“We are a dynamic organisation open to change.” This was Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal’s response when asked what message the organisation was sending with the release of a new political document outlining the movement’s general principles and policies.
Released on Monday in the Qatari capital, Doha, the Hamas Political Document is seen as sweeping aside Hamas’s 1988 charter. That document, written during the first intifada, conceived of the occupation of Palestine primarily as a religious battle between Muslims and Jews.
Hamas’s new manifesto is about the here and now. Meshaal said: “This is a plan of action that reflects our current thinking and vision.”
The manifesto is crystal clear about Hamas’s vision for Palestine: “A fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of 4 June 1967, with the return of the refugees.”
It states that the Palestinian struggle for liberation is against the colonial ideology of Zionism, not Judaism. Political support for the Palestinian cause is the defining parameter, not religious affiliation.
These seismic changes mean Israel and the United States can no longer beat Hamas with the anti-Semitic, anti-peace, terrorist stick.
As Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem becomes more entrenched, its crushing of resistance more brutal and the blockade of Gaza more suffocating, Hamas is rallying Palestinians towards unity.
The manifesto wants to preserve, develop and rebuild the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as a national framework for all Palestinians seeking liberation.
Hamas is now speaking in terms that resonate with Palestinians of all political and religious stripes, providing hope and direction to the Palestinian people.
Hamas’s adoption of a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders means all Palestinians are united on a single option: a two-state solution. This is the position of Fatah, the PLO and the majority of the political parties that represent Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Could this be the beginning of a Palestinian Congress of the People? As the struggle for freedom in South Africa intensified in the early 1950s, it was the campaign for the Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter that united most of the liberation movements. Hamas’s new political document could have a similar effect in the Middle East.
Meshaal defines Hamas as a national liberation movement, and the document outlines and affirms its right under international law to resist the Israeli occupation.
International law, Meshaal explains, was a major focus in drawing up the manifesto. He spent more than nine hours with international law experts scrutinising the document in Arabic and English. The manifesto was discussed by Hamas leaders for more than two years. It is the culmination of the ideological journey Hamas has made over the past decade.
Israeli officials dismissed the policy document before it was even made official. David Keyes, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called the release of the manifesto an attempt by Hamas to “fool the world”.
Less than an hour before the press conference was scheduled to begin, organisers were forced to change the venue after a pro-Israel American legal think-tank warned the InterContinental property group that it risked legal liability under US law if it allowed Hamas to use its Doha hotel.
Pro-Israel propagandists began flooding social media with tweets.
These reactions to Hamas’s new policies indicate that the greatest fear of the Israeli government and its supporters is not terrorism but the spectre of Palestinian unity and the possibility of peace.
This week, Hamas showed that it is a mature, pragmatic movement committed to a just peace. All Palestinian political actors now stand united on the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.
It is time for the Israeli government to do the same.
Suraya Dadoo is a researcher with Media Review Network, a Johannesburg-based advocacy group. Find her on Twitter: @Suraya_Dadoo