Journal Essay

The Hamas Agenda: How Has It Changed?

Baudouin Long

Winter 2010, Volume XVII, Number 4

Mr. Long holds a scholarship from the French Ministry for Higher Education and Research at the Département d’Enseignement de l’Arabe Contemporain in Cairo. He read politics at Sciences-Po Aix (Master’s Degree in Politics and International Relations) and Middle Eastern studies at King’s College London (Master of Art in Middle East and Mediterranean Studies).

The image of Hamas in the West has long been linked to its suicide attacks against Israeli civilians. The front-page pictures after its victory in the 2006 elections of hooded gunmen marching in the streets of Gaza and Ramallah, brandishing green flags with Islamic slogans, were not reassuring to the West.

Indeed, up to the 2006 elections, Hamas was well-known for its violent agenda and its project for an Islamic state in Palestine. The 2006 elections produced a major change in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. They marked the entrance of Hamas into politics and made it a player that cannot be ignored. They also brought a new focus to Hamas, and some concluded that it was changing its tone, adopting a softer and more political position. Although Israel, the United States and the European Union label Hamas a terrorist organization, its new moderation has possibly raised the issue of its inclusion in the peace process.1 Nonetheless, one might wonder what changes Hamas has really undergone and to what extent it has changed its radical agenda.

In order to answer this, we must focus first on the main changes in Hamas’s stance and strategy in the wake of the 2006 elections. Second, it is important to understand the reasons for both Hamas’s promotion of violence and the reduction of violence vis-à-vis Israel. This will eventually lead to a better appreciation of Hamas’s views on the possibility of negotiations with Israel.


The 2006 Elections and a "New Discourse"

In January 2006, Hamas won the majority of the seats in the legislative elections, creating general surprise in Palestine and abroad. This election has often been considered a turning point in the movement’s history, the first time it was ever involved in a national political process.2 However, Hamas had been very careful to emphasize that its participation was part of its broader strategic goal of resistance to Israel, consistent with its commitment to the liberation of Palestine and its rejection of the Oslo agreements as expressed in the preamble of its national platform.3

During the first intifada, as noted by Jonathan Schanzer, “The adoption of Islamism became an increasingly popular way for Palestinians to express their discontent,”4 and even Arafat attempted to co-opt its discourse in order to halt Hamas’s increasing popularity.5 Nevertheless, this religious stance is not the cause of the organization’s rise. Hamas mobilized a new discourse, far from its Islamic stance and its bellicose position. Khaled Hroub underlines that, in its electoral platform, Hamas stressed social, economic and governance issues and adopted milder language.6 Hamas’s victory was not the result of its religious and warlike agenda. It was rather due to a clever campaign in which it took advantage of the collapse of the Oslo agreement, the failure of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to establish an independent state, and the corruption and bad governance of Fatah (the leading party in the PA).7

This behavior contrasted strongly with Hamas’s original ideology. Article Six of its founding charter, published in 1988, defined Hamas to be “a distinct Palestinian Movement which owes its loyalty to Allah, derives from Islam its way of life and strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.”8 Its slogan was the following: “Allah is its goal, the Prophet its model, the Quran its Constitution, Jihad its path, and death for the cause of Allah its most sublime belief.”9 Moreover, the charter contains several strong anti-Semitic elements and is deemed a call for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic state in Palestine.

