By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
A lot of misleading things have been said about Hamas’s new political document launched in May 2017, as many commentators, politicians, and various parties took elements from the document out of context, especially with regard to Article 20, or through oversimplification or deliberate misinterpretation. Partial readings thus emerged, with gross misrepresentation being the result.
We attempt in this article to shed light on a number of important points to reach a better understanding of the document.
First: Purpose of the Document
According to an objective meticulous reading and follow-up by the author, three main motives lie behind the document’s production and publication:
First of all, many of Hamas’ leadership frameworks have had long-standing reservations on the charter that was published in 1988, which they wanted to amend.
Second, Hamas has had to deal with dozens of issues and developments over the past 30 years, triggering many debates in its ranks. Hamas’s leaders have offered answered to many of these questions in varying circumstances and environments, making it necessary to unify the vision and control and set the political discourse, criteria, and priorities among cadres and supporters. Consequently, the internal climate and the climate emanating from Hamas’ supporters’ views were a fundamental reason for the publication of the document.
Thirdly, there has been a need to set the record clearly on several issues, to confront hostile propaganda and the huge amount of writings, statements, and articles that have been “theorizing” on behalf of Hamas regarding its own political ideas and positions, taking advantage of the near total vacuum resulting from the lack of official literature published by Hamas since its charter in 1988. There was a thus a need for a document in which Hamas speaks for itself.
The issue of the timing seems to be a chronic problem in Hamas’s case, when it wants to deal with a significant issue such as its charter or document. The developments of the Palestinian issue and its internal, Arab, Islamic, international, and Israeli dimensions are too many and relentless, and the publication of the document is no doubt linked to some of these.
It also seems that this was one of the causes of the repeated postponement by the Hamas leadership of amending the charter or issuing a new one, even after the issue was increasingly raised in its internal frameworks especially following its victory in the Palestinian legislative elections and its formation of a government in 2006.
The historical review of the issue of reservations and the timing take us back all the way to 1988, when leaders based abroad had reservations on the text. However, they ultimately decided to adopt and publicize the charter, given that the climate surrounding the first intifada and the massive popular interaction with the uprising, amid escalation, persecution, and difficulty of communication that Hamas experienced inside Palestine.
This did not allow for a calm review of a number of texts to improve and amend them. In addition, there had been no substantive comments on the text of the charter, like the ones that emerged after decades of experience and practice.
One thing many do not know is that Hamas’s executive leadership in the interior (the West Bank (WB) and Gaza Strip (GS)) was the one to prepare and approve the charter, before it was adopted by the executive leadership abroad. Hamas’s Shura (Legislative) Council was not formed until 1991, and it never considered the passing or amendment of Hamas’s charter on its agenda.
On the other hand, Hamas did not put forward a political initiative in its document and therefore it is not necessary to analyze its context and timing at length. Rather, what it has done is publish a document containing principles and policies that were developed quietly, a process that has spanned different political, regional, and international contexts, which makes the issue of timing largely irrelevant, albeit Hamas’s leadership has the right to choose the adequate time to publish it.
It is clear that the importance of the publication of the document exceeds that of the timing; indeed, there was no room for postponement after the completion of its preparation and after it was passed by all executive and consultative frameworks in the movement, with the term of the leadership that sponsored the drafting of the document nearing its end.
For example, the decision of the Hamas leadership to prepare the document dates back to late May 2013, as one of its top priorities, as a new elected leadership. This was before the military coup in Egypt, before the escalation of the attacks on “political Islam” movements, and before the counter-revolution in the Arab region.
Third: Between the Charter and the Document
The new document addressed some ambiguities in the charter, especially in relation to Jewish people, as there was an ambiguity regarding Jews as members of a world religion recognized in Islam as People of the Book, and Zionist Jews who have appropriated the land of Palestine. This was not deliberate, but the result of the popular culture that prevailed in the Arab and Muslim world, which used simplified terms.
However, Israel exploited this to accuse Hamas of “anti-Semitism” and smear it everywhere. For this reason, the new document stresses that “Hamas does not wage a struggle against the Jews because they are Jewish but wages a struggle against the Zionists who occupy Palestine.” The document also addresses aspects related to legal and political formulations, putting forward a coherent professional discourse, avoiding clarifications and elaborations that were contained in the charter.
Fourth: Respect for Institutions
Despite the tough political and military circumstances experienced by Hamas in the past four years, and the attempts to topple or frustrate it in GS, and uproot it in the WB, not to mention the adverse and restive regional climate, to Hamas’s credit, it has been able to produce a mature political document prepared slowly and thoroughly, in an atmosphere that respected institutional work and abided by its outputs.
The document was debated widely in all of the movement’s relevant frameworks at home and abroad. Panel discussions were held for the purpose in several countries, and the relevant parties introduced improvements and amendments to the texts producing several drafts and versions until the final version was adopted by the executive leadership of the movement and then the Shura Council in late December 2016. After that, the leadership was given the mandate to put some final touches and decide the time to launch the new document.
Fifth: The Most Prominent Features
It is possible to summarize the most important features of the new document as follows:
1. The political and legal language is professional and modern, addressing Arab and international regimes and societies with a language they understand.
2. Firmness and clarity regarding the fundamentals, which were reaffirmed in several places without equivocation.
3. Flexible and realistic political language, affirming shared visions with others without undermining the fundamentals.
4. Moderate and tolerant Islamic spirit, far from extremism and intolerance, affirming shared human values of freedom, justice, and rejection of oppression and aggression.
