The Palestinian militant group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip has unveiled a new policy document that claims to ease its stance on Israel. However, Israel and the more moderate Palestinian Authority that rules parts of the West Bank are skeptical, saying nothing has changed.
Hamas claims its main concession is that it no longer explicitly calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. Instead of demanding a state in all of Palestine, which would include what is now Israel, the group is prepared for a “transitional” state within the pre-1967 borders, meaning the West Bank, Gaza and disputed East Jerusalem.
The term “transitional,” though, suggests that this Palestinian state would be a step toward a larger country that eventually would include what is now Israel. The document says Hamas still rejects Israel’s right to exist and supports the “armed struggle” against it.
“Hamas advocates the liberation of all of Palestine but is ready to support a state on the 1967 borders without recognizing Israel or ceding any rights,” said Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who presented the new document in Doha.
Israel described the manifesto as a ruse aimed at deceiving the West and moderate Arab states.
“Hamas is attempting to fool the world, but it will not succeed,” said David Keyes, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “They dig terror tunnels and have launched thousands upon thousands of missiles at Israeli civilians. This is the real Hamas.”
Hamas admits it is trying to improve its image, especially in Europe, which is seen as more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than the U.S., Israel’s guardian ally politically and militarily.
The five-page 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. “We hope this will mark a change in the stance of European states towards us.”
While Israel’s reaction was expected, the tough tone of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank raised some eyebrows. The PA’s ruling Fatah party said the document is too little, too late.
“Hamas’ new document is identical to that taken by Fatah in 1988,” said Fatah spokesman Osama al-Qawasme. “Hamas must apologize to Fatah after 30 years of accusing us of treason for that policy.”
The rival Palestinian governments have been at loggerheads since a civil war in 2007, when Hamas expelled the Palestinian Authority from Gaza. Hamas also has poor relations with neighboring Egypt because Cairo believes armed militants in Gaza are assisting a deadly ISIS insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.
In a nod to Cairo, Hamas declared it would end its close relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt and the some Gulf states regard as a terrorist organization. And in a further effort to distance Hamas from radical Islam, Meshaal said Hamas’ struggle is not against Judaism as a religion, but rather against the “aggression” of Zionism.
Hamas is trying to end its international isolation at a time when the United States is preparing to step up efforts to revive the Middle East peace process. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is due to hold his first meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday. Trump is expected to travel to Jerusalem in three weeks after declaring he sees no reason why there should not be peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
If there is a new push for the creation of a Palestinian state, Hamas wants to be part of it. But skeptics abound.
Dr. Kobi Michael, a senior Israeli researcher at the INSS Institute for National Security Studies, notes that Hamas still rejects the three main demands of the international community.
“They do not acknowledge or accept the Oslo [peace] Accords [of 1993], they do not accept the idea of stopping violence, and they do not accept the principle of recognizing Israel,” Michael said. “It is more of a makeover than a real change, [so] this is a lot of noise about nothing.”