Most American scholars and officials refer to Hamas’s 1988 charter as defining its ideology.10 They do not take into account the changes within Hamas, preferring instead to focus on the fundamentalism of the charter. Yet, Hamas officials have made public declarations that challenge the charter. Khaled Meshal, as observed by Sherifa Zuhur, affirmed that the charter “should not be regarded as the fundamental ideological frame of reference from which the movement takes its positions.”11 Indeed, over the last decade, Hamas has expanded its involvement in political discourse and has moderated its traditional stance. According to Hroub, 2006 was a turning point: “A ‘new discourse’ had (...) been showing up in Hamas thinking during the campaign and has not simply resulted from their victory in the elections per se.”12 Hroub’s studies of Hamas’s declarations led him to conclude that its arguments tend to be more political and based on “legal jargon and the norms of international law” rather than religious rhetoric.13 During the 2006 campaign and the following months, Hamas issued several statements in which the religious references in its political argumentation were diluted.14 It mentioned neither the establishment of an Islamic state nor the destruction of Israel. Regarding Israel, the electoral platform seems to agree on the 1967 frontiers, as it only calls for “cooperating with the international community for the purpose of ending the occupation and settlements and achieving a complete withdrawal from the lands occupied [by Israel] in 1967, including Jerusalem, so that the region enjoys calm and stability during this phase.”15

For Hroub, this “new discourse” reflects a genuine change that is the consequence of Hamas’s pragmatism: “The vague idea of establishing an Islamic state in Palestine as mentioned in the early statement of the movement was quickly sidelined and surpassed.”16 He affirms that the rare evocation of an Islamic state is not serious but purely rhetorical and has almost disappeared from the organization’s documents and statements, replaced by a realistic political program.17

Hamas’s Political Strategy

This new discourse must be understood in the framework of a smart strategy designed to take political power. Hroub argues that Hamas did not expect such a victory. Its plans were to obtain a large number of seats in order to be influential in the government. But it did not intend to participate in it, notably because of the dependence of the Palestinian Authority on Israel.18 Nevertheless, Zaki Chehab’s inquiry demonstrates that Hamas had prepared well for the election and plotted the so-called “shock” by pursuing a long-term campaign and manipulating opinion polls. He explained that Hamas was careful to avoid tough rhetoric, putting forward the need for social change rather than its military or religious agenda, in order to woo undecided voters.19

Hamas’s new discourse is also the result of friction within Hamas between its military and political wings, with the latter more eager to moderate its line. These differing views existed long before 2006. The current head of government in Gaza, Ismael Haniyeh, had advocated Hamas’s participation in the 1996 elections and had to withdraw under pressure from a part of Hamas as a result. Nevertheless, he was not isolated; a large part of the political leadership backed him.20 In the 2000s, the Hamas political leaders distanced themselves from the military wing, especially the al-Qassam Brigades. This fracture was exacerbated after the 2006 elections.21 During the elections, the political wing focused very much on domestic matters rather than resistance; thus, very few candidates had been part of the Qassam Brigades.22 On the other hand, in an attempt to lure the most voters, Hamas included in its electoral lists some nonpartisan candidates or others from nationalist parties like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).23

The elections resulted in catastrophe. The PA split apart, the Hamas and Fatah factions started warring, and they failed to form a united government. The feud led Saudi Arabia to broker the Mecca agreements in February 2007. These entailed the formation of a Palestinian national unity government in March 2007, but it collapsed soon afterward. Abbas sacked Ismael Haniyeh, and in June 2007, Hamas took power over the Gaza Strip, where it remains in control today.

If Hamas has based its campaign on social and economic issues, its political stance has had scant effect on its priorities; the movement has shown little interest in the care of its citizens. According to a European diplomat in Cairo, all the humanitarian assistance sent to Gaza during the 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead was put in storage by Hamas and not distributed to the population in order to increase the impact of the blockade.24 Once in power in Gaza, Hamas did not use the fuel provided by Israel for its citizens, but rather for war fighting.25 Moreover, Hamas itself assumed it had used civilians as human shields during the 2009 Gaza war.26

Some argue that Gaza under Hamas’s “tyrannical rule” went through a process of “Talibanization.” Jonathan Schanzer claims that Hamas, after seizing power in the Gaza Strip in June 2007, enforced an authoritarian and Islamic regime that arrested and tortured its political opponents. Sharia courts were established, demonstrations were banned and violently repressed, and the media were censored.27 Of course, Fatah’s PA had been using similar methods and restrictions in the West Bank, but they were supported by the West and Israel.28 Moreover, many Arab countries in the region, such as Egypt, implement such control without being accused of “Talibanization.”29

