The Palestinian group Hamas, long considered a terrorist organization by most of the western world, has decided to give itself a much needed face-lift, amending its controversial 1988 charter, which calls for eradication of the State of Israel. The preamble of the existing charter reads: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam invalidates it, just as it invalidated others before it.”
While ideologically still committed to jihad and the creation of an Islamic state in Palestine, the leaders of Hamas realize that the world as they knew it from time of their birth in the 1980s until the outbreak of the so-called Arab Spring has changed. The Palestinian cause that they champion has taken a back seat in Arab politics, overshadowed by the wars in Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Yemen. At no time in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict has the Palestinian “question” been as forgotten as it is today, either regionally and internationally.
Former patrons such as Syria are on the offensive after Hamas’ chief Khaled Meshaal jumped ship in 2011, banking on a speedy regime collapse in Damascus, while affiliate parties including the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt are out-of-office and behind bars. Iranian arms and funds have been steadily in decline for six years now, due to the stand-off in Hamas-Syrian relations. Meanwhile, Israel continues its blockade of Gaza, denying it medicine, money, travel rights, and work opportunities – and inspiring the rise of a new generation of radical Islamists who see Hamas as “soft and weak” when it comes to fighting Israel and living up to its promises of statehood in Gaza.
The most prominent of these radical groups is the Palestinian branch of the Islamic State (ISIS), known as the Omar Hadid Brigade, which is feeding off Hamas deserters and defectors. Youth unemployment in Gaza stands at 60% and 40% of the territory’s population lives below the poverty line, driving people to seek alternatives that might protect them and provide better leadership. ISIS is promising to deliver where Hamas has failed since 2007. During its internal elections last February, Hamas saw the rise of a young generation of hardliners from its military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade. They come from the slums and ghettos of Gaza City, and are supplanting some of the older generation of founding fathers —testimony to how restless the group’s powerbase has become with the old way of doing things.
To confront the challenges presented, Hamas’ leaders have decided to finally, if reluctantly, accept the existence of Israel within the borders of 1967 – a daring U-turn, since previously Hamas had refused to consider anything less than the “historic Palestine” of 1948. The insistence on that version of geography and history led to an international boycott of Hamas figures, spearheaded by Israel and the United States. If changed now that might turn a new page with the international community, bringing much-needed money and investment to Gaza – which in turn, could be used to reduce the suffering and radicalization of a younger generation of Gazans.
Talk of serious modification to the ideology of Hamas has been on the table for years, with Prime Minister Ismail Haniya speaking of the 1967 borders since 2007
According to Hamas officials, the new charter could even refer to a Jewish state within the Palestinian borders of pre-1967. Talk of serious modification to the ideology of Hamas has been on the table for years, with Prime Minister Ismail Haniya speaking of the 1967 borders since 2007. Three years later, the head of the party’s political bureau, Khaled Meshaal, added that the charter was “a piece of history” that was “no longer relevant, but cannot be changed for internal reasons.”
Hamas will also drop reference to its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, the parent organization out of which the Palestinian resistance was born back in the 1980s. Such affiliation is bad politics in today’s world, because since being toppled by General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi in 2013, the Brotherhood has been on blacklists in Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, and Tehran. Its two lone remaining allies are Turkey and Qatar. By distancing themselves from the Brotherhood, Hamas’ leaders hope to send a positive signal to the international community and thereby enter the family of nations on behalf of the Gaza Strip.