For decades, Western decision-makers have viewed Hamas as a terrorist organization that seeks to destroy the state of Israel and thus will never accept a territorial compromise based on a two-state solution.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently reiterated that assessment in a July 14, 2009, speech in Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, it also forms the basis of U.S. President Barack Obama's new approach to Middle East peacemaking. In his Cairo address, Obama refrained from labeling Hamas a "terrorist organization," but he urged Hamas to reform itself. "To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations," he declared, "Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel's right to exist." The message was clear: if Hamas wants to be part of a political solution to the conflict, it has to adapt to political benchmarks set by Israel, the United States, and the Middle East Quartet.
The perception of Hamas as an organization intrinsically incapable of compromise has driven Western policy for more than 20 years and remains one of the most influential dogmas in Middle East diplomacy. Western observers justify their belief that any rapprochement with Hamas would be futile by pointing to its history of terrorist attacks and the movement's supposedly inflexible ideology. They bolster their argument by referring to the Hamas charter, the group's 1988 founding manifesto, which outlines a militant doctrine aimed at "liberating the land of Palestine" by force and invokes such anti-Semitic tracts as "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."
However, such critics fail to grasp the transformation currently taking place within Hamas. Today, the charter has ceased to play a significant role in the group's ideology. As early as 1990, Hamas began to distance itself from the document, which has since fallen into neglect. Although Hamas has not officially renounced the charter, no references to it can be found in any of the group's recent statements. Moreover, Hamas leaders, such as Mahmoud Ahmad al-Ramahi, the secretary-general of the Palestinian Legislative Council, have recently begun downplaying the charter's
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