Notably, Schanzer, who talks about the “Talibanization” of the Gaza Strip, argues that Hamas persecuted Christians.30 Hamas denies such behavior toward the Christian community, and Khaled Meshal, the exiled leader of Hamas, affirmed, “We do not impose on the people any aspects of religion or social conduct.”31 In addition, Schanzer’s claims about the Christians have been contradicted by several scholars and witnesses. According to Sherifa Zuhur, Hamas’s doctrine aims at bringing about “a truly moral (but not totalitarian) Islamic society,” but it rejects takfir (rejection/ excommunication of the “false” or nonMuslim).32 In fact, interviews with Abuna Manuel Musalam, a parish priest for 15 years in Gaza, reported that Hamas didn’t perpetrate the clashes in Gaza and the persecution suffered by Christians. Quite the opposite; the Islamic movement sought to avoid conflict with Christians. Therefore, Hamas has protected Christians against fanatics who threaten them, and many ministers in the Hamas “government” send their children to Christian schools.33 Nevertheless, Hamas’s influence on Gazan society makes Christians feel uncomfortable, and the Islamization of Gaza has created social pressure on them. This pressure is not directly exerted by Hamas, however, contrary to Schanzer’s allegations.34


While Hamas still considers violence useful, its violent actions have been decreasing.35 First and foremost, “Hamas is a national liberation movement,” as its leader, Khaled Meshal, stated in September 2009. The way it chose to achieve the liberation of Palestine is jihad, or holy war. According to Meshal,

Military force is an option that our people resort to because nothing else works .… The reality is that nearly 20 years of peaceful negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis have not restored any of our rights. On the contrary, we have incurred more suffering and more losses as a result of the one-sided compromises made by the Palestinian negotiating party. 36

Because violence is considered a defense against a threat, Jeroen Gunning explains that “the ability to commit violence against Israel is ... an important source of legitimacy.”37 He also shows that the ability to use violence has enhanced the symbolic status of leaders among their partisans.38 Even if Hamas had reduced its references to resistance during the 2004-06 electoral campaigns, its posters of martyrs in the streets effectively reminded Palestinians of its ideological core.39 In fact, as Zaki Chehab affirms, “The Hamas electorate is unlikely to tolerate any diversion from the political and religious principles which Hamas has consistently advocated.”40

Moreover, Hamas’s commitment to violence is enshrined in the Palestinians’ internal struggle. When the PLO signed the Algiers Declaration and later recognized Israel, it relinquished its image as “a radical guerrilla faction” and sought rather to demonstrate it could run a government in Palestine. It created a vacuum that Hamas immediately filled. From the very beginning, Hamas’s success has been based on its rejection of Arafat’s diplomatic strategy.41 Besides, when Arafat launched the 2000 uprising, he was partly motivated by Fatah’s plummeting popularity and the increasing charisma of Hamas. The intifada, Arafat hoped, would restore his image as a Palestinian liberator.42 Schanzer also emphasizes that Arafat lost confidence among the Palestinian electorate because of his perpetual shifts from secularism and peace to Islamic references and calls for war. Therefore, Hamas was alert to the need to remain steadfast if it wanted to maintain its leading position.43

Furthermore, while Arafat’s strategy has borne little fruit, Hamas’s stance has been praised, not only in Palestine but in all the Muslim world. Indeed, Gilles Kepel asserts that even the most gruesome violence perpetrated by Hamas during the second intifada did not alienate the Muslims of the world; quite the contrary:

Suicide attacks soon won the support of preachers throughout the Muslim world, even among “moderate” Islamists like Sheikh Qaradawi, the star of a religious program on Al Jazeera’s satellite television channel. He justified the killing of Israeli civilians …. The mosques and the international Arab media revived the legitimacy of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, strengthening their hands against Arafat.44

