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In The Palestinian Hamas, Shaul Mishal and Avraham Sela show that, contrary to its violent image, Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement) is essentially a social and political organization, providing extensive community services and responding to political realities through bargaining and power brokering. The authors lift the veil on Hamas's strategic decision-making methods at each of the crucial crossroads it has confronted: the Intifada and the struggle with the PLO, the Oslo accords and the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority, and the choice between absolute jihad against Israel and controlled violence. Now with a new introduction, this book does much to contextualize the current ascendancy of this controversial movement.
Columbia University Press
— Sanford R. Silverburg
The book The Palestinian Hamas... is required reading for anyone who wishes to understand Hamas.
Widely, and rightly, viewed as the best book in English on Hamas.
A highly recommended read.
All right reserved.
The turn of events described above is certainly not etched in stone.
Hamas's social concerns and the economic exhaustion of the
Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip may well
create an effort of reconstruction rather than violence, at least
for a while. If Israel unilaterally withdraws from the West Bank in
the same fashion implemented in the Gaza Strip, it might play into
the hands of Hamas because it would remove the onus of officially
dealing with Israel on this key political issue. Hence, Hamas has a
vested interest in obtaining full control over resumed negotiations
between Israel and PApresident Abbas over key issues, especially
concerning the permanent status of the Palestinian territories.
The assessment that Hamas's composite strategy might lead to a dead
end and a return to a hopeless, zero-sum dynamic of conflict is
based on an essentialist or deterministic view of the Palestinian
"other." According to this approach, Hamas is an Islamist body with
predetermined strategic priorities, firm political positions, and
ultimate anti-Israeli goals. Its behavior, therefore, depends
neither on Israeli policies nor on Israel's relations with Hamas.
To a large extent, this essentialist approach toward Hamas has been
inspired by deeply rooted Israeli assumptions by which Israel's
political and security priorities and policies are irrelevant to how
the Palestinian "other" views the situation or responds to it.
According to this line of thought, Israel's security policies should
be determined independently of the complex reality in which Hamas is
now functioning. It therefore neglects the need to continually
follow the rationale, nuances, contradictions, and tensions
reflected in Hamas's public positions and conduct.
This approach portrays Hamas as an uncompromising entity that is
focused rigidly on ultimate goals and is willing to bring its
politics to absurd extremes in order to achieve them. It is to this
that one may look in order to understand what breathes life into the
perception that the future conduct of Hamas is premeditated and thus
predetermined, stemming purely from the movement's established
ideology. Therefore, entertaining the prospect of moderation in
Hamas's positions is futile. Talk of political compromise is aimed
solely at dulling the senses.
A more interpretive perception will view Hamas as a movement that is
operating within an ever-changing historical context, aware of
practical constraints, sensitive to its surroundings, attentive to
circumstances, and subject to considerations of cost effectiveness.
Initially established by refugees as a social movement, Hamas
prospers particularly among poor refugees and urban dwellers. In
spite of its image as a primarily murderous organization, its main
energies and activities have been focused on providing social and
communal services through a well-administrated web of institutions,
from clinics, kindergartens, and schools to a blood bank and welfare
services such as the distribution of food and other basic
commodities for the needy.
According to this rationale, it is likely that the Hamas-led
government would authorize its officials to follow the policy
adopted by mayors and heads of local councils of maintaining
contacts with Israeli officials on ongoing matters related to daily
life and well-being of the Palestinian population, particularly the
movement of goods and people across Israeli and Palestinian
territories. It is likely that internal, regional, and international
pressures will lead Hamas to adopt an approach that is more
network-oriented than goal-focused, to display more political
pragmatism than religious extremism, and to distance itself from its
radical image in order to facilitate a strategy of political
openness. Above all else, what is considered in the essentialist
approach as an inviolable obstacle that hastens the return of the
Israeli-Palestinian dispute to a state of predestined confrontation
may be perceived according to the interpretive perception as a
dynamic situation of shifting interests and changing priorities
derived from the reality of an order negotiated by multiple parties.
The rise of Hamas to power through a democratic process is an
unprecedented phenomenon in the Arab Muslim countries and thus
deserves the attention of students of Islamic and Middle East
politics. This is particularly the case in view of the scholarly
debate on the compatibility of Islam and democracy but even more so
in view of Hamas's self-definition as an Islamic national liberation
movement. First, the municipal and general elections in the
Palestinian territories were marked by Hamas's full compliance with
the democratic "rules of the game" within the confines of
Palestinian domestic politics. Indeed, Hamas opted to escalate
violence against Israel as a means of protest against the PA's
decision to cancel the results of municipal elections in some local
government councils in the Gaza Strip where Hamas had won a
majority. In a final analysis, however, the Islamic movement
demonstrated restraint toward its political rivals and the process
as a whole. Indeed, this behavior, and the incorporation of
typically secular and leftist-nationalist factions into its
government, may turn out to be no more than tactical and temporary
measures aimed at paving the road to power and mitigating the alarm
echoes resulting from its victory on both domestic and international
levels, rather than an indication of normative political behavior.
