A friend of mine has reacted to my post of 10/7 with the correct observation that there is, indeed, a basis for believing that Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel—that objective is in Hamas’s charter. I didn’t discuss the Hamas charter because I think that there is a good answer to that question, but now I realize that I should have asked and answered the question in my post.
The Hamas charter is certainly a repellent document, full of primitive anti-semitic absurdities, including a favorable citation of the notoriously bogus Protocols of the Elders of Zion. While the phrase “the destruction of Israel” does not appear, Hamas makes clear that it aims for Arab/Islamic rule in all of Palestine. That, of course, would eliminate Israel as a state.
(It is important to note that the destruction of a state does not imply the physical destruction of its inhabitants. The Soviet Union self-destroyed as a political entity without mass killings. While the Hamas charter extolls the killing of Jews as part of the jihad to establish their rule in Palestine, it does not call for the killing of Jews as an end in itself. On the contrary, it asserts that all religions—explicitly including Christianity and Judaism—could coexist under Islamic rule. These are subtle but valid and important distinctions.)
So, yes, the charter does call for the destruction of the state of Israel. But a 25-year-old document does not constitute valid grounds for ignoring the multiple more recent statements by Hamas leaders that seem to contradict that document. To say flatly that Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel is wrong: it’s intellectually lazy at best, and it serves as a convenient excuse for Israeli refusal to talk to Hamas.
Shouldn’t Hamas modify or repudiate its charter? Of course it should. But it is unrealistic to demand that it do so without even a hint of reciprocity by Israel. It is relevant to note that the charter of Likud, Israel’s ruling party, calls for Israeli rule in all of Palestine. That, of course, means no Arab Palestinian state, ever. (A recent statement by Netanyahu, saying that Israel could never relinquish “security control” of the Jordan River Valley, makes that position practically explicit. No Palestinian state could be sovereign without “security control” of such a large chunk of its territory. ) So, it is entirely fair to say that the Likud charter, which is more recent (1999) than Hamas’, calls for the political destruction of Arab Palestine. As Middle East historian Juan Cole observes:
…[O]n the central question of one side denying the other’s legitimacy, it’s hard to ignore the symmetry between Likud – the party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – and Hamas.
And yet, I haven’t seen any op-ed columnists demanding a revision of the Likud charter as a condition for Palestinians to talk to Israel.