Finally, for Hamas, the Israeli decision to withdraw from Gaza in 2005 was proof of the efficacy of violence. Mahmoud alZahar’s declaration at this time is a cry of victory: “Nobody can deny that if Israel is going to leave the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank, that is because of the intifada, because of the armed struggle, because of the big sacrifices of Hamas for this goal.”45

Violence Falls

Hamas made itself famous in 2000 through the large number of suicide bombings it carried out against Israel during the second, or al-Aqsa, intifada. The extensive use of such a method could, in itself, be sufficient reason to doubt its “new discourse.” Nevertheless, over the decade, its violence has tended to decrease. This drop is mainly due to Israeli policy, but also to its adaptation to a new reality.

For the past 10 years, the number of “martyrdom operations” (suicide bombings) against Israel decreased progressively, from a peak of 55 attacks in 2002 to one in 2007 (see graph below from the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs 46):

In the wake of the second intifada, Israel decided in 2002 to erect a fence to protect its territory from terrorist attacks. This strategy was more successful than expected. The Israel Security Agency claims that the significant reduction of terrorist attacks and casualties is mainly due to the security fence,47 though Israel also implemented a violent campaign of assassination against Hamas’s leadership during that period. In total, 208 militants were killed by Israel’s assassination policy during the al-Aqsa intifada,48 including several leaders of Hamas and its military branch, the al-Qassam Brigades. Sheikh Yassin, the quadriplegic founder of the movement, was hit by three missiles in March 2004. One month later, his successor, Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, was struck down by two missiles. Several cofounders of the organization and leaders of the al-Qassam brigades suffered the same fate. This policy enhanced Hamas’s popularity in the territories but brought about disarray in its ranks and seriously weakened its military branch.49

The severe security measures adopted by a weakened Hamas contributed to its strategic shift. As Gunning argues, “The intensity of Israel’s assassination campaign ... played a role in persuading Hamas leaders that their military struggle was at an impasse, encouraging them to think of an alternative future.”50

Finally, Hamas reduced its use of violence to preserve its image among the Palestinians, demonstrating its attentiveness to public opinion. In 2003, it declared a ceasefire. Gunning links this self-moderation to Hamas’s desire to participate in elections (in 2003, 2005, 2006).51 He argues that political participation has prompted Hamas to heed Palestinian opinion, even if it is reluctant to do so. Although Palestinians support the idea of “resistance,” Hamas’s deeds are sometimes blamed for subsequent Israeli retaliation. Hamas has endeavored several times to avoid worsening the situation. Thus, from 2005, Gunning reports that the movement has tried to limit and control rocket attacks on Israel.52 This is regularly confirmed by Hamas denials and condemnation of the firing of rockets, especially since Operation Cast Lead in January 2009.53


Hamas and the Two-State Solution

An interview in January 2008 with Ehud Barak, then Israeli defense minister, illustrates Israel’s position on Hamas: “We have nothing to say to Hamas. We speak to them when we interrogate them in our prisons. But this is a fundamentalist group that says openly that it has received a divine mandate to destroy Israel.”54 Therefore, for Israel, the first step toward negotiations would be a change in Hamas’s goal.

As noted above, Hamas’s electoral platform for the 2006 elections hinted at the possibility that it would accept a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. Regarding Hamas’s longstanding commitment to the so-called “destruction of Israel,” one might question its genuineness.55 Thus, for Zaki Chehab, declarations made during the elections were just “window dressing.” He notably quotes a senior Hamas leader who told him, “You will never find anyone in Hamas who will recognize Israel’s right to exist.”56

