Hamas ‘window dressing’ unlikely to end its isolation

Sunday 07/05/2017
Mixed reactions. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal talks in Doha, on May 1. (Reuters)

London - Hamas has softened its stance on israel but the palestinian movement, which runs the gaza strip, must do more to convince the world to end its isola­tion, analysts said.

The islamist movement unveiled a policy document that they said was an attempt to ease tensions with regional allies and assuage hostilities with global powers.

The 5-page programme, a result of four years of internal deliberations, was presented may 1 at a news con­ference in doha, qatar, by khaled meshaal, the hamas leader in exile.

While still attacking israel, the document accepts for the first time pre-1967 armistice lines as a matter of “national consensus” — in what many interpreted as implicitly ac­cepting the existence of israel.

“Hamas is willing to negotiate a sovereign and independent state with jerusalem as its capital” me­shaal said. Hamas officials, howev­er, said that it did not amount to a recognition of israel.

The document also says hamas’s struggle is not against jews because of their religion but against israel as an occupier, with hamas officials stressing it was a shift.

“Hamas’s struggle is not with jews or their faith, but is a strug­gle against zionism and its aggres­sions.” Meshaal said.

The document reflects a “reason­able hamas that is serious about dealing with the reality and the re­gional and international surround­ings, while still representing the cause of its people,” said meshaal.

Another hamas leader, ahmed yousef, told agence france-presse (afp) the updated charter was “more moderate, more measured and would help protect us against ac­cusations of racism, anti-semitism and breaches of international law.”

However, the islamist movement will not negotiate directly with isra­el and the original 1988 charter will not be dropped, just supplemented, in a move analysts see as a way of maintaining the backing of hardlin­ers.

“It is a piece of paper. We will see if there is a real shift or if it is win­dow dressing,” one unidentified western diplomat told afp.

Israel rejected the document, with prime minister binyamin ne­tanyahu’s spokesman accusing hamas of “attempting to fool the world.”

The document made no refer­ence to the muslim brotherhood, of which hamas was a splinter move­ment.

“Hamas has been isolated re­gionally and internationally since the outbreak of the so-called ‘arab spring’ and the exclusion of the muslim brotherhood in egypt,” mukhaimer abu saada, a political analyst in gaza, told afp.

“It is about assuring egypt and the other arab states there is no re­lationship between hamas (and the brotherhood),” added abu saada.

It is not clear if the changes will be enough to improve relations with egypt, which, along with israel, has been enforcing a crippling border blockade against the hamas-ruled gaza strip since the group seized the territory in 2007.

Us congressman ed royce, chair­man of the house foreign affairs committee, offered a rare reaction, downplaying the document’s sig­nificance.

“Until hamas recognises israel’s right to exist, its words are mean­ingless. I will see to it that hamas remains designated a terrorist or­ganisation as long as it continues to launch rocket attacks against israeli civilians,” he said in a statement.

The group reaffirmed that it would not recognise israel, renounce vio­lence or recognise previous interim israeli-palestinian peace deals — the west’s long-standing conditions for dealing with hamas.

The new platform seemed to cement the ideological divide 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.

The hamas manifesto was re­leased at a time of escalating ten­sions between the two sides. 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.

“There shall be no recognition of the legitimacy of the zionist entity,” the document says.

The palestine liberation organisa­tion, now led by abbas, exchanged letters of mutual recognition with israel in 1993.

The hamas document said it con­sidered armed resistance against occupation as a strategic choice and that the group “rejects any attempt to undermine the resistance and its arms.”

Abbas has been an outspoken op­ponent of violence, saying it under­cuts palestinian interests.

Hamas said meshaal’s replace­ment was to be named this month after secret leadership elections. Two contenders for the no. 1 Spot are former hamas leader moussa abu marzouk and a former hamas official ismail haniyeh.

The document was welcomed by the popular front for the liberation of palestine (pflp), a small marxist– leninist palestinian group. Kayed al-ghul, a member of the pflp’s po­litical bureau, said the new position of hamas is now closer to that of his group, especially with regards to the focus on palestinian rights.

Reactions to the document in the arab media were mixed. The qatari al-watan newspaper said the move displayed “political maturity” by hamas while lebanon’s pro-hezbol­lah newspaper portrayed the move as selling out palestinian rights. A number of egyptian newspapers focused on the fact that the docu­ment does not mention the muslim brotherhood, which cairo consid­ers a terrorist group, without much commentary.

(With news agencies).