Middle East Experts Pour Cold Water on Hamas Effort to Market New ‘Moderate’ Image to World
Despite its current effort to market itself to the world as a “moderate” force, the Hamas terrorist organization’s goal remains the annihilation of Israel, a trio of experts have told The Algemeiner.
In a CNN interview published on Wednesday just before Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with US President Donald Trump at the White House, Qatar-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal called on America to “break out” from its past approaches to Middle East peacemaking.
“This is a historic opportunity to pressure Israel…to find an equitable solution for the Palestinian people,” he said. “And it will be to the credit of the civilized world and the American administration to stop the darkness that we have been suffering from for many years.”
Earlier this week, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum described the group, which rules the Gaza Strip with an ironfist, as “pragmatic and civilized.”
Hamas violence against Israel — including terrorist attacks and rocket fire — has prompted the Jewish state to launch three military campaigns in Gaza during the past decade.
On Monday, Hamas issued a new policy document that was heralded by some as evidence of a “softened” stance vis-à-vis Israel — compared to the Islamist organization’s founding covenant from 1988, which is replete with antisemitic language.
However, Middle East experts consulted with by The Algemeiner expressed skepticism regarding this assessment.
“This new document is intended for Western eyes and ears; the original charter is still there,” said Khaled Abu Toameh, a Palestinian affairs analyst with the Gatestone Institute think tank.
Abu Toameh noted that nothing he had read in the new document persuaded him that Hamas no longer wants to destroy Israel. “Hamas is saying, if Israel gives us a state in the 1967 borders, we will take it, and in the future we can use this Palestinian state as a launchpad for attacks on the rest of Israel,” he said.
Furthermore, Abu Toameh pointed out, it was not clear where the authority for the new Hamas document came from. “Who voted for it? Who approved it?” he asked. “Does it represent (Hamas co-founder and key Gaza-based leader) Mahmoud al-Zahar?”
Shlomo Brom — a senior research fellow and head of the Program on Israeli-Palestinian Relations at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv — said that the new document was “in keeping with the basic ideological positions of Hamas.”
But, Brom went on to say, “Hamas is showing some level of pragmatism on three issues. Firstly, a willingness to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and with Jerusalem as its capital — but without giving up on the ideological vision of eventually controlling all the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.”
The second notable change, according to Brom, concerned the ties between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. “They are not mentioning this linkage to satisfy Egypt,” he said.
And thirdly, Brom continued, “they are trying to erase the antisemitic expressions that are in the original charter.”
Abu Toameh observed that in the days since the new document was released, he had not “heard a change in the tone of Hamas.”
Jonathan Schanzer — an expert on Palestinian politics at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank in Washington, DC — said the publication of the new document was timed to “steal the thunder” from Abbas ahead of his meeting with Trump.
“It’s not a new charter,” Schanzer said in a conference call organized by The Israel Project. “It’s a political document — essentially trying to placate the United States, along with the Saudis, the Egyptians and the other Arab states.”
At a joint press appearance with Abbas on Wednesday, Trump did not mention Hamas by name, but emphasized the importance of unity among the Palestinians to the success of any peace initiative. In recent weeks, Abbas has gone on an offensive against Hamas, cutting the salaries of Palestinian Authority employees in Gaza and refusing to pay for Israel’s supply of electricity to the coastal enclave.