The argument is made that “anti-Semitism is rooted in Hamas’s ideology,” as did a 2009 report of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (IICC).57 It has been denied by Hamas officials. Khaled Meshal himself affirmed in an interview, “It should be reiterated here that we do not resist the Israelis because they are Jews. As a matter of principle, we do not have problems with the Jews or the Christians, but do have a problem with those who attack us and oppress us.”58 In an article for The Guardian, Bassem Naeem, the minister of information in the Hamas government, wrote: “We condemn [anti-Semitism] as we condemn every abuse of humanity and all forms of discrimination on the basis of religion, race, gender or nationality.”59 Khaled Hroub points out that what is often considered anti-Semitism is based entirely on the 1988 charter.60 He does not deny the existence of anti-Jewish sentiment among the Arab population, but he links it to Zionism, which is perceived as colonialism. Hamas is anti-Zionist, not anti-Jew.61 On the other hand, Alan Johnson has assessed the weakness of Hamas’s declarations, noting that the Hamas TV channel (al-Aqsa TV) is still broadcasting violent diatribes against the Jews and denial of the Holocaust.62

In contrast, Zuhur and Hroub agree that Hamas has a pragmatic understanding of its situation and is perfectly aware that it does not possess the military capacity to defeat Israel.63 This view is also shared by Gunning, who emphasizes the role of Israel’s policy of retaliation and assassination in Hamas’s evolution. He quotes Abu Shainab, a senior Hamas leader killed in 2003, as saying in private, “Forget about rhetoric; we cannot destroy Israel.”64 Hroub adds that the goal of an Islamic state — the total liberation of Palestine from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea — is a utopian ideal that has been discarded and appears only sporadically in Hamas statements. Hamas’s discourse and deeds have now been refocused on resistance to the occupation and “short- and medium-term goals.”65

Several declarations by Hamas leaders corroborate Hroub’s position. The acceptance of the two-state solution is hinted at, not only in the 2006 electoral platform, but also in various statements by Hamas officials. As early as 2002, a declaration by Mahmoud Zahar made the ICG think that Hamas would possibly be ready “not to obstruct resolution of the conflict by the PA.”66 Sherifa Zuhur reports that Khaled Meshal stated, “We are realists .… There is an entity called Israel, but realism does not mean that you have to recognize the legitimacy of the occupation.”67 In 2006, following Ismail Haniyeh’s declarations about Hamas’s acceptance of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, Khaled Meshal endorsed them and declared, “This is a stand in the movement and it was adopted inside it. The movement accepts a [Palestinian] state within the 1967 borders and a truce.”68 He has repeated several times his implicit recognition of Israel within its 1967 borders, especially when addressing the West, as he did when he met with the French Senate Commission for Foreign Affairs.69

Another factor that must be taken into account is, once again, the dissension inside Hamas about the compromises it can make. Zaki Chehab underlines that not every leader shares this readiness to accept a two-state solution. Some influential figures — like Mahmoud Zahar, the minister of foreign affairs in Hamas’s 2006 government, and Abdel Aziz al Rantisi, a former leader assassinated by Israel — have not agreed with the more moderate Ismael Hanyieh or Abu Shainab (also killed by Israel).70 Today, the military wing of Hamas is dominated by leaders who follow Rantisi’s thinking. According to Matthew Levitt, many hardliners (members of the brigades and organizers of terrorist activites) were recently elected to the shura [consultative] council. They have reached high positions within Hamas; the moderate wing is a minority.71 This division is, indeed, emphasized by Hamas’s structure, which is based upon a “consensual leadership model” that avoids splitting the organization but makes the decision process “slow, unwieldy and conservative,” according to Gunning. This makes difficult any recognition of Israel.72 He also aruges that “one of the reasons cited for Hamas’s inability to agree to implicitly recognize Israel is precisely this ‘collective leadership’ culture that militates against flexibility and developing new positions.”73 As a consequence, the more radical factions within Hamas are using this structure to prevent rapprochement with Fatah and further negotiation with Israel.74

Ultimately, it is very hard for Hamas to openly imply that it will accept the recognition of Israel. Because Hamas draws its legitimacy and popularity from its resistance to Israel, the movement is reluctant to take what they perceive as “unilateral measures.” It is also unclear whether Hamas’s declarations are genuine or constitute a tactic for achieving its initial goal. Levitt, for example, notices what he calls “the inconsistency in Hamas’s messaging” and the contradictions in the declarations made by Khaled Meshal.75

Is Hamas Ready for a Truce?

