Hamas has drafted a new political program it hopes will improve ties with neighbouring Egypt and the West, and present a more moderate image that could get it removed from Western terrorism lists.
The internationally-isolated group, which has ruled the Gaza Strip for the past decade, characterises itself in the new manifesto as a Palestinian resistance movement against Israeli occupation.
Significantly, Hamas drops references to holy war against Jews.
It also raises the possibility of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, lands Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.
Hamas had previously sought a one state Palestine and has opposed previous internationally-backed two state solution peace plans, but even now does not openly condone such road maps.
Salah Bardawil, a Hamas official, confirmed that the document was approved after internal discussions and has been translated into several languages.
“It’s the culmination of political experiments the movement has experienced through its history,” he said.
The document plays down ties to Hamas’ parent movement, the regional Muslim Brotherhood, which is being targeted by Egypt’s government
However, Hamas appears to have stopped short of a significant ideological shift amid concerns about alienating its hard-line base.
This comes at a time when ultra-fundamentalist groups – such as the Salafis – are making inroads, particularly in Gaza.
In referring to a Palestinian state, Hamas does not spell out whether it considers this an acceptable solution to the conflict with Israel or a stepping stone to its long-standing goal of an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine, including what is now Israel.
It makes no mention of recognising Israel, which its political rival, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, did in 1993. At the time, the PLO was led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ predecessor, Yasser Arafat.
The document will not formally replace Hamas’ 1988 founding covenant, which called for the destruction of Israel and for “confronting the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews through jihad”.
Some said it falls short of helping the group emerge from its isolation, arguing it does not mark a genuine departure from its core beliefs.
“The document carries a kind of superficial change, but in fact it upholds most of Hamas’ principles,” Gaza analyst Akram Atallah said.
Hamas’ new program will be made public at the end of March, after the group completes internal elections.