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Rethink Strategy, Engage Hamas

January 25, 2014 at 9:48 am

My previous criticism of Hamas has disregarded the conditions on which the conflict was based and convoluted relationship between Israel and Palestinians. The stagnation of peace negotiations and internal rivalry between Fatah and Hamas has generated uncertainty.

Hamas has gone through a number of phases: paramilitary group, mass movement with a focus on social and development sustainability, political party, significant opposition group to Fatah and the governing body in the Gaza Strip.

In the 2006 legislative elections, it won the majority of votes and was thus legitimized by the population.

Hamas’ victory was in part a vote in favor of political diversity and for Hamas as an alternative representative body, and in part a vote against Fatah’s long-term political dominance and what society perceived as poor performance and mismanagement. 

Hamas ran under the change and reform slogan, and, perhaps surprisingly, the party actually had a comprehensive platform that addressed some of the socio-political and economic needs of the society. Irrespective of Hamas’ plans without a political solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, the relationship between Israel and Palestine is that of occupier and occupied; hence, the Palestinian implementation maneuver margin has limitations dictated by Israel.

The alarming element, for some (mainly in the West), and what prompts almost immediate rejection, is Hamas’ Islamic feature. Hamas is proud of its Islamic aspect, but while it is keen to promote an Islamic ethic, in the political arena it is committed to respecting minority rights and non-Muslim communities. Hamas encourages people to look at the group and judge it on its actions in the socio-political and economic realm. This tactic, should they be able to practice it over an extended period, may be a major source of popular success. Nonetheless, if they fail, Palestinian society will sanction them through the democratic means available, such as the electoral process.

Each society has background characteristics that are reflected in its politics. In Palestine there is nationalistic and pluralistic motivation. An ultra conservative religious outlook is unlikely to develop; actually, it opposes the goal of the Palestinian cause and the heterogeneity of those that support it.

Hamas does not exist or act in a void; the indigenous population’s perspective must be considered, and then the regional context, the international network of relations and so on. Ultimately, these factors and others influence the party’s public platform.

As Dr. Aziz Dwaik, the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council and a member of Hamas, said, “Islamists are sensitive to people’s demands, as they are the ones that elect them.”

Moreover, when internal divisions are transcended, and the long awaited two states solution is on its way to implementation, new political players may appear; thus, the principle of moderation is emphasized through constant competition alongside the presence of an aware civil society.

Hamas’ political program has two main components: internal and foreign policy.

What does Hamas want?

Internally it seeks:

  • Self-determination with its direct consequences: independence, sovereignty and a full sense of dignity.
  • Nation building centered around strong state institutions and bodies based on rule of law, transparency and efficiency.
  • Citizenry, civility and the principle of equality of all in front of law as well as progressive governance In terms of foreign policy, Hamas is keen to forge relationships, trade treaties, and bilateral and multilateral agreements based on mutual respect and interest.

In terms of foreign policy, Hamas is keen to forge relationships, trade treaties, and bilateral and multilateral agreements based on mutual respect and interest.

From an economic perspective, Hamas appears to seek a hybrid between a market based-attracting local, regional and international investment-and a state sustained economy. The latter should not be intrusive but should have a robust social component.

This model is created to respond to the challenges of a future Palestinian state, but marginally and within the limits imposed by the status quo, it already answers current needs.

To give an example, a labor force survey released by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) last month, highlighted how Hamas has responded to the issue of rising unemployment in the Occupied Territories. In Gaza around 13,000 new jobs were created under Hamas’ governance. This may seem a limited accomplishment, but it must be taken in context: between siege, ongoing blockade and internal division, Hamas did unexpectedly well.

It also indicates that Hamas’ economic program may indeed be viable should they have the opportunity to implement it fully and continue to address unemployment, poverty, the necessity of a viable infrastructure and assorted structural state weaknesses that are bound to appear once the large amounts of donor aid decrease.

Encouraging entrepreneurship, tourism, technology, agriculture, industry and a healthy financial and banking system through state and private sector partnership ensures steady growth and less dependency on the outside world for basic domestic needs.


Responsible engagement based on continuous scrutiny of Hamas’ actions

1. Hamas was legitimized by the Palestinian people.

2. By neglecting that, the West disrespects one of the democratic principles it seeks to promote and enforces a double standard.

3. The party has shown an encouraging level of commitment towards gradual political, security and social maturity.

Recent uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa demonstrate a need to recalibrate the West’s strategy towards the region.

It is in the interest of the Occident to build relationships with key local players that have earned the support of their respective populations through an internationally sanctioned process.

*Manuela Paraipan has acted as media advisor to various parties in the Middle East. She was a media fellow and contributing editor to World Security Network, and has authored articles and policy studies on human rights in Lebanon, Middle East politics, global governance and economic advancement in underdeveloped countries. She is a former Executive Director of the Bucharest based Middle East Political and Economic Institute (MEPEI).

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