Hamas has always rebuffed the principle of signing a peace treaty with Israel. Yet the movement seems to be increasingly promoting a ceasefire.

Before the 2000 uprising, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was not totally opposed to a ceasefire. According to Zaki Chehab, who met him several times in the late 1990s, “Yassin was tentatively prepared to sign a ceasefire for a limit of 10 to 20 years, on condition that Israel withdrew from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem to the borders as defined in 1967.”76 This approach has become predominant in Hamas in the 2000s. Although Hamas rejects the concept of “peace,” it would agree to a hudna — a term first used by the Prophet Muhammad that refers to a truce limited to a period of time. However, it is not peace. By using this term, Hamas intends to justify its actions religiously while remaining steadfast.77 It rejects firmly any “capitulation treaty” such as the Oslo Agreements. Its leaders are convinced that a ceasefire, unlike a peace treaty, would maintain pressure on Israel and force it to give up Palestinian land occupied in 1967.78

Hamas accepted an unofficial ceasefire in 1995, when it agreed to suspend attacks to allow the Palestinian elections to take place. The first official ceasefire occurred in February 2003, but Hamas broke it quickly.79 The longest ceasefire ever agreed to by Hamas took place from March 2005 to June 2006. Although it was not fully respected, Hamas endeavored to halt hostilities, while Israel refrained from assassinating Hamas leaders.80 This truce reflected a pragmatic approach in an evolving framework. Hamas has taken into account the changed situation and has adapted its strategy to it. First, its own partisans are increasingly supporting negotiations and peace initiatives, according to Gunning, who offers the examples of the 2002 Saudi peace initiative and “Bush’s road map” in 2003, which were approved by a large number of Hamas’s followers. Meanwhile, the Palestinian population’s backing for suicide operations decreased sharply, and its support for the ceasefire rose.81 Moreover, Hamas’s situation in Gaza is barely sustainable, and the al-Qassam Brigades have been weakened by successive Israeli security measures. Moreover, this acceptance of a truce was prompted by Syria, which was not eager to support terror operations while Bashar al-Asad’s regime was under international scrutiny.82

For Gunning, Hamas has grasped the opportunity to play a political role, from which it has hoped to derive more benefit than from the paradigm of resistance. Hence, he considers Hamas a “limited spoiler” ready to make compromises,83 although the movement has long played the role of a “total spoiler” to impede negotiations between the PLO and Israel.84 Once Hamas was involved in a more political process and managed to gain control of a part of the territories, the situation was reversed. Nevertheless, Hamas broke the truce in June 2006, when renewing violence was opportune. By this time, Palestine was under a global blockade and Hamas was not able to govern. It was a means to both maintain power and use the loss of faith in political compromise.85

Through Egyptian mediation, Hamas reached a six-month ceasefire with Israel in June 2008. During that time, 329 rockets were fired. In comparison, during the previous six months, 2,278 rockets were fired. A report from the IICC assessed that Hamas was careful to maintain the ceasefire.86 In November, following an Israeli attack in the Gaza strip, six Hamas members were killed. Hamas immediately retaliated by firing rockets.87 The situation worsened until Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in December 2008. The outcome was severe for Hamas. Between 1,300 and 1,400 Palestinians lost their lives during the military operations, a large, consistent number of them civilians.88 Moreover, a great deal of infrastructure was destroyed.89

Since January 2009, Hamas has endeavored to prevent rocket firing and an escalation of tensions. Thus, the Hamas minister of the interior, Fathi Hammad, asked the militant factions not to launch rockets “to preserve the highest interests of the Palestinians,” that is to say, to avoid Israeli retaliation.90 This kind of call is repeated regularly. Ismail Haniyeh recently declared: “We are contacting the other Palestinian factions in order to reach an internal consensus as to the measures we may take in order to protect our people and strengthen our unity.”91 This policy has been denounced by Jihadist groups inside Gaza. Islamic Jihad, for example, accused Hamas in November 2009 of preventing its fighters from firing rockets.92 Hamas did not hesitate to crush the groups that did not abide by its rules. A group of Salafists, finding Hamas’s policy too moderate, were assaulted by the Hamas police in August 2009.93

