Hamas hopes changes will make it more palatable for Western anti-Israel groups in Europe and America to support them
But group still calls for the "liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea," which is poetic code for "the destruction of Israel"
Editor’s Note: Jonathan Cristol is a fellow at World Policy Institute and a senior fellow at the Center for Civic Engagement at Bard College. You can follow him @jonathancristol. The views expressed in this commentary are his.
The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas issued “A Document of General Principles & Policies,” on Monday night. This new political document purports to show that the group has”moderated.” It reframes the purpose of Hamas as being engaged in an armed political struggle against occupiers, rather than a religious war against the Jews.
However, in reality, this new document represents only a minor change in tactics, not in its ultimate aims.
The original 1988 charter blends religious readings with conspiracy theories and classic anti-Semitic tropes to frame its”very great and very serious” struggle against “the Jews.” It refers to “the fight with the warmongering Jews,” and also educates the reader that the Zionists “gave rise to… Freemasons, the Rotary, and Lions” clubs, which they use to control the drug trade and to “annihilate Islam.” The document also makes not-so-subtle allusions to killing all Jews, everywhere.
Hamas is a brutal terrorist organization. It was the first group to introduce suicide bombing to Israel proper, when it blew up a bus in the Northern Israeli town of Afula on April 6, 1994. Since then it has conducted hundreds of attacks, ranging from the March 27, 2002 suicide bombing of a Passover seder at a hotel in Netanya, to the June 12, 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. After assuming political control of the Gaza Strip, it has launched thousands of rockets at Israel.
One thing Hamas has not done is track down and kill Jews at random outside of Israel and the Palestinian territories. It may be that Hamas had broader ambitions when it was founded, but in practice, it is a regional organization and prefers not to launch attacks in the many countries in which it raises funds. They are giving up a tactic that they never embraced in practice, even if they may have approved of it in theory.
The main innovation of this new document is to clarify that Hamas’ problem is not with Jews, just “Zionists” and”occupiers.” The document says, “Hamas does not wage a struggle against the Jews because they are Jewish but wages a struggle against the Zionists who occupy Palestine.”
Similarly, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: “the elimination of Israel does not mean the massacre of Jewish people in the region.” This new document does little more than put Hamas in line with “mainstream” anti-Israel entities and individuals – even states who deny Israel’s right to exist.
The change makes it more palatable for Western anti-Israel groups in Europe and America to voice support for Hamas, although actual material support in the US and many, but not all, European countries remains illegal.
In fact, appealing to Western anti-Israel audiences is one of the main reasons for the change. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said: “To the world, our message is: Hamas is not radical. We are a pragmatic and civilized movement.”
The new document may seem more moderate, but in reality nothing has changed. While the document accepts the 1967 borders as a “national consensus formula,” and you are sure to see breathless praise for this “change,” Hamas still calls for the “full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea,” which is poetic code for “the destruction of Israel.”
On Jerusalem it says, “Not one stone of Jerusalem can be surrendered or relinquished.” Hamas still rejects not only the admittedly failed Oslo Accords, but also the recognition of Israel and the renunciation of violence. Indeed it calls “armed resistance” the “strategic choice for protecting the principles and the rights of the Palestinian people.”
The new document allows Hamas to claim moderation and to seek out new allies alienated by the religious struggle depicted in its original charter. But make no mistake: The new charter does not mean that Hamas will make any change in either its strategy, tactics, or its demands.
It has “moderated” its position, but it is not moderate. It must continue to be fought against and to be rejected, just as it rejects the right of Israel to live in peace and security.