The Hamas Charter – reform or junk it?

June 11, 2014
Sarah Benton

Thoughtful articles by Shlomi Eldar on how Netanyahu should respond to the place of Hamas in the Palestinian government 1) and, from 2011, by Dr. Ahmed Yousef on the Hamas charter 3). Brief news report on rockets fired into Israel in between. Plus Notes and links including to the Hamas Charter.

Israel should put Fatah-Hamas government to the test

A decade of changes in the Hamas movement has culminated in the establishment of a Palestinian government, offering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an opportunity to force it into changing its fanatical charter.

By Shlomi Eldar, trans.Danny Wool, Al Monitor / Israel Pulse
June 08, 2014

In December 1998, the Central Committee of the Palestinian National Council convened in Gaza to vote to change those articles of the Palestinian National Covenant that conflicted with the Oslo Accord. The committee was convened at the demand of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who conditioned the continuation of negotiations and the implementation of the agreements on the covenant being amended officially.

The covenant defined the objective of the PLO as bringing about the end of the Zionist entity through military means. One of the articles that Israel demanded be changed was Article 22, in which the Zionist movement was defined as a political movement associated with imperialism, fascist in its methods, aggressive and racist in nature. Article 33, the final article of the covenant, states: “This Charter shall not be amended save by [vote of] a majority of two-thirds of the total membership of the National Congress of the Palestine Liberation Organization [taken] at a special session convened for that purpose.”

The session convened in Gaza in the presence of then-US President Bill Clinton. Most members of the Palestinian National Council, including those defined as “master terrorists,” were allowed by Israel to enter the Gaza Strip for the occasion. Attendees included airline hijacker Leila Khaled and Abu Abbas (Muhammad Zaidan), head of the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), who oversaw the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro and the murder of an American citizen, Leon Klinghoffer.

Netanyahu, who was elected prime minister in 1996, was not satisfied with the letter that late PLO leader Yasser Arafat had sent to the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin stating that the PLO recognizes the State of Israel and that the articles of the Palestinian Covenant are “inoperative and no longer valid.” He demanded a legal vote by the Palestinian National Council to amend the covenant. Yet even this symbolic vote, which took place in April of that year, was not enough for Netanyahu, who insisted that the amendment be approved by a two-thirds majority. The reason was obvious. Before he could implement the agreements, which he so vehemently opposed as chairman of the opposition, he had to have a significant public achievement that would somewhat allay the concerns of his supporters, who opposed the agreement. It’s worth noting that, even now, some right-wing circles in Israel claim that the aforementioned articles are still in effect. There was no secret ballot, they say, so the entire vote was invalid.

Netanyahu now finds himself in a similar situation. This time, however, the issue is the Hamas charter. Like the charter of the PLO, it calls for the destruction of Israel, but in much more violent terms.

In an Al-Monitor article on June 4, Erel Segal complained about the Obama administration’s quick decision to recognize the Palestinian unity government, composed of both Fatah and Hamas. “How can [President Barack] Obama reconcile his humanistic values with Article 7 of the Hamas charter, which refers to the war between Muslims and Jews on the Day of Judgment, saying that on that day, the rocks and trees themselves will call out, ‘O Muslim! O Servant of Allah! There is a Jew hiding behind me. Come and kill him!’”

Indeed, no one disputes the fact that the Hamas charter is militant, religiously fanatical and racist and that it leaves no room for compromise. It declares that the only way to achieve its goals is through jihad. The charter was released in September 1988, after the start of the first intifada. At the time, the movement’s leaders wanted to prove to the Palestinian public that they were not supported by Israel, so that they would not be condemned as traitors and collaborators. On the other hand, it is also worth noting that the Islamic Center, the body upon which Hamas was built, received aid from the Israel Civil Administration and from then-Defense Minister Rabin. At the time they believed that the “religious people,” as they defined Hamas, would serve as a reasonable partner in dialogue and sane counterweight to the Fatah terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

Yet, for the past decade, Hamas has been undergoing a process of change, dictated by evolving circumstances. As a result, it is moving further and further away from the articles of its own charter. Hamas maintained contacts with Israel to obtain various cease-fires and prisoner exchanges, to propose a hudna (truce) based on the 1967 borders and more. Now Hamas is a partner in a unity government that recognizes the existence of Israel, as well as the principles set by the Quartet and all peace agreements signed in the past.

