Is Hamas doing hasbara, or, more aptly, Hamas-bara?
With talk that the terror group’s new, more moderate-sounding charter will be released any day, a recent visit to the Israel-Gaza border suggested that Hamas may also be professionalizing its operation.
Every two or three miles on the Gaza side of the border there are Hamas flags and uniformed Hamas militants. They have powers given to them by Gaza’s rulers, and act as “law” enforcers. By appearances alone, they “look more and more like us,” said an Israeli army captain who was with me at the border.
“I don’t know whether to say it’s good or bad, but it’s impressive,” he said. The flag installations with uniformed men weren’t there a few years ago. Hamas has been professionalizing its setup on the ground, and now, in the same vein, it’s giving some serious attention to its diplomacy and PR with a more mature charter.
According to the latest leak, the document will mention the possibility of a Palestinian state only in the West Bank, Gaza and eastern Jerusalem — but concludes that all land controlled by Israel should be Palestinian. Hamas will “not relinquish any part of the land of Palestine,” it will pledge.
The new charter doesn’t change Hamas’ core beliefs, but it does have sections that build bridges with the Western-backed Palestinian Authority. And it has a notable absence compared to its 1988 charter: explicit anti-Semitism.
The new document is expected to differentiate between “the Jews as a People of the Book and as followers of a religion on one hand, and the occupation and the Zionist project on the other hand,” affirming that “Hamas does not view the conflict with the Zionist project as a conflict with the Jews because of their religion.”
Standing overlooking the Gaza border, just 800 meters from the nearest Hamas post, the significance of the new charter seems to add up to a rather academic distinction.
Hamas is vowing revenge after the death — allegedly an assassination by Israel — of Hamas commander Mazan Fukha. Its new leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, is seen as a hardliner and thought to be pushing his militants hard.
Of course, if Hamas were genuinely rooting out all anti-Semitism from its mosques, media, education and propaganda, this could be a step forward. But indications are that the new charter is being issued to ease relations with the PA, calm tensions with Egypt and gain some benefits in the international community. Its imams will continue to preach hatred against Jewish infidels, its media will continue their anti-Semitic segments, its teachers will continue to incite and its propaganda machine will continue unchanged.
Much will be said about this new document, but while there are some internal discussions within Hamas about the possibility of moderating some hardline positions, the new document shouldn’t be misunderstood as evidence that these moderating voices have won some great internal victory.
The expected charter revisions don’t point to a significant change in what Hamas believes, but rather say much about its changed circumstances since the original charter was written 29 years ago. Today, Hamas has a territory, political power and concerns of external relations. The new charter is just another stage in Hamas’ rise as a political power — a process that you can see with your own eyes at the Gaza border.
Sometimes, Hamas’ professionalization will seem to be good for Israel; other times it won’t.
The consolidation of Hamas control means that rocket fire at the moment is limited. “Hamas is controlling all the small groups and telling them what to do,” the Israeli army captain said. However, “we know to say for sure that they have all the sorts of missiles that the countries around us have.”
As well as building firepower Hamas is developing terror tunnels and, as suggested by Israel’s confiscation last week of 30 wetsuits being smuggled to Gaza, its strength to send divers to carry out attacks. The new charter will likely not reduce its desire to perpetrate attacks.
The real question is whether the smart spin at play in the new charter will make Hamas realize that, at least for now, renewing attacks isn’t in its interest. Or will its increased strength translate to increased military boldness, and more bloodshed on both sides?