Since the end of the operation, Hamas has been negotiating on several issues with Israel and Fatah through the mediation of Egypt. Among these issues are the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, abducted by Hamas in June 2006; reconciliation with Fatah; and establishment of a new ceasefire with Israel. Reconciliation is regularly announced, but it has never been achieved.94 Regarding Shalit, some rumors circulated in November 2009 that he might be freed in a short while, but he is still in Hamas’s hands.95 Several times, Egypt has accused Hamas of hindering the progress of the negotiations.96

Nevertheless, it appears that difficulties encountered by Egypt in achieving its mediation are partly due to dissension within Hamas over the conditions of the negotiations. The hardliners are apparently responsible for blocking Shalit’s release.97 Hamas’s internal divisions, even within the delegation negotiating with Egypt, are impeding the negotiations around the ceasefire, according to Der Spiegel, which claims that hardliners are refusing to compromise over Hamas’s control of the border with Egypt.98

Even though Khaled Hroub believes in the sincerity of Hamas, he admits that “the debate remains open among scholars whether the hudna concept is merely a tactical ceasefire or a more sophisticated practice which lays the groundwork for non-violent solutions.”99 Indeed, Hamas may negotiate in order to re-arm. Negotiating a ceasefire is conceivable for Hamas insofar as it does not prevent the movement from pursuing its ultimate goal, the liberation of the whole of Palestine.100


Hamas’s radical agenda has effectively changed over the last decade, moving towards political strategy. Over the 2000s, Hamas has indeed become a major player in Palestinian politics. It implemented a strategy of attracting the Palestinian people that paid off at the 2006 elections.

Hamas has reduced its traditional discourse on the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic state, preferring instead to insist on resistance to Israel and a political stance. Hamas has even seemed increasingly ready to accept a long-term ceasefire with Israel; several declarations have hinted at recognition of Israel within the 1967 frontiers.

Nevertheless this change is mainly strategic and pragmatic. Indeed, Hamas’s new discourse has been partially prompted by external factors: Palestinian public opinion and Israeli pressure. Opting for a political strategy was thus a means toward remaining influential in Palestine. Moreover, it appears that Hamas’s leaders have not reached a consensus on this moderate strategy. Some hardliners within Hamas are impeding the negotiations for a ceasefire. In addition, Hamas is facing pressure from more radical groups in Gaza that are trying to prevent the organization from following a peaceful path.

1 Shlomo Brom, “Try including Hamas,”, July 6, 2009, at

2 Up to 2005, Hamas had refused to participate in national elections because it would have been an endorsement of the Oslo agreements.

3 Khaled Hroub, “A ‘New Hamas’ through Its New Documents,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 35, No. 4, Summer 2006, p. 6.

4 Jonathan Schanzer, Hamas vs. Fatah, the Struggle for Palestine (Palgrave Macmilan, 2008), pp. 55.

5 Ibid., p. 43.

6 Hroub, “A ‘New Hamas’…,” op. cit.

7 Hroub, Hamas, a Beginner’s Guide (Pluto Press, 2006), pp. 66-67

8 Hamas Charter (1988); charter.html.

9 Hamas Charter (1988), Article 8.

10 See, for example, the definition given by Jonathan Schanzer of Hamas based on its charter (J. Schanzer, op. cit., pp. 6-7) or the one given by the Congressional Research Service in a 1993 report: “Hamas: The Organization, Goals and Tactics of a Militant Palestinian Organization,” CRS Issue Brief, October 14, 1993; http://

11 Sherifa Zuhur, “Hamas and Israel: Conflicting Strategies of Group-Based Politics,” Strategic Studies Institute, December 2008, p. 31.