While Netanyahu may find himself in a situation similar to the one he faced in 1996, there is one important and significant difference: After being elected to his first term as prime minister, he was forced to contend with implementing the Oslo Accord, which he had previously opposed. Now he has to contend with a position that he himself formulated, which regards Hamas as an obstacle to peace and which considers its reconciliation with Fatah to be grounds for imposing sanctions.

In the 2006 election campaign for the Palestinian Authority, the leaders of Hamas did not rule out the possibility of changing various articles in the Hamas charter. Their goal was to be as successful as possible in the first elections in which they participated, and all means were acceptable to achieve that end, especially when various articles in the movement’s rigid charter conflicted with the changing circumstances.

Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar, co-founder of Hamas and former hard-liner. He survived an Israeli assassination attempt in 2003 which killed his son.

In October 2005, just before the elections, in an interview with former Haaretz journalist Arnon Regular, Hamas co-founder Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar said, “The Hamas charter is a matter for interpretation. It expresses a political and social position based indirectly on the Quran. … If I were to tell you that the charter could be changed, it would immediately be seen as a concession and the collapse of Hamas’ principles. No one is thinking now about changing the charter, but in principle it is not impossible.”

In another interview with Haaretz, professor Muhammad Azal, then leader of Hamas in Nablus, said that Hamas could change its basic charter and engage Israel in negotiations. “The charter is not a Quran book. Historically, we believe that all of Palestine belongs to the Palestinians, but today we are talking about a new reality and the need for political solutions in a reality that has changed.”

Hamas, like Netanyahu, finds itself today again at the same crossroad. Ever since the movement was founded and its charter was released, its leadership has been treading carefully between the raindrops, looking for a path between an extremist ideology and changing circumstances. It compromised again just now, when it joined forces with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and entered a unity government, which was recognized by Washington. Just as Netanyahu once forced Arafat and Clinton to set out on an amendment journey in Gaza, he can now put the Palestinian government to the test. In so doing, he can stop the surge of international recognition for the new government. The prime minister must demand that Abbas take steps to change the position of Hamas, as a necessary prerequisite to democratic elections in the Palestinian Authority. Given the situation of Hamas today, it can be pushed into a corner, and it is well worth doing so before Israel finds itself in the corner instead.

Abbas condemns rocket fire into Israel, calls on armed Gaza factions to respect unity deal

Following attack, Netanyahu says Abbas is responsible for rockets fired from Gaza on Israeli towns; projectile lands near road in Eshkol Regional Council, no injuries reported in attack.

By JPost
11 June, 2014

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the firing of a rocket into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, after Israel made clear that he would be held responsible for such attacks in the wake of the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement.

In a statement carried on official Palestinian news agency WAFA, Abbas demanded that all Palestinian factions comply with the ceasefire deal agreed on following December 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense, and refrain from attacks in holding with the Palestinian reconciliation accord signed between Fatah and Hamas.

Abbas called on those responsible for the rocket fire “not to give Israel any pretext to continue its attacks on Gaza.”

Following a Code Red missile alert siren, a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip fell in an open area in the Eshkol Regional Council on Wednesday morning. The rocket reportedly fell near a major road of the area.

There were no injuries reported in the attack.

Following the rocket attack Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office released a statement saying that Abbas was responsible for rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities by terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

At the beginning of the month, the Israel Air Force struck two terror targets in the Gaza Strip in response to Palestinian rocket fire.

