Palestinian students march at sunset in a display of their military skills at Al-Rebat College for Law and Police Science in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip. The new political programme of Hamas is meant to help the Islamic militant group break out of international isolation. Picture: AP
As a liberation movement, Hamas has a right to resist under international law, writes Suraya Dadoo.

On Monday night, Hamas redefined itself in the Qatari capital, Doha. Its political head, Khaled Meshaal, unveiled the organisation’s “Document of General Principles and Policies” - the first ideological document that the movement has released since its 1988 founding charter.

While that charter was written by one man in a state of war during the first intifada, this document was the product of years of discussion among Hamas leadership and its rank and file.

The result is a politically nuanced manifesto that reflects the movement’s ideological growth, especially during the last 21 years under Khaled Meshaal.

“Groups are like living creatures. If they don’t evolve, they die,” Meshaal explained in Doha.

Hamas’s evolution is best reflected by its redefinition of the enemy in this new policy document. It is the Zionist colonial project of settlement and occupation - rather than Judaism - that must be undone in a post-colonial world.

The document also reminds the world that the Palestinian people can never be forced to give up the dream of returning to their homeland from which they were expelled in 1948. However, Article 20 indicates that Hamas is willing to accept “a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of June 4, 1967, with the return of refugees.”

Many media outlets have portrayed this as a “ground-breaking” position on the two-state solution. It is not.

As early as 1997, Hamas leaders publicly stated the movement’s readiness to explore political solutions based on 1967 borders. Israel, America and the EU Quartet, along with mainstream media, simply refused to listen, choosing instead to shut Hamas out by labelling it a “terrorist” group opposed to political engagement. Ironically, Hamas’s political document is closer to the two-state framework endorsed by the international community, than the manifesto of Likud - the political party that has dominated successive Israeli governments for more than 30 years.

Likud’s platform “flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state...”

On the eve of Israeli elections in March 2015, Benjamin Netanyahu reinforced these words. He was asked: “If you are prime minister, a Palestinian state will not be established?” “Indeed,” responded Netanyahu. His Deputy Defence Minister, Eli Ben Dahan, warned: “Palestinians have to understand they won’t have a state and Israel will rule over them.”

The Israeli government has been rewarded with a strengthening of diplomatic ties with the US and the UK, while Hamas continues to be internationally isolated.

One of the most controversial issues around Hamas’s new political document is the movement’s stance on Israel’s “right” to exist. The demand of Israel is not that Hamas recognise the fact of Israel’s existence, but rather, its “right to exist”. The distinction must be made towards recognising Israel’s existence - a fact on the ground that cannot be reversed - as opposed to Israel’s moral right to exist. The central question for Hamas is if Israel had a moral right to displace almost 1 million Palestinians in 1948.

Although the organisation has developed into a serious political actor, Meshaal defined Hamas as a national liberation movement, and its political document outlines and affirms its right to resist the Israeli occupation. Critics point to Hamas’ insistence on retaining the armed struggle as evidence of its intention to destroy Israel.

Have they forgotten that the ANC refused to renounce the armed struggle? “The armed struggle will continue until the basic demands of the people are met,” Nelson Mandela warned the apartheid regime on the day he was released from prison in 1990. The armed struggle continued until the first democratic elections in April 1994.

The right to resist, preserved in international law, justified our struggle against apartheid. Mandela is a hero because of his resistance to apartheid, not because of his subservience. Why then, was the right to resist absolute for the ANC, but questionable for Hamas? Hamas’s pragmatic new document articulates political demands central to the Palestinian struggle, and enshrined in numerous UN resolutions, including the right of return.

Israeli officials, however, rubbished the document, calling it an attempt by Hamas to “fool the world”.

With Hamas’s redefinition potentially opening the path for Palestinian unity, Israel’s reaction suggests that its greatest fear is a united Palestinian leadership resisting the occupation.

If the international community is willing to hear its message, this could mark the beginning of a new conversation with Hamas - one that leads to genuine exchange and dialogue. This is essential towards ending Israel’s occupation and ensuring peace.

* Suraya Dadoo is a researcher with Media Review Network, a Johannesburg-based advocacy group.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.