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A revised Hamas charter will moderate its stance toward Israel — slightly

Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules the Gaza Strip, unveiled a new manifesto Monday moderating its position toward Israel — if only slightly — and distancing itself from Islamist groups in the Middle East.

The new declaration, an apparent bid to reverse Hamas’ rising isolation, marks the first revision of the group’s charter since it was founded amid the first Palestinian intifada three decades ago as a militant underground faction devoted to a religious war to destroy Israel.

In a shift, the new document formally endorses the goal of establishing a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, with Jerusalem as its capital, as part of a “national consensus” among Palestinians. While that may be a tacit acknowledgment of Israel’s existence, the revision stops well short of recognizing Israel and reasserts calls for armed resistance toward a “complete liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea.”

The document was formally unveiled in Doha, Qatar, the base of Hamas’ politburo leader, Khaled Meshaal.

“We are ready to cooperate with Arab or any other international effort to achieve our people’s goals, get rid of the occupation, and establish a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders,’’ Meshaal said. The leader said Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union, still rejects “the Zionist entity” and the Oslo peace accords.

The manifesto is likely to rekindle a long-running debate over whether the organization’s political moderates, who have talked of recognizing the boundary lines that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War and agreeing to a long-term cease-fire with Israel, might one day accept a peace deal with Israel.

”To accept the creation of the Palestinian state on the 1967 lines is quite significant — it’s a de facto recognition that there will be something on the other side,” said Bjorn Brenner, a researcher on Palestinian politics at the Swedish Defense University and the author of a book on Hamas.

The manifesto, approved as an addendum to the original charter rather than an entirely new document, recast the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a political battle with the “Zionist project” — Hamas’ pseudonym for Israel. Hamas’ fight, according to the document is “not with the Jews because of their religion.”

The 1988 declaration portrayed a religious battle between Islam and world Jewry, and invoked the anti-Semitic treatise, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

Anything short of recognition of Israel, a renunciation of violence and an endorsement of bilateral peace negotiations — three conditions for recognition established by Western countries — is unlikely to impress Israeli leaders. Israel has also demanded that Hamas dismantle the military bases, rockets and cross-border tunnels it has in Gaza as a condition for easing its blockade of the coastal territory. The new manifesto dismisses “any attempt to undermine the resistance and its arms.”

“Hamas is attempting to fool the world, but it will not succeed,” said a statement from the Israeli prime minister’s office. “Daily, Hamas leaders call for genocide of all Jews and the destruction of Israel.”

Dore Gold, a former director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, accused Hamas’ military wing of relying on support from Iran and also working with Islamic State in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

“If you had to ask, ‘Where is Hamas heading, in the direction of political settlement with Israel or in the direction of jihadism,’ it is definitely toward the jihadi side,” Gold said.

The declaration also redefines Hamas as a solely Palestinian movement, rather than as a branch of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as it did at its founding. The change was apparently an effort to improve ties with Cairo’s secular government.

The 10-page “Document of General Principles and Polices” — which took four years to hash out — reflects an effort by the militant group to adjust to the political upheavals across the Middle East in recent years that have bruised ties with allies as well as to internal Palestinian politics. It also comes at a time of transition in its leadership: Earlier this year, the group selected a hard-line military commander, Yayha Sinwar, as its chief in Gaza and is about to announce a successor to Meshaal.

“The document is intended to reach out and establish ties with the international community,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political science professor at Gaza’s Al Azhar University.

“It will allow Hamas to establish new ties with Arab, Muslim and other countries … but unless Hamas accepts the two-state solution, I don’t think the U.S. or the EU” will recognize the organization, he said.

The policy manifesto is being released on the eve of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Wednesday meeting at the White House with President Trump. Analysts see the timing as an attempt to shift Palestinians’ focus from Washington to Gaza, which is suffering from salary cuts and a power crisis after Abbas decided to end Palestinian Authority funding to the territory.

Accepting the June 1967 border is an attempt to bring Hamas’ position closer to that of Abbas’ Palestine Liberation Organization, while appealing to broad sentiment among Palestinians who think that their leaders shouldn’t disavow armed attacks on Israel as the PLO did when it began the peace negotiations.

Osama Qawasmi, a spokesman for the Fatah movement, to which Abbas belongs, said the new political document is identical to one adopted by the PLO in 1988, and accused Hamas of sowing a split among the Palestinains through 30 years of "treachery."

“The timing of the Hamas announcement undercuts any momentum Abbas would get on his first visit to the White House in three years,” said Grant Rumley, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank focusing on national security and foreign policy. “It’s to say, ‘Our position isn’t so different from Abbas, and while he’s in Washington, we are here suffering in Gaza.’”

Analysts said the document is unlikely to spur a renewed effort toward reconciling a 10-year split between Hamas and the secular Fatah Party, which controls the West Bank and is led by Abbas, because the new manifesto calls for reforms of the PLO. Fatah fears that could be a pretext by Hamas to take over the organization.

Hamas came to prominence with a campaign of suicide bombings in Israel during the second Palestinian uprising, which coincided with the heyday of the peace process with Israel. It criticized PLO founder Yasser Arafat and his organization for recognizing Israel and agreeing to divide historic Palestine.

Although the group got a popular mandate after winning control of the Palestinian parliament in 2006 in an upset over Fatah, Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza the next year left it besieged by Israel and virtually shunned by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. It also fought three wars with Israel that have deepened the economic devastation in Gaza.

Unrest across the Arab world has worsened Hamas’ relations in the region. It lost the support of Syria and Iran as its external leadership decamped from Damascus to Qatar because of Syria’s civil war. It’s been at loggerheads with Egypt since President Abdel Fattah Sisi ousted the Muslim Brotherhood, declared it a terrorist organization, and launched an offensive against smugglers between Gaza and Sinai.

“Hamas is in a difficult situation: They are pressed from the outside and pressed from the inside,” Brenner said. “The big question is whether they will gravitate toward Iran or Egypt. With this document you get the impression that they are trying to warm up to the Sunni Arab states — and Egypt.”

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Special correspondent Mitnick reported from Tel Aviv and abu Alouf from Gaza City.

@joshmitnick


UPDATES:

4:55 p.m.: This article has been updated with reaction from Israel, others; analysis, background.

This article was originally posted at 7:25 a.m.

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