Hamas Charter: Vision, Fact and Fiction

By Dr. Ahmed Yousef, HOW ( Secretary-general, House of Wisdom for conflict resolution and governance. Pictured below.)
May 02, 2011

The Israeli occupation has never missed an opportunity to brand Hamas a fundamentalist, terrorist, racist, anti-Semitic organization. True to the Mossad motto which states ‘By way of deception, though shall do war,’ it has excelled at taking select articles from the Islamic party’s charter and using them, out of context, to justify its claims.

The Israelis have, for example, translated the charter to several languages, English and French included, intentionally perverting the substance of its tenets to suit their purposes. Those aims were to market its fraudulent translation to as many Western politicians, academics and media channels as possible; and therefore make it easier to claim security concerns as the basis for their legal infractions. The fear-mongering is designed to horrify the West so much that it turns a blind eye to the crimes against humanity which contravene international law.

Throughout my tenure as an adviser to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in the tenth and eleventh administrations (the unity government), and even after the events of June 2007 when I was assigned as a deputy minister to the foreign ministry, journalists and politicians consistently asked the same questions around the charter and the extent to which the government was beholden to it or intent on applying the articles within it.

Despite my consistent clarification that Hamas must be evaluated on its official actions and political positions, it is evident that the Israeli propaganda machine has over a two year period successfully brainwashed those it has targeted. Many observers have become incapable of making an impartial assessment of the significant transformations the movement has undergone; and instead have parroted the Israeli position, adopting the obstinacy of what a local colloquialism notes “is a goat, even if it has wings.”

The Reality and the Tale

The Islamic Resistance Movement, known by its Arabic acronym Hamas, was born in December 1987 with the first Intifada, or Uprising. Initially, the group mounted demonstrations against Israeli belligerence; and in order to maintain the momentum of the newly created protest culture, the group’s leadership needed a platform to crystallize its views and give the “resistance generation” broad strokes direction on the principles and challenges within which they would operate against the occupation. Those early, revolutionary days represent the context within which the concept of a charter was formed.

That document was a practical response to an oppressive occupation. It reflected the views of one of the movement’s elder leaders; and it was ratified during the unique circumstances of the Uprising in 1988 as a necessary framework for dealing with a relentless occupation. There was little opportunity, at that time, to pore over the minutia of either its religious and political terminology or the broader perspective of international law.

An internal committee reviewed the possibility of amending the charter during the nineties and ratifying it as a binding manifesto; yet the primary concern, that of being seen as following the Fatah route of offering up concessions on a silver platter, led the group’s leadership to shelve such measures. Instead, new ideas were proposed that reflected the movement’s openness to the international community and its willingness to adopt a more realistic political view. This flexibility was evident in official speeches; and more recently in the election platform put forward by the Change & Reform Party (al-taghyeer wal islah).

Despite the group’s evolution, it is an inescapable fact that the charter represents a milestone in the struggle against an irredentist occupation. At any rate, historical statements remain a testament to the past; and the charter, as a document written over two decades ago, retains its authoritative value. However, it is not a constitution drafted as law; and cannot be construed to demand literal interpretation. In fact, the movement has to a certain degree moved on from its content simply by participating in the political process, accepting a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and publicly declaring a readiness to explore political solutions with the international community. The claim of an intransigent organization simply does not tally with the reality of a group opening up to its regional environment; and one which participated in a national parliament borne of the Oslo Accords, having won a majority vote through participatory elections in 2006.

The Vision and the Policy

Logic dictates Hamas has demonstrated the flexibility to deal with changing realities while remaining true to its principles; and it as shown an openness to be actively engaged when appropriate. Regardless of the past, our position is crystallized as follows:

1. Historic rights remain inalienable, preserved by each generation; and the resolve shall continue until those rights are restored. The issue is bound only by capacity and the regional balance of power. Our people have never repudiated the fact that Jews and Christians are an integral part of the Palestinian people and its land – the land of all prophets. Yet we reject a situation where one encroaches on the possessions and holy sites of another, supported by external powers and claims of divine promise. This is not only a Hamas refutation; but that of the entire Palestinian population.

