New Hamas charter codifies a dead-end strategy

Hamas has offered significant concessions to Israel and the collaborationist Palestinian Authority in the long-awaited update to its political charter. Released on 1 May after months of speculation, the charter cements the increasing moderation of the party under the leadership of Khalid Meshaal.

Much of the media discussion of these changes has focused on the decision to expunge the anti-Semitic statements found in the 1988 original, even though Hamas leaders have repeatedly distanced themselves from those abhorrent views. This is a welcome move. The legitimate national aspirations of the Palestinian people should not entail or tolerate hostility to Jews, and the conflation of Zionism and Judaism only serves the interest of Israel’s imperial defenders.

The Israeli government and its allies refuse to accept the sincerity of this or any of the other changes to the charter, and continue to insist that Hamas is a terrorist organisation to be crushed without pity. What else could be expected from a racist state committed to the genocide of the Palestinian people?

However, a deeper analysis of the changes reveals Hamas’ increasing convergence with Fatah on a series of crucial issues regarding the Israeli occupation. These moves reflect the increasing bourgeoisification of the party after years of governing the Gaza Strip, and its failure to offer a fundamentally different strategy for Palestinian liberation from that of Fatah and the PLO.

Despite the obligatory phrases littered throughout the document insisting that the ultimate goal is still the full liberation of the entirety of historic Palestine, the charter is a massive retreat from this position. In particular, section 20 states: “Hamas considers the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of the 4th of June 1967 … to be a formula of national consensus”.

Summing up the significance of this move in an excellent article for Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah argues, “Hamas is formally signing up to the two-state solution at the very moment it is becoming clear that such an outcome will not come about”.

In a similar vein, section 26 says: “[M]anaging resistance, in terms of escalation or de-escalation, or in terms of diversifying the means and methods, is an integral part of the process of managing the conflict”. The point of this article is to defend the abandoning of military struggle in favour of negotiations, under the cover of the party’s commitment to the “principle of resistance”.

Hamas has for years been travelling along the road that Fatah and the PLO forged 30 years ago, alternating between heroic but futile military struggle and unprincipled political compromises. Predictably, the armed struggle has over time become less and less a feature of the party’s day to day organising and the political concessions more profound.

Hamas’ new charter therefore sums up the party’s ambiguous positioning in relation to the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli occupation. It rhetorically maintains the organisation’s formal opposition to the Oslo Accords and the PA’s subsequent collaboration with the Israel Defense Forces, but at the same time it positions Hamas as a potential partner of government and negotiations within the framework of a reconstituted PLO. To the extent that the document remains rhetorically hostile to the occupation, it reflects the sentiments of Hamas’ base in the impoverished and repressed Gaza Strip, who suffer the most horrific effects of the Israeli military occupation.

The left has argued for more than 50 years that the liberation of Palestine can come only through an unrelenting popular struggle at both the national and regional levels. While this perspective has long seemed utopian, the brief flowering of protest during the Arab spring provides a glimpse of how it could eventuate.

That the Palestinians played a relatively minor part in this movement is historically unprecedented, and reflects the total bankruptcy of their leadership in Fatah and Hamas. Since then, Hamas has concluded that support for revolutionary struggles in the Arab world is not worth the political cost of isolation from regimes such as those of Egypt, Syria and Iran. So, in section 37 of the new charter, Hamas enshrines political neutrality regarding “internal affairs of any country”, mimicking Fatah’s cynical support for oppressive Arab regimes.

If there was ever any basis for the hope that Hamas would break with the politics that hamstrung and eventually destroyed Fatah as a force that could win national liberation for the Palestinians, it no longer exists.

Hope now lies with a new generation of Palestinian youth prepared to participate in mass action for their own freedom and in solidarity with their sisters and brothers across the Middle East.