Hamas’ ‘Change of Heart’ Is a Political Ploy
JNS.org – Hamas recently released a policy document softening some of the terror group’s language in its founding charter, while preserving the group’s goal of destroying Israel. Policy experts say that the real objective behind Hamas’ marketing campaign is to pragmatically deal with the movement’s problems by fostering closer ties with Sunni Arab powers, and moving away from Shiite Iran.
The Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, an Iranian ally, blasted Hamas’ softened policy language. While Hamas now claims that it would accept a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders, Hezbollah says that it rejects “the resistance that sells the blood [of ‘martyrs’ in exchange] for land.”
Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt have designated the Eyptian Muslim Brotherhood — Hamas’ parent group — as a terrorist organization. Therefore, the new Hamas document delinks the Palestinian terror group — at least rhetorically — from the Brotherhood. Further, the new Hamas document partially cleans up its founding charter’s antisemitic language, and names the terror group’s targets as Zionists or Israelis, rather than Jews.
“The new document is intended to shore up Hamas’ relations with Egypt, and pave its way to take over the Palestinian national movement,” Professor Meir Litvak, a leading Israeli expert on Hamas and the director of the Alliance Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University, told JNS.org.
Yet Hamas’ ongoing terror activity, and the past statements of the terror group’s new leader — Ismail Haniyeh — indicate that not much about the Palestinian faction has changed.
Haniyeh’s rhetoric has promoted jihad as a religious duty, as well as the use of violence to bring about the final liberation of “Palestine” from “the river to the sea,” according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which monitors and translates Arab media reports.
MEMRI noted on May 9 that Haniyeh has also voiced anti-American rhetoric, including condemning the killing of Osama bin Laden.
“Regardless of the different views in Arab and Islamic circles, we, of course, condemn the assassination or killing of a Muslim mujahid (an individual engaged in jihad) and an Arab. We pray for Allah to cover him with His mercy, next to the prophets, the righteous and the martyrs,” Haniyeh said regarding bin Laden.
Tel Aviv University’s Litvak explained: “Of course, the new document is an adjustment to realities rather than a change of heart. But, it is an admission that Hamas cannot realize its ideology or vision, and this may be a step in a long process which may lead Hamas to greater moderation.”
This process, according to Litvak, “resembles to some degree” the evolution of its rival Palestinian faction, Fatah, in the early 1970s. Litvak says that Fatah made an “adjustment to realities that went much further than anyone had anticipated at the time.”
There is also infighting within Hamas about how the group should move forward, according to Litvak. Hamas’ “military wing” prefers close relations with Iran, while political leaders such as Haniyeh and his predecessor Khaled Mashaal prefer closer ties with Sunni-Arab countries. Haniyeh’s successor as Hamas’ political leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, was once a senior official in the “military wing.”
It is doubtful that Hamas is nearing reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is headed by Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, due to the “measures Abbas carried out against [Hamas],” Litvak said. The PA also recently announced that it would stop paying for the electricity that Israel sends to Gaza.
Ido Zelkovitz, an expert on Palestinian society and the head of the Middle East Studies Program at Israel’s Yezreel Valley College, told JNS.org that Gaza-based Haniyeh’s rise to power gives prominence to the Gaza-relevant portion of Hamas’ agenda, as opposed to Mashaal, who focused less on the coastal territory when he ruled from exile in Qatar.
Hamas’ new policy document is an effort “to become accepted as a legitimate political player by the international community,” said Zelkovitz, adding that the group “seeks to redefine itself away from its terrorist image.” The document places the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the framework of more of a nationalist discourse rather than a religious one, he said.
“Hamas doesn’t want to be considered as antisemitic, so it is a smart move for them,” said Zelkovitz, noting that the new document does not cancel out Hamas’ 1988 charter, which used blatantly antisemitic language such as “warmongering Jews.”
Yet according to Zelkovitz, Hamas’ founding charter maintains far more authority for Palestinians than the new document. And senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar said on May 10 that the new document is not a substitute for the charter.
“We have reaffirmed the unchanging constant principles that we do not recognize Israel,” Zahar said, according to Reuters. “We do not recognize the land occupied in 1948 as belonging to Israel and we do not recognize that the people who came here (Jews) own this land. … Therefore, there is no contradiction between what we said in the [new] document and the pledge we have made to God in our charter.”