Hamas’ Strategic Rebranding

What to Make of Its Revised Charter

Ismail Haniyeh, newly elected head of Hamas' political office, arrives to visit a sit-in in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, in Gaza City, May 2017 Mohammed Salem / REUTERS

On May 1, 30 years after releasing its founding charter, Hamas unveiled a revised version of the document that appears to soften the group’s stance toward Israel. The major takeaway is that Hamas is open, at least in principle, to accepting the 1967 borders of a Palestinian state—a major sticking point in previous failed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Its previous position had always been to call for the destruction of the state of Israel.

The revised charter, which still contains some of the more incendiary language of the original, was announced the same week that U.S. President Donald Trump met with Mahmoud Abbas, the longtime leader of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’ main political rival. It also comes amid a continuing Egyptian blockade of Gaza. Since assuming power in 2014, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government has tightened security along the Gaza border, shut down many of Hamas’ tunnels (including by flooding some with sewage), and harassed Gazan fishermen who have strayed into Egyptian waters. The loss of the tunnels is a serious logistic challenge for Hamas, especially considering the critical role they served as an underground avenue for smuggling fighters, weapons, and hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of goods into Israel.

But aside from the benefits of currying favor with Cairo or shifting media focus away from Abbas, a major component of Hamas’ rebranding is strategic. Indeed, the changes to the charter raise a number of questions about Hamas’ political future. Although hard-liners in the Israeli political elite may claim that nothing has changed, even minor tweaks in a terrorist organization’s ideology and political platform can have lasting and outsize effects, providing the momentum necessary for further changes down the line. It may be imprudent to expect Hamas to engineer a radical departure from its worldview, but the recently announced shift could smooth the way toward progress with Israel.


Historically, Hamas has had links to the Muslim Brotherhood and has shared ideological roots with the insurgent Egyptian

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