Anyone with a serious interest in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will be familiar with the oft-cited Charter (or Covenant [mithaq]) of the terrorist group currently ruling the Gaza Strip, Hamas. The Charter (in Arabic here) was published on 18 August 1988. Its proper title is “The Charter/Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement ‘Hamas’ Palestine”, Hamas being an acronym for “the Islamic Resistance Movement”.
This April, the Lebanese news site al-Mayadeen leaked a draft version of a much-revised version of the 1988 Charter, due to be released “in the coming days”. The anti-Israel website Mondoweiss subsequently provided an English translation of the draft, made by someone from the Ayda refugee camp in the West Bank. So far, I have been unable to find the Arabic text of the draft online, even though it has been discussed many times in the wider Arabic media. We shall turn to it later, but it is obviously sensible to look first at the 1988 version as a basis of comparison. And even before that, we need to see how the Hamas Covenant differed from, and resembled, the PLO Covenants of 1964 and 1968.
The full title of the movement is crucial to an understanding of the document and its aims. Hamas had been founded in 1987 as an intransigent extension of the Palestinian Mujamma linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, and was explicitly hardline and neo-Salafi in its religious orientation. This was in conspicuous contrast to its rival Palestinian movement, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), founded by the Arab League in 1964 as an overtly secular and nationalist entity. The two PLO National Covenants of 1964 and 1968 exclude religion as a basis for the anti-Israel struggle.
But in those versions, that secular nationalism takes two distinct forms. The 1964 PLO Charter is based on the concept of pan-Arabism as inspired by the Arab League and Egypt’s president at the time, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Palestinians are simply Arabs among millions of Arabs, and their struggle for liberation was carried out with little emphasis on the creation of a Palestinian state. This view changed, however, after 1967, when the Six-Day War showed the powerlessness of the Arab states to resolve the Palestinian issue. When Egypt and Jordan attacked Israel (Egypt’s closing the Strait of Tiran was a legitimate casus belli, cause for war), Israel repelled them and ended up sitting on land — Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, Judaea and Samaria — which it immediately offered to return in exchange for recognition and peace. That offer was rejected in a matter of weeks at the Khartoum Conference.
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