2. There is a stark difference between acquiescing to pressure then accepting conditions, hoping for better circumstances for your people, and gaining your rights in a manner that preserves your integrity and protects the sanctity of your lands and holy sites. Attempts to put Hamas on the Fatah path (coaxing then gain successive compromise) would place it in the former camp, which is untenable. The movement’s decision-making process is based on a consultative apparatus, one that is designed to protect the inviolability of the Palestinian cause and the historical rights of its people; and hence we can only consider solutions that reflect the people’s will.

3. Our current conflict with the occupation is a political one. Yet virtually all liberation movements rely on the language of religion to inspire their peoples, given that such discourse offers the greatest clarity and motive to make sacrifices for liberty. For our part, we do not shy away from shedding light on the historical milestones that underscore our struggle against the fundamentalism inherent in Zionism. We do so in a way that will undermine the dream of Eretz Israel; and place us firmly on a path to a just peace.

4. Hamas is a national liberation movement with an Islamic identity; and it recognizes that the conflict sometimes takes on religious form in ways that cannot be ignored. Palestine is a trust that cannot be discharged; and there are rights that have been usurped that must be restored, peacefully or through war. There are no political parties that can simply cede these rights without reverting to a national referendum which would collectively decide on the right course to preserve the greater good of the Palestinian people.

5. The cornerstone of this issue is that Palestinian rights will not dissipate as a result of stonewalling. Whether or not the conflict has a religious dimension, the people’s rights must be restituted either through peaceful settlement or through open conflict for generations to come, awaiting a change in the balance of power that will allow a final, equitable solution to emerge.

6. Hamas’ view is that this conflict is multi-dimensional: religious, political, legal, ethical and security-related. Yet at its core is the matter of rights that have been abrogated. These must be restored; and the international community has attested to this imperative thru numerous declarations, including United Nations Resolution 194 which recognizes the right of Palestinian refugees to return and be compensated for their losses.

7. For our part, we acknowledge that these are sacred lands which were the cradle of three monotheistic messages – Jewish, Christian and Muslim. The followers of these faiths have been on this land for centuries; and therefore their presence on this land, in general, has never, and will not, end.

8. The Palestinian people have never harbored ill will towards the Jewish presence on this land, only for the Zionist aberration that seeks to expropriate it, dominate it, cast out indigenous “gentiles”, and invite mass immigration from across the globe through formal Aliyah (Jewish immigration) programs.

9. The prospect of coexistence among the original inhabitants of this land is possible after those who have been wronged receive restitution. Yet any submission to the status quo, negating the harm that has been done over the past 60 years, is unacceptable under any circumstance.

These, then, are the general principles upon which the Islamists of Palestine operate, regardless of the comments some may have over a charter written at a specific, tumultuous point almost a quarter of a century ago; and when the language of conflict from all parties was open to a wide array of political and religious phraseology. The pragmatism of Hamas’ current position is self-evident when evaluated without the partiality of propaganda. It is up to the Israelis and the international community to recognize it as such or doom the holy land to further strife until the next generation come of age.

Notes and links

Hamas Charter (1988)/ The Charter of Allah: The Platform of the Islamic Resistance Movement

The House Of Wisdom For Conflict Resolution & Governance (HOW) is a Hamas-affiliated think-tank that was created in May 2008. The Secretary-General of HOW is Dr. Ahmed Yousef, a leading Hamas official who was a former Political Advisor to Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and currently Deputy in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Dr. Youssef says HOW is playing a role in and sponsoring the Palestinian reconciliation process between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. from Wikipedia

Hamas Hardliner, Al-Zahar, Voted Off Leadership Council, Richard Silverstein on Hamas’ growing pragmatism, April 2013

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