5. Comprehensiveness: The document covered all main issues in a balanced manner under 11 titles, including defining the movement, the land of Palestine and its people, its Islamic vision for Palestine and Jerusalem, the issue of the refugees and the right of return, the Zionist project, the position on the occupation and the peace process. It defined Hamas’s vision of resistance, liberation, and the Palestinian political system, while also addressing Arab, Islamic, international, and humanitarian dimensions.
Sixth: Hamas’s Acceptance of Palestinian Statehood
Article 20, which hinted at the possibility of accepting Palestinian statehood along the borders of 4/6/1967, is perhaps the one that received the most debate and attention from the public opinion, as though it was a new initiative or concession from Hamas. Some Fatah leaders even claimed that “Hamas took 30 years to come out with our same positions,” in reference to the decisions made by Fatah and the Palestinian factions in the 19th Palestinian National Council (PNC) in 1988. In reality, however, this is a false interpretation and oversimplification, for the following reasons:
1. The text on statehood falls in the context of a clause that is categorical in rejecting the ceding of any part of Palestine no matter the reasons. The text reads as follows: “We do not leave any part of the Palestinian’s land, under any circumstances, conditions or pressure, as long as the occupation remains. Hamas refuses any alternative, which is not the whole liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea. And the creation of the Palestinian independent state with its sovereignty, with Jerusalem as its capital, on the borders of the 4th of June 1967, with the return of the refugees to their homes from where they were displaced is a common national consensual formula, and it does not mean the recognition of the Zionist state or the surrendering of Palestinian rights.”
2. This text is linked to a fundamental issue, which has been the subject of debate in Palestine for the past decade, and which Hamas has been required to answer to in all its engagements with Fatah and the Palestinian forces to build common ground to overcome Palestinian division and set out to work jointly in the Palestinian frameworks such as the PLO and the Palestinian Authority.
Furthermore, Arab, Islamic, and international parties wanted to know Hamas’s position on this issue, while Hamas’s cadres and supporters wanted a clear answer. Because Hamas is a major faction without whose participation no real Palestinian decision can be made, it was important to set the record straight on this matter.
Hamas has proven here its keenness for partnership, consensus, and ending the division, and that it is not an obstacle in the path of establishing a fully sovereign Palestinian state along the borders of June 4. However, this formula does not oblige Hamas to recognize Israel or cede any part of Palestine, according to the texts that preceded the clause on statehood in the charter.
3. It is false to say that Hamas has agreed to the same program that Fatah and Palestinian factions endorsed in 1988. During that 19th PNC session, Fatah and PLO factions agreed to cede Palestinian land occupied in 1948 (77% of historic Palestine) and to take part in a peace process that recognizes Israel and ends armed resistance. They also accepted UN resolution 242, which deals with the Palestinian issue on the basis that it is a refugee issue.
4. Even with this program, Fatah did not commit to it in the 1993 Oslo Accords, when it recognized Israel, ceded the Palestinian territories occupied in 1948, and renounced resistance in return for self-rule in the WB and GS. The Accords did not include any Israeli commitment to withdraw to the borders of June 4, or to an independent Palestinian state on those borders, or to withdraw from Jerusalem, accept the Palestinian right of return, withdraw from settlements, or even cede control of borders and water to the Palestinians. Fatah, which has led the PLO since 1996, then abolished all the clauses of the Palestinian National Charter that contradict with its commitments to the Israelis.
5. If Hamas were to agree to the compromises that Fatah has agreed, all doors would have been opened to it after its 2006 election victory. Hamas would be now leading the PLO and the Palestinian Authority in WB and GS, and it would not have been placed under the conditions of the Quartet.
GS would have been spared from the crippling blockade, and three major wars with Israel in the past ten years. The resistance forces and cadres would not have been persecuted in the WB, and the so-called “moderate Arab camp” and the western countries that class Hamas as a “terror group” would have embraced it.
6. The idea of accepting a fully sovereign Palestinian state along the lines of 1967 in return for a truce is an idea proposed by Hamas leaders more than 25 years ago. There is nothing new in the text of the document in this regard, while bearing in mind that the document refers to the “lines of the 4th of June 1967,” which means they are truce lines and not permanent borders for Hamas.
Seventh: Relations with the Muslim Brothers Movement
Hamas did not refer to Hamas’s affiliation to the Muslim Brothers (MB) Movement. However, this does not mean that it has split from it or disowned it. The new document omitted this and other points, including whether it replaces and supplants the 1988 charter. However, this does not remove the link between Hamas and the MB Movement. Hamas has confirmed that it still belongs to the same school of thought, but the form of the relationship, apparently, is closer to cooperation and coordination than direct organizational linkage, and Hamas seems to not want to become preoccupied with explanations and debates about this.
Regarding whether or not Hamas fears to be further pressured because of the relationship with the MB Movement, Hamas has bigger reasons on account of which it will be pressured. For it is the most important Palestinian armed resistance faction fighting the Zionist project, and the fact that the West classes it as a “terror group,” while the majority of Western countries do not do the same with the MB Movement.
Finally, this article cannot discuss all the points raised about the document. Furthermore, the document itself is subject to shortcomings, omissions, and errors, but what matters is that Hamas has maintained its identity, bearings, and fundamentals, in tandem with balance, moderation, and openness in a worrying atmosphere and stormy climates.
 A Document of General Principles and Policies, site of the Islamic Resistance Movement—Hamas, 1/5/2017, http://hamas.ps/en/post/678/
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 15/6/2017