No More Palestinian than the Palestinians: Iranians React to the Hamas Revised Charter

Dr. Raz Zimmt analyzes the Iranian reaction to the new Hamas charter, which called for a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.
Author: 
Download pdf (801.22 KB)

Drawing uploaded to Twitter, with the caption: “How Hamas treats Iran by recognizing Israel
description: 

Drawing uploaded to Twitter, with the caption: “How Hamas treats Iran by recognizing Israel."



The revised charter published by Hamas at the beginning of May provoked lively debate on Iran’s social networking sites (SNS). As Hamas’ stances appear to be softening, Iranian discourse expressed widespread criticism of the regime’s continued hostility towards Israel and support for the Palestinians. From the perspective of many Iranian users, Hamas’ statement means that Iran is unjustified in adopting a more radical approach to Israel than that taken by the Palestinians, and that instead, the Iranian regime should prioritize the plight of its own citizens. The public discourse in Iran exposes alienation and disappointment vis-à-vis the Palestinians, as well as anger over the price that Iran pays for its continued support.

At a press conference held in Doha, Qatar on May 1, Hamas political bureau chairman Khaled Mashal unveiled the organization’s new statement of principles and policies. In terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this revised charter presents a moderated version of the original Hamas charter of 1988. It avoids the blatant anti-Semitism of the previous charter, refrains from calling for the destruction of Israel, and agrees to the establishment of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders, although it does not relinquish all of Palestine or the right of resistance. While the official media in Iran conveyed little interest, SNS thoroughly discussed Hamas’ changed position - particularly in light of the Iranian regime’s hostility toward Israel and denial of Israel’s right to exist, which has remained uncompromisingly consistent since the Islamic revolution.

Iranian criticism of the Palestinians has historical roots dating back to the 1980s, when Palestinians supported Iraq in its war against Iran. Public criticism of Hamas has increased in recent years, due to its alignment with the Syrian rebels, contrary to Iran’s position. As Tehran has increased support for President Assad’s regime, Hamas has turned its back on the Axis of Resistance, an alliance headed by Iran, and including Syria and Hezbollah. Despite Hamas’ longstanding involvement in the Axis of Resistance, it declared its support for the Syrian opposition. Furthermore, Iran perceived Hamas’ support for the Saudi offensive in Yemen as another slap in the face, and evidence of Hamas’ preference for Saudi Arabia and the Sunnis over Tehran. One SNS user described this tension, tweeting that Hamas is ideologically distant from Iran, is unprepared to pay any political price for Iran, and does not condemn the killing of Shi’ites in Iraq.[1]

The negative feelings toward Hamas were clearly reflected in users’ reactions to the charter. Users questioned the justification of Iranian aid to Hamas, given Hamas’ willingness to reformulate a policy toward Israel that contravenes the Iranian position. Most of the criticism was directed at the Iranian government, which continues to assist the Palestinians, including Hamas (mainly its military wing), rather than redressing the situation of Iranian citizens. Several users tweeted: “Not Gaza, not Lebanon, I will sacrifice my life for Iran.” The reformist opposition adopted this slogan during the 2009 riots, as a demand for authorities to focus on solving the problems facing Iranian citizens, rather than participating in Muslim struggles around the world.[2]Users also criticized the regime’s uncompromising ideological stance towards Israel, obtrusive against the backdrop of Hamas’ modified position. One user cynically noted that in light of the Hamas document of principles, the Israeli and Iranian governments have become the only two entities that do not recognize the 1967 borders.[3] Some users even mockingly suggested that calls of “death to Hamas” be included alongside the traditional condemnations of Israel and the United States at the annual International Jerusalem (el-Quds) Day procession held in Iran on the last Friday of Ramadan.[4]

Reformists and critics of the regime skillfully leveraged the situation, exploiting the new statement of principles to bolster the position that Iran should reconsider its financial and military assistance to the Palestinians, and particularly to Hamas. In a tweet, exiled Iranian journalist Ahmad Batebi wondered how many schools, hospitals, and parks could have been built in Iran if not for years of Hamas funding.[5] Likely, recent reports that Iran is increasing its support for Hamas’ military wing, following Yahya Sinwar’s election as Hamas’ new leader in Gaza, contributed to the criticism.

Right-wing conservative supporters of the regime mostly refrained from referring to the change in Hamas’ position, although some sought to downplay its importance. For example, journalist Muhammad Kadri, of the conservative news agency Mehr, tweeted criticism of media outlets affiliated with the reformist camp, which insisted on presenting the Hamas charter as an expression of compromise, despite lack of recognition for 1967 borders.[6] Iranian hardliners ’ disregard for the Hamas charter reflects embarrassment at the change in Hamas’ position, which could weaken Iran’s justification for its uncompromising policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This is not the first time Iranian SNS have become a central arena for debate over Iran's policy toward the Palestinians. One such debate erupted in the summer of 2014, on the eve of an International Jerusalem Day marked by Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip. That year, the day meant to express Iran and the Muslim world’s support for the Palestinians and their struggle for the “liberation of Jerusalem” triggered reservations. Many users felt that Iran should not help the Palestinians while its own citizens’ situation remained politically and economically untenable. Furthermore, many expressed hostility towards Hamas, the Palestinians, and the Arabs in general. [7]

Iranian users’ reactions to Hamas’ revised charter are a further expression of the Iranian public’s complex attitude towards the Palestinians. Iranians ideologically support the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and their struggle for independence. However, the willingness of Palestinians, including Hamas, to negotiate with Israel and soften their position, causes some Iranians to question their government’s rigidity, as it claims to be “more Palestinian than the Palestinians.” Increasingly, Iranians express doubts about the expenses paid by the needy at home in trade for their country’s unconditional support for the Palestinians.