy document, which does not replace the original 1988 charter, are the references to “the Jews.” But Israel remains, and Hamas’s leaders swear they are not anti-Semitic, only anti-Zionist. Yet that claim is inconveniently contradicted by everyday evidence. Hamas’s official al-Aqsa television station continues to broadcast sermons demonizing “the Jews,” such as a January 6 sermon by a Hamas parliamentarian accusing “the criminal Jews” of smuggling drugs and pornography into Gaza in order to undermine Palestinian society.
Hamas’s new document falls pitifully short of meeting international demands. While it accepts a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 ceasefire lines, it does not recognize Israel’s legitimacy. “We were and we still are in an open war with the criminal enemy,” Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal said on March 27, referring to Israel. And while the new document accepts a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines, it also rejects “any alternatives to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.”
Nor has Hamas renounced violence or its determination to destroy Israel. In the last 10 years, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets at Israeli civilian centers. In Late March, Hamas reportedly acquired dozens of new and more powerful missiles. The recent election of hardliner Yahya Sinwar as Hamas’s political leader in Gaza reinforces Hamas’s commitment to armed conflict. Sinwar is closely associated with Hamas’s armed wing, which maintains ties to ISIS’s affiliate in the Sinai. Hamas’s new document continues to embrace “armed resistance” as “the strategic choice for protecting the principles and the rights of the Palestinian people.”
If Hamas’s core ideologies remain intact, what has changed and what is the purpose of this new document? The biggest modification is the removal of references to the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas’s original charter defined Hamas as “one of the wings of the Moslem Brotherhood in Palestine.” Since the 2013 fall of Egypt’s Brotherhood-led government, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and other Gulf states have designated the Brotherhood a terrorist organization. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has cajoled Hamas to do the same as a precondition for restoring ties. Hence, Hamas has cleansed references to the Brotherhood from its offices and its new political program.
But words on a piece of paper cannot override genetics. Hamas is still an outgrowth of the Brotherhood, and the two groups share the core values of Islamism. Rather than an ideological shift, Hamas's rewrite is nothing more than realpolitik, an opportunistic ploy to get back into Egypt’s graces and reopen its smuggling tunnels to that country. Whether Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas will ally with whoever presents the better deal.
The disavowal of the Brotherhood may be enough to mend some fences, but the new political program remains far removed from the Quartet’s demands. It is a momentary distraction from the fact that Hamas’s core ideology of violent Islamism is immutable and remains in full effect.
Hamas may have put a new coat of paint on the barn, but the foundation is still rotten. They just hope you won’t notice.