Hamas unveils new, seemingly more pragmatic political programme

Associated Press
In this Dec. 7, 2012 file photo, formerly exiled Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, left, and Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh wave during a news conference upon Mashaal's arrival at the Rafah crossing in the southern Gaza Strip - AP

The Islamic militant Hamas on Monday unveiled a new, seemingly more pragmatic political programme that the group hopes will help it end years of international isolation.

With the new manifesto, Hamas rebrands itself as an Islamic national movement, rather than as a branch of the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood which has been outlawed by Egypt. It also drops explicit language calling for Israel's destruction, though it retains the goal of eventually "liberating" all of historic Palestine, which includes what is now Israel.

It was not clear if the changes will be enough to improve relations with Israel and Egypt, which have been enforcing a crippling border blockade against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip since the group seized the territory in 2007. Hamas has also been shunned by the West, which has set recognition of Israel and renunciation of violence as a condition for ties.

In this Dec. 8, 2012 file photo, Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, left, and Hamas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh wave to Palestinian Hamas supporters during a rally to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Hamas militant group, in Gaza city Credit: AP

The five-page programme, a result of four years of internal deliberations, was presented at a news conference in Doha, Qatar, by Khaled Mashaal, the outgoing Hamas leader in exile. The group has said Mashaal's replacement is to be named later this month, after the completion of secret leadership elections.

"We wanted to present a document that truly reflects Hamas' ideology and consensus and to present it to our supporters ... and the international community," Mashaal said.

A copy of the programme was distributed to journalists in Gaza who followed the news conference by video link.

The new platform was presented at a time of escalating tensions between Hamas and its main political rival, the Fatah movement of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas drove out forces loyal to Abbas in its 2007 takeover of Gaza, a year after defeating Fatah in Palestinian parliament elections. Reconciliation efforts have failed.

In recent weeks, Abbas has threatened to exert financial pressure, including cutting wage payments and aid to Gaza, as a way of forcing Hamas to cede ground. Leaders of the group have vowed they will not budge.

The war of words with Hamas was seen as an attempt by Abbas to position himself as a leader of all Palestinians ahead of his first meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday. The U.S. president has said he would try to broker Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on a peace deal, despite repeated failures over the past two decades.

In this Dec 14, 2012 file photo, Palestinian supporters of Hamas hold a picture of leader Khaled Mashaal, during a rally to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the militant group, in the West Bank city of Ramallah Credit: AP

In the past, Hamas has sharply criticised Abbas' political programme, which rests on setting up a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.

In its 1987 founding charter, Hamas called for setting up an Islamic state in historic Palestine, or the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, which also includes Israel.

The new programme for the first time raises the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines, saying it's a "national consensus formula."

However, the wording suggests Hamas considers this to be an interim step, not a way of ending the conflict. The document does not contain an explicit call for Israel's destruction, but says that the "goal is to liberate Palestine and confront the Zionist project." The document refers to historic Palestine, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, which includes Israel.

While the founding charter was filled with anti-Jewish references, the new document stresses that Hamas bears no enmity toward Jews. It says its fight is with those who occupy Palestinian lands.

Mashaal is to step down as Hamas leader later this month. Two possible contenders for the No. 1 spot are Moussa Abu Marzouk, a former Hamas leader, and Ismail Haniyeh, a former top Hamas official in Gaza.

The Mashaal announcement was initially scheduled for 7 p.m. (1600 GMT) Monday, but was delayed after a Doha hotel withdrew consent at the last minute to host the Hamas news conference. Hamas scrambled to find a new venue.

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