On May 1, Hamas’ Political Bureau Chief Khaled Mashaal revealed during a press conference in Doha, Qatar a revised version of the group’s charter, accepting the idea of a Palestinian state according to the June 4, 1967 borders. However, according to the charter, the group still does not recognize the state of Israel. In addition, the new charter stresses that the “struggle is against the occupation and not against the Jews”. Meanwhile, according to Mashaal’s summary of the changes to the charter, Hamas will not abandon armed struggle nor “give up one parcel of Palestinian land,” and “strives to liberate all Palestinian lands from the river to the sea” (referring to the Jordan river and the Mediterranean, including the state of Israel).
Additionally, Hamas distances itself from the Muslim Brotherhood and pan-Islamic notions. This contradicts the previous charter which indicated the group’s role in the global Islamist militancy theater. Furthermore, the new document defines the group as follows: “The Islamic Resistance Movement ‘Hamas’ is a Palestinian Islamic national liberation and resistance movement. Its goal is to liberate Palestine and confront the Zionist project. Its frame of reference is Islam, which determines its principles, objectives and means”. Lastly, the group dismissed all previous agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), including the 1993 Oslo Accord.
Assessments & Forecast
Newly published charter likely attempt to improve image among international community, regional powers, Palestinian residents of West Bank, not reflective of major policy shift
We assess that the newly published charter is an attempt by the Islamist Palestinian faction to rebrand itself, rather than forming a new strategic approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is despite the stated acceptance of the June 4, 1967 borders, which is largely viewed as the main component of the “two-state solution”, as opposed to the group’s previous charter version. This assessment is backed by the group’s emphasis on not “giving up one parcel of Palestinian land,” and that it “strives to liberate all Palestinian lands”.
As part of this effort at rebranding, the group seeks to project a more moderate stance to the international community, particularly to Western countries, as some of these countries designate it as a terror organization. This attempt to project a more moderate stance is reflected by the group’s statement concerning their “struggle against the occupation and not against the Jews”, as opposed to the previous charter, which called for a “campaign against the Jews in Palestine”. With this in mind, by issuing this revised charter, Hamas likely strives at bolstering its image and increasing its legitimacy as a political entity in the eyes of the international community. This potential shift in Hamas’ approach towards the West may partially be explained by the group’s likely perception that some of the current Western governments have altered their stances towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a more pro-Israeli attitude, particularly that of the Trump administration. This is further relevant regarding the charter’s distancing of Hamas from the global Islamist militancy theater, in a likely effort to alienate itself from jihadist elements globally, thus further enhancing its legitimacy in the international community.
This is also relevant with regard to the region’s leading Arab countries, most notably Egypt and the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC), with which Hamas has made persistent efforts at rapprochement over the past several months. By distancing itself from the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestinian group likely seeks to improve its relations with such Arab states in light of the decreasing popularity and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood organization across the region, as it is has been banned and designated as a terror organization in these countries. This is further likely within the context of the ongoing economic and energy crisis in the Gaza Strip. In this respect, Hamas potentially desires financial support from some of the GCC countries to alleviate this crisis.
Meanwhile, domestically, we assess that the new revised charter is part of the group’s efforts to increase its support among the Palestinian people, particularly those living in the West Bank. By expressing its willingness to accept the idea of June 4, 1967 borders, Hamas positions itself closer to the general consensus of Palestinians in the West Bank surrounding the potential resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Over the past several years, multiple opinion polls among Palestinians have indicated that a majority support the “two state solution” without the renouncement of the “Right of Return”, namely the return of all Palestinian refugees to Israel’s 1949 Armistice (Green Line) territory, including during a recent poll in February.
Furthermore, while in its previous charter the group emphasized the Palestinian national movement as a tool to promote the Islamist agenda, the current version emphasizes instead that Islam remains a guideline and a component within the Palestinian national identity, thus elevating the status of the “local” component of the movement at the expense of the “global”. Because religion constitutes a smaller component of the identities of large segments of Palestinians living in the West Bank, in comparison to those in the Gaza Strip, Hamas likely attempts through this new rhetoric to appeal more to these Palestinians, as a part of such efforts to gain support in the West Bank.
Current status quo of Israeli-Palestinian conflict unlikely to change, due to lack of negotiations, tensions between Hamas-Fatah, future hostilities between Israel and Hamas
Given that we assess that Hamas has not changed its stance regarding Israel or the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the charter is unlikely to affect or improve the prospect for future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. This is underlined by Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel, its rejection of previous agreements between Israel and the PLO, as well as issues mentioned in the new charter, including the “liberation” of all of Palestine as defined by the group, as well as the insistence on the “Right of Return”, which Israel traditionally rejects. As a result, even if negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) eventually materialize, potentially although not likely including Hamas backing the Fatah-led PA, we assess that they are unlikely to bear fruit in the coming month and years.
Furthermore, despite such efforts to appear more moderate, this shifting public image does not indicate an improved relationship with the PA, which is currently strained. Efforts by Hamas to appeal to Palestinians in the West Bank are not likely to be perceived positively by the PA, given that the PA continues to view Hamas as undermining its rule in the West Bank. As a result, tensions between the two parties will likely continue over the coming months, including in the form of additional arrest operations targeting Hamas activists and militants throughout the West Bank and potential implementation of political sanctions by the PA on Hamas’ political activity in this area.
Finally, with respect to security, the charter is unlikely to change the potential for large-scale hostilities and a future broad conflict between Israel and Gaza-based Palestinian militant factions. This is highlighted by Hamas’ calls to not abandon armed struggle nor reduce its claims on Palestinian land, as well as its continued efforts to rebuild its militant capabilities, including by manufacturing rockets and explosives, ground maneuvers, test firing of rockets, and the construction of attack tunnels. As a result, in spite of this new document, we continue to assess that the likelihood for a broad conflict over the coming months remain low-medium at this time. Moreover, despite the abovementioned efforts to increase its foothold, in the short-term, the security environment in the West Bank is liable to remain at the same level. While Hamas will likely continue its attempts to conduct sophisticated acts of militancy against Israelis in the West Bank, given the Israeli security apparatus’ broad experience in mitigating this threat, the majority of such plans will likely be thwarted.
Business-essential travel to Ramallah can continue at this time while adhering to basic security precautions regarding the threats of civil unrest and militancy. Consult with us for itinerary-based recommendations and ground support options. Avoid nonessential travel to other Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank at this time given the persistent threat of civil unrest. We advise against all travel to the Gaza Strip at this time due to continuous border crossing closures and the threat of militant activity. If travel is essential, prior to entering Palestinian-controlled areas from Jerusalem-area checkpoints, confirm that crossings remain open and no unrest is taking place. Crossings near the cities of Jenin, Qalqilya, and Tul Karem remain less prone to violence. Minimize night travel in major cities, as the majority of IDF and PA security operations occur at this time, particularly in the vicinities of Palestinian refugee camps.