Gaza City – The new political program of Hamas, published Monday, is meant to help the Islamic militant group break out of its international isolation. The manifesto does not formally replace the group’s fiery 1987 founding charter, but adopts more conciliatory language, even if some goals remain unchanged — such as the eventual “liberation” of all of historic Palestine, including what is now Israel.
Here is a look at the program and the group behind it:
WHAT ARE THE MAIN POINTS?
The new program for the first time raises the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in 1967. In the past, Hamas criticized its main rival, the Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, for pursuing a two-state deal with Israel.
Even now, Hamas considers such a state as an interim step, not a way to end the conflict. The new document does not contain an explicit call for Israel’s destruction, but says Hamas “rejects any alternative to the full liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.” This refers to the area reaching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, which includes the lands that now make up Israel.
While the founding charter was filled with anti-Jewish references, the new document stresses that Hamas bears no enmity toward Jews. The group says its fight is with those who occupy Palestinian lands, regardless of religion.
In its founding charter, Hamas defined itself as a Palestinian branch of the pan-Arab, Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood. The new program makes no reference to the Brotherhood. Instead, Hamas says it is a national, Islamic liberation movement.
In distancing itself from the Brotherhood, Hamas hopes to improve relations with Egypt which, along with Israel, has been enforcing a border blockade of the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control there a decade ago. Egypt has outlawed the Brotherhood as a terror group.
WHAT AND WHERE WAS IT UNVEILED?
It took Hamas four years of internal debate to draft the five-page document. It was presented Monday in Qatar by Khaled Mashaal, the long-time Hamas leader in exile. An English translation is to be made available on the Hamas website after Mashaal’s announcement.
Separately, Mashaal is to step down as Hamas leader later this month after the group completes secret internal leadership elections. 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.
DOES IT GO FAR ENOUGH?
Observers say the changes don’t appear to go far enough to break Hamas’ isolation.
The old charter, which caused much of the world to shun the group, is not being replaced formally by the new document. Hamas officials have expressed concern that such a step could upset the group’s hard-line base, particularly in Gaza. Instead, the two documents will exist side by side, with Hamas referring to the new one as more relevant.
The world wants to see Hamas recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by interim peace agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. These were the conditions set by the international community when Hamas swept in the 2006 parliamentary elections.
WILL THIS HELP END THE INTERNAL PALESTINIAN SPLIT?
The program is being released at a time of escalating tensions between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Abbas, their main political rival. Abbas has warned he will exert more financial pressure, presumably in the form of cutbacks of wage payments and aid to Gaza, to force Hamas to cede ground there.
The new program is unlikely to change the fundamental rivalry, which erupted a decade ago, after Hamas seized Gaza from forces loyal to Abbas.
On Wednesday, Abbas is to hold his first White House meeting with President Donald Trump. In a sign of business as usual, Hamas has slammed Abbas’ efforts to relaunch U.S.-led talks with Israel on setting up a Palestinian state as an attempt to liquidate the Palestinian cause.
WHO IS HAMAS?
The Sunni Muslim group was formed in December 1987 in Gaza, several days after the outbreak of the first Palestinian uprising against Israel’s occupation. It called for armed resistance and for setting up an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine.
Hamas was involved in two Palestinian uprisings against Israel, along with other factions, using rocks, knife attacks and eventually shootings and bombings against Israeli soldiers and civilians. Over the past decades, it has also built a home-made arsenal of crude rockets that it has fired from Gaza at southern Israel. This has sparked three cross-border wars between Hamas and Israel.