Hamas's policy change is a ray of hope for regional peace, thus all actors involved in the conflict should show the necessary support
The world has not been paying much attention to Palestine for some time because of the quite hectic international agenda, yet a silent change is taking place there. The chief of Hamas' political bureau, Khaled Mashal, has recently announced he will be replaced by Ismail Haniyeh. This is not a simple administrative change, as Hamas has also adopted a new political vision.
A 42-article long document tells that Hamas is, above all, a Palestinian national group. This is an implicit answer to those who claim that Hamas is simply a branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Besides, as Hamas' new leader lives in Gaza, unlike Qatar-based Mashal, it is obvious that the group will, from now on, focus on the situation of Palestinian people struggling to survive in the occupied territories.
Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the West Bank-based Fatah, is probably unhappy with the change, as he continues to claim the leadership for all Palestine. He is recognized as the only legitimate interlocutor by Western governments, as well. However, he has not been able count on the loyalty of many Palestinians for several years now. Israel, too, viewed him as the only legitimate leader of the Palestinians, but did not take up the chance to make him an interlocutor to push forward the peace process.
In the new political document, Hamas emphasizes its will to reach lasting peace. It says, naturally, that it will fight to get a free Palestinian state, but it has dropped its longstanding call for Israel's destruction. It agrees to a transitional Palestinian state within frontiers pre-dating the 1967 war. This is in conformity with the United Nations' peace proposals. Similarly, Hamas says it is not against Jewish people, but against Zionism; and that it refuses a struggle based on ethnic or religious discrimination.
The document claims that Hamas aims at building a democratic, inclusive Palestine where women will have their say in government and also states Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. All this may make it easier for the international community to talk to Hamas, instead of insisting on Abbas as the only interlocutor. It may also encourage Israel to soften its stance toward Hamas.
These are important modifications not only for the Palestinians but for the entire region; without forgetting, of course, that some people will try to sabotage this change. One gets the feeling that one of the priorities of Hamas will be to persuade people that Islam and terrorism are not compatible. Besides, focusing on the Palestinian national struggle, instead of focusing on regional balances, it sends a strong signal to countries that were exploiting the situation in the occupied territories.
One of those countries is, definitely, Iran. The position of Tehran on the Syrian civil war, and their determination to support Assad no matter what, has already been criticized by the Palestinians. Hamas has also seen, probably, that Iran be of much advantage in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as long as it gets closer to Russia.
The new political document adopted by Hamas has enumerated the most important issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which are not very different than in previous international documents: the status of Jerusalem, borders, Israeli settlements, Palestinian refugees and so on. These have been subjects of contention for decades. Now Hamas wants to be included in those discussions.
We do not know yet if the world will respond positively to this comprehensive change. If not, Western leaders will no more have the right to say anything about the future of the Palestinians. Some of those do not want to see an independent Palestine, anyway; but those others who want to have "their kind of" Palestine will have to think twice.
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