Analysis: Hamas mulls cosmetic changes to its charter

Hamas’ attempt to re-write their charter looks no closer to resolution as the militant group remains divided on proposed changes. Reformists within the group are trying to remove a series of anti-semitic clauses and include a provisional acceptance of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. These changes, however, have been met with opposition from many of the group’s leaders in Gaza, leaving negotiations on the new charter frozen.

Hamas’ old charter, written in 1988, describes the group’s “struggle against the Jews” and, echoing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, contains a number of anti-semitic conspiracies, blaming the Jews for the French revolution, the Russian revolution, and both world wars. A final decision on the new charter is expected later this year before Khaled Mashal resigns from his post as head of the movement’s political bureau.

Even these potential changes, however, do not represent a moderating of the Islamist group’s position. Any acceptance of a Palestinian state on 1967 boundaries represents a tactical shift rather than a doctrinal one. Hamas will still refuse to formally recognise Israel or endorse a two-state solution, and its acceptance of the 1967 borders would be seen only as a stepping stone in its war against Israel. This was confirmed by a Hamas official speaking in January who said: “Hamas’ goal remains to liberate every inch of Palestine, and restore its Islamic, Arab, and humanistic identity.” Nor would the group’s removal of the charter’s explicitly anti-semitic clauses represent any substantive change. One Hamas MP, speaking recently on the group’s Al-Aqsa TV station, said: “My brothers, know that people, stones, and trees all hate [the Jews]. Everyone on Earth hates this filthy nation, a nation extrinsic to Mankind.”

The changes to the charter are being pushed by Hamas’ politburo and resisted by its military wing. Those on the political side of Hamas’ bureaucracy fear another war with Israel, preferring to keep the situation stable in the short term to allow for Gaza’s reconstruction. The terrorist group’s military leaders, however, remain deeply committed to perpetual warfare with Israel, seeking to extract prisoner releases by capturing Israeli soldiers and civilians. Disputes over the new charter are thus part of an ongoing power struggle within the group between its more moderate and radical factions. Hamas’ military wing recently gained the upper hand with the election of hardliner Yayha Sinwar as Hamas leader in Gaza earlier this year.

Despite these divisions, both sides remain committed to the same broad vision of armed conflict and Israel’s destruction. Hamas has been swiftly rearming since 2014, recently acquiring highly explosive short-range rockets designed to destroy many of Israel’s southern communities. Hamas continues to dig tunnels under the Gaza border and Yayha Sinwar’s priority is to repair relations with Iran, previously a willing supplier of Hamas weaponry. Factionalism within the group, therefore, should not be mistaken for any forthcoming change in direction. New charter or not, Hamas’ relations with Israel and policy towards the Jewish state will remain the same.