It is, however, noteworthy that the political process in the
Palestinian territories took place under severe economic and social
conditions, partial military occupation, and harsh restrictions
imposed by Israel, none of which encourage collective democratic
Second, that Hamas has been identified with the militant ideology
and strategy of jihad makes its electoral victory even more alarming
to secular ruling elites in the neighboring Arab countries who
struggle against their own Islamic militants. They dread Hamas's
expanding influence on their societies and a similar rise to power
if open and free elections are allowed. Hamas has established close
links with, and enjoys support from, state and nonstate "peace
spoilers," especially Iran, Syria, and the Lebanese Shi'i Hizballah.
However, it is likely that regional and international actors would
largely put pressure on Hamas to reconcile with the "rules of the
game" or risk an intolerable price in terms of international
economic and diplomatic aid. Moreover, the rise of Hamas to power
may well change regional and international priorities toward the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This means that the network
perspective and multilevel approach might overshadow the
The deterioration of social and economic conditions in the
Palestinian areas underlines the crucial role of the international
community in revitalizing their economy, which under certain
conditions might encourage the Hamas-led PA government to accept a
formula short of recognition of the state of Israel (e.g., the
principle of two-state solution). Thus, in view of the PA's dire
financial straits and the difficulties Hamas faces in committing
itself to the Oslo agreements-despite the long-term record of the
clean-handed and efficacious system of social services provided by
Hamas and the discernible local impact made by Hamas-dominated
municipal and local government during the last year-it is doubtful
that controlling the Palestinian government would allow Hamas to
miss the opportunity of promoting its posture as a provider of
social services in the PA areas.
From a regional and international perspective, the
Israeli-Palestinian issue has become too volatile to be left in the
hands of the two parties alone. The Jordanians, Egyptians, and
Saudis fear that the economic deterioration of the Palestinian
Authority and the renewal of military confrontation between Israel
and the PA will bring about an Islamic radicalization that could
threaten their own political stability. In their eyes, this has made
their intervention in the issue crucially important. This is also
true of the United States and the European Union, which fear the
deterioration of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute into a conflict
between Islam and the West.
Under these circumstances, regional and international actors ought
to minimize the disadvantages of the current situation rather than
bring about a radical change. Radical responses taken by Israel
against Hamas, such as financial strangulation and diplomatic
isolation, are likely to be perceived by regional parties and
international actors as a boomerang that, in the spirit of
Baudelaire, transforms the hangman into the accused and the injury
into a dagger. Such dramatic Israeli steps might result in harsh
worldwide criticism that will lead to broad opposition.
Along this line, one cannot exclude the possibility that regional
actors and the international community will increase their efforts
to revive existing political initiatives and possibly even propose
new ones in order to bridge the gap between Israel's minimum demands
and the maximum concessions the new Palestinian regime will be
willing to make. Furthermore, in light of the changes that have
taken place in the Palestinian arena, such political initiatives
will redefine regional and international priorities according to the
interests of the relevant actors. It is possible that regional and
international forces will mold joint principles to guide political
activity built on an agreed-upon agenda. This, however, will require
the direct and committed involvement of the U.S. government, whose
absence from the scene under the George W. Bush administration has
been detrimental to the relations between Israelis and Palestinians.
A renewed dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians may well
depend more on regional and international arrangements in which
Israel and the Palestinians talk to each other through a third
party. The Arab peace plan advanced by the Beirut summit in
2002-based on the trade-off of Israel's withdrawal from all the
territories occupied in the war of 1967 for an all-Arab
normalization of relations with it-and its incorporation into the
U.S.-backed "road map," are the types of initiatives that might
control the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian political agenda
in which Hamas would be hard-pressed to join.
Often in politics, what might be perceived as an inconceivable order
can turn into an inevitable reality. At first it will seem harsh and
dissonant; later still, full of inspiration; and eventually,
Excerpted from The Palestinian Hamas
by Shaul Mishal Avraham Sela
Copyright © 2006 by Columbia University Press.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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PrefacePreface to the 2006 Edition1. Social Roots and Institutional Development2. Dogmas and Dilemmas3. Controlled Violence4. Coexistence Within Conflict5. Calculated Participation6. Patterns of Adjustment: Opportunities and ConstraintsAppendix 1: Hamas's Internal StructureAppendix 2: The Charter of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas)Notes Bibliography Index
Columbia University Press