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In Bid to End Isolation, Hamas Tries Out a Friendlier Face

Will the Palestinian group’s new charter help mend international ties?

By Robbie Gramer, a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
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Hamas is putting forth a more moderate face, at least on paper. In an effort to dig itself out of international isolation, the Palestinian Islamic group is set to unveil a new charter on Monday at a press conference in Qatar that softens its stance on Israel.

The new document accepts a provisional Palestinian state, distances itself from the Muslim Brotherhood political group, and tones down its past anti-Semitic language. That’s a stark change from its original 1988 charter, a fiery document that Israel and its allies regularly cite as proof Hamas stokes violence.

The changes to the group’s charter signals the latest move in a complex power struggle with the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank. It also shows the group aims to mend ties with Gulf Arab states and Egypt, which labeled the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization last year.

Then there’s the timing of the announcement. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday. Abbas is losing popularity at home, and rivals are jockeying for power to succeed him. Experts say Hamas, which controls Gaza, could be mainstreaming its platform to gain more support at the expense of the Palestinian Authority.

“The document gives us a chance to connect with the outside world,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza. “To the world, our message is: Hamas is not radical. We are a pragmatic and civilized movement. We do not hate the Jews. We only fight who occupies our lands and kills our people.”

But Israel’s not buying it. “Hamas is attempting to fool the world but it will not succeed,” said David Keyes, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “They dig terror tunnels and have launched thousands upon thousands of missiles at Israeli civilians … that is the real Hamas,” he added.

Israel has fought three wars with Hamas since 2007, when the group first took political control of the Gaza Strip.

Trump repeatedly expressed interest in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has vexed every president since 1948. But out of the gate, he took a decidedly harder posture against Palestinians and lined his ranks with controversial pro-Israel hardliners, including current U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

A number of countries, including the United States, label Hamas a terrorist organization, shutting it out of any peace negotiations with Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Snippets of the document, which Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Mashaal will release Monday, have been leaking out for weeks. One of the most surprising aspects of the document is Hamas’s willingness to accept a provisional Palestinian state using borders from 1967, when Israel first captured Gaza and the West Bank in a war with its Arab neighbors.

Despite its more moderate tone, Hamas still doesn’t reject using violence in its new charter. “Hamas refuses to hinder the resistance or its weapons, and confirms the right of our people to develop resistance tools and equipments,” the document says.

Photo credit: Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer