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  May 3, 2017

Hamas Party Moves Towards Practical Politics

Imad Al-Soos discusses the new Hamas declaration of principles, and how it differs from the old Hamas charter of 1988
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SHIR HEVER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Shir Hever in Heidelberg, Germany.

This week as Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abas meets with U.S. President, Donald Trump, the Hamas Party in Palestine published its new Charter, or Declaration of Principles. Hamas is a Palestinian political party, as well as an armed organization, which was founded in the 1980s to resist the Israeli occupation, combining guerilla warfare with Islamic values.

Its name in Arabic is ...(Arabic)... meaning Movement of Islamic Resistance. Hamas is an opposition party in Palestine, currently in control of the Gaza Strip, and in a state of ongoing confrontation with the Israeli military.

In 2006, the Hamas Party won the elections in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, but U.S. and Israeli pressure forced the Palestinian authority to appoint an unelected Prime Minister. In 2007, Hamas has taken over the Gaza Strip by force, and in 2014, the European Union removed Hamas from the list of terror organizations.

Now, the old Charter of Hamas was published almost 30 years ago. It was severely criticized for not distinguishing between the State of Israel as an occupying power, and the Jewish people as a whole.

And last month I spoke with Imad Alsoos about the leaked draft of the new Charter, or the new Declaration of Principles. Now that the new document was published, and translated into English, we can continue our conversation with Imad Alsoos.

Dr. Imad Alsoos wrote his PhD at the Free University of Berlin. He's a scholar of the Hamas Party, and of Palestinian Nationalism. Thank you very much for joining us Imad.

IMAD ALSOOS: Thank you so much for having me again.

SHIR HEVER: So, we are now entering the third week of the hunger strike by Palestinian political prisoners, which is a strike organized by a Fatah politician and a prisoner, Marwan Barghouti. At the same time, President Abas who is the head of the Fatah Party is invited to the White House to meet with Trump, while he's threatening to cut all the electricity to the Gaza Strip. So, is Hamas being outflanked by Fatah, and is this whole new document supposed to help Hamas regain its power in the Palestinian public opinion?

IMAD ALSOOS: I think that this new document has put Hamas on the defense, among the Palestinian public opinion, because Hamas has to justify for the people. It is not starting making concessions without political gains for Israel, the way Fatah was doing this. So, in fact, today and in the following days, this document will not strengthen Hamas among the Palestinian public opinion, in my opinion.

SHIR HEVER: Now, in your research you've made a very interesting point that there is a shift in the rhetoric of Hamas over the last couple of years, from a language of religious war, and religious-based activity, towards a concept of political resistance "..." which is a secular concept. But now I'm looking at this new document, and it mentions Islam repeatedly, again and again.

Also focusing on the point that Palestine must be liberated, not because of the suffering because of Palestinians, but rather because Palestine is holy to Islam. So, is Hamas changing its direction again towards a more religious form?

IMAD ALSOOS: There is very importance difference between the use of religion in the Charter of '88, and the use of religion in the document in 2017, the new document -- the Declaration of Principles. And I think the difference is not of the amount of religious words in the discourse, but which role the religion plays in this new discourse. I think in the 1988 Charter everything was defined through religion.

So, if you give up a part of Palestine, you give part of your religion. But I think in 2017, the functional role of this religion disappears. Even though the religion exists, but it has no defining concept the way ... is still playing in the new document when Hamas say Palestine is ... not Palestine is jihad, or Palestine is a religious endowment one can find in the '88 Charter.

SHIR HEVER: So, you're saying religion still defines the style, but the substance is actually a political substance -- how exactly Hamas is going to resist--

IMAD ALSOOS: Yes! Yes, Hamas is always inspired by religion, but the role, the functional role of religion is what is important to concentrate, and highlight in this new document.

SHIR HEVER: So, the way that this new document is now being covered in the international media, really focuses on one thing that I also found quite surprising to read there -- it almost seems to be written for a Western audience. For example, it engages with humanitarian actors operating in Palestine, like the European Union, the United Nations. It mentions international law as a justification for the armed struggle against occupation. And this very clear break from the previous Charter of 1988, where the issue of Judaism is re-visited; now there's a very clear distinction.

Hamas is saying we have no quarrel with the Jewish religion, but with the Zionist movement. And even they have this sort of cynical remark there that they're saying, "Well, actually it's the State of Israel calling itself the Jewish State, which claims to be representing all the Jewish people. But we don't see it that way." So, is Hamas now writing this document for A Western audience? Do they think that with this kind of language they will be more accepted in Europe, or in the United States?

IMAD ALSOOS: Partially this is true because when Hamas came to office in Gaza in the West Bank, after the war, gained power in Gaza, Hamas started to give more attention to the worldview. And of course, there are a lot of supporters for Hamas around the world, and it's around its concept of resistance. But I think many of these supporters in Europe and Latin America, the way they mentioned them, the head of Hamas, ... -- these supporters don't accept religiousized resistance.

And this is where Hamas wants to keep its worldview. And it's also targeting the international community -- that Hamas is not -- no longer waging a kind of a holy war, or a religious struggle against Israel. And Israel, yes, it's always defined itself as a Jewish state. And this plays an important role maybe that from Hamas to counter the Israeli discourse as religious.

SHIR HEVER: I think that the way that this new document is covered in Israel is also interesting. The Israeli media is really focusing on the issue that Hamas seems to be ready to accept a Palestinian State in the 67 border, so, only in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; and that is only 22% of historic Palestine.

But I find it interesting that in the very same document, Hamas is also saying that there is no alternative to a sovereign State of Palestine in all of historic Palestine. So, they're saying these sentences one after the other. How can they say two opposite things at the same time?

IMAD ALSOOS: I think we have to take this new document from a point of view of a political gain. Yes, Hamas can appear always ambivalent, and Israel and any political actor. And I think the recognition of the State of Israel, and to give up this -- the fighting for the rest of Palestine -- I think this is waiting a deal, a compromise between the parties.

But I think Hamas doesn't want to give up this discourse before striking or being part of a deal. And because the international community is always asking Hamas to accept all the conditions: recognize the State of Israel, renounce violence, and accept the previous diplomatic agreements. And in this case, Hamas won't believe this for negotiation, I think, in the future.

SHIR HEVER: And do you think that this kind of political maneuvering is going to make it easier for Hamas to become the dominant party in Palestine?

IMAD ALSOOS: We have to wait for the outcome of President Abas and President Trump's meeting. And afterward, might Hamas gain more support by this new document -- that negotiation with Israel, recognition of Israel, leads the Palestinian to nowhere; and settlements are expanding day by day in the West Bank.

In this regard, Hamas could gain a stronger position in the Palestinian public opinion but in the near future. But for now, I think, it doesn't help Hamas to gain more public opinion inside Palestine.

SHIR HEVER: Well, I hope you'll agree to come back on The Real News, and we can continue the conversation after we'll see how this new document is received by the Palestinian people, and what kind of advances are made in the Palestinian struggle for freedom between the various political parties. Thank you very much for joining us, Imad.

IMAD ALSOOS: Thank you so much for having me again.

SHIR HEVER: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.




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