12 Hroub, Hamas…, op. cit., p. 139.

13 Ibid., p. 22.

14 Hroub, “A ‘New Hamas’…,” op. cit.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.

17 Hroub, “Hamas…,” op. cit., p. 20.

18 Ibid., pp. 65-66.

19 Zaki Chehab, Inside Hamas: The Untold Story of Militant, Martyrs and Spies (IB Tauris, 2007), pp. 2-5.

20 Jeroen Gunning, Hamas in Politics, Democracy, Religion, Violence (Hurst, 2007), p. 111.

21 Chehab, op. cit., pp. 52-54.

22 Gunning, op. cit., p. 178.

23 Ibid., p. 158-159.

24 Interview with a European diplomat, Cairo, August 2009.

25 Schanzer, “Hamas…,” op. cit., pp. 166-167.

26 “Human Rights in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories,” Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, Human Rights Council, September 15, 2009, pp.146, 189.

27 Jonathan Schanzer, “The Talibanization of Gaza,” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, Vol. 9, November 6, 2009, pp. 110-118.

28 Schanzer, “Hamas…,” op. cit., pp. 124-25.

29 In Egypt, the media are under control, political opponents may be put into jail without trial, torture is a common practice, and Sharia law (Islamic law) is the main source of Egyptian law.

30 Schanzer, “Hamas…,” op. cit., pp. 110-115.

31 “Exclusive: Hamas Leader Interview,”, September 17, 2009, middle-east/2009/09/israel-palestinian-hamas.

32 Zuhur, op. cit., p. 5.

33 “Nous avons trouvé Dieu dans la guerre: Entretien avec le curé de Gaza,” La Nef, November 2009. During a personal interview with Father Manuel Mussalam in August 2009, he was clear on that point. “Hamas is protecting Christians,” he said.

34 Interview with a Palestinian seminarist, August 2009.

35 In this part, we study gruesome violence designed to kill civilians. It is mostly suicide bombing we are referring to while firing rockets is not studied as it is a means of pressure which is rarely fatal (the case of rockets will be studied in the framework of the ceasefire case in the last part of the essay).

36 “Exclusive: Hamas Leader Interview,”, September 17, 2009.

37 According to a survey done in 2005, 66 percent of Palestinians polled “believed that political violence had served to achieve ‘national objectives’” (Gunning, op. cit., p. 127).

38 Ibid.

39 Ibid., p. 175-177.

40 Chehab, op. cit., p. 205.

41 Zuhur, op. cit., p. 28.

42 Schanzer, op. cit., p. 58.

43 Ibid., p. 63.

44 Gilles Kepel, The War for Muslim Minds, Islam and the West (AUC Press, 2006), p. 19.

45 Daniel Pipes, “Palestinian Responses to an Israeli Withdrawal from Gaza,” February 21, 2004; http://www.

46 “Victims of Palestinian Violence and Terrorism since September 2000,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at 2000/.

47 “Between August 2003 and the end of 2006 the terrorist organizations operating from Samaria carried out 12 [mass-murder] attacks, killing 64 Israelis and wounding 445. … Between the beginning of the current confrontation in September 2000 and the erection of the security fence and buffer zone in August 2003, they carried out 73 such attacks, killing 293 Israelis and wounding 1,950.” Source: “The Anti-Terrorist Fence vs. Terrorism,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asp?MissionID=45187&.

48 Gunning, op. cit., p. 226.

49 Schanzer, op. cit., pp. 80-83; and Gunning, op. cit., pp. 225-230.

50 Gunning, op. cit., p. 226.

51 The elections of 2006 are the first national election in which Hamas accepted to participate, but the movement was involved earlier in local elections.

52 Gunning, op. cit., pp. 156-157.

53 “Hamas Criticises Gaza Rocket Fire,”, March 13, 2009, middleeast/2009/03/20093130140335534.html ; “Gaza Militant: Hamas Stopping Rocket Fire into Israel,” Haaretz, April 12, 2010,

