Experts in Israel have concluded that Hamas has been able to preserve its power base and authority in the Gaza Strip despite Israel’s blockade and military offensives. This conclusion was reached at a seminar organised by the Jerusalem Institute for Public and State Studies which was attended by experts in every field covered by the Islamic Resistance Movement.
Military analysts warned against the growing power of Hamas. They regard it as a multi-faceted movement which is at once a military force, social movement and political party. It is, they pointed out, an organisation as advanced as any in many countries around the world.
Even though the military capabilities of Hamas often take the headlines, the seminar heard that the movement spends a large part of its economic and political resources on non-military activities to boost its influence on society. Over the years, it has developed characteristics and capabilities generally only attributed to states and, indeed, Hamas has been running the government in the Gaza Strip since its democratic election victory in 2006, facing many security and other challenges posed by Israel over the years.
Hamas, the Israeli experts concluded, is rooted deeply in the society that it serves, moving from the margins to the mainstream and controlling a military wing – the Al-Qassam Brigades – and internal security forces in Gaza. It has become a major force in Palestinian politics, changing policy to participate in the 2005 municipal elections and the Legislative Council election of 2006. In order to promote itself as a national Palestinian organisation for all sectors of the community, it dropped previously-held ambitions to adopt Islamic Shari’ah law in Palestine.
In terms of foreign relations, the seminar was told that over the past year Hamas has adopted a very different approach, with less-aggressive public speeches and a more flexible attitude towards, for example, a truce with the Israelis. Military experts noted that although Hamas has strengthened itself militarily it is aware of “red lines” across which it will not go at the moment; failure to hold back will, Hamas knows, lead to more serious attacks from Israel. Nevertheless, Hamas maintains a strong resistance role as it seeks to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
With regards to the impact of the Arab Spring, participants at the seminar believe that although Hamas has been influenced by it, and has proved its ability to adapt to the changing environment, there are still obstacles making it difficult to translate the stated willingness to reconcile with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah into real political change.
Regional instability also poses a challenge for the organisation on an ideological, political and strategic level. Hamas, it was emphasised, is striving to adapt itself to the effects of such instability by amending its institutional procedures; this, claim the experts, make it essential for Israel to adopt a different approach to the Islamic movement. Its pragmatism and ability to adapt more than Israel is not only a sign of strategic and ideological maturity but also that Hamas represents a religious group which has sprung to power in Israel’s ally Egypt. As time passes, it was concluded, the less realistic the international political isolation of Hamas becomes.
This suggests that Israel has to re-examine and change its policies towards the movement, weighing the possibility of direct contact with Hamas and taking measures to lessen the economic restrictions imposed on the Gaza Strip, as well as ending its attempts to block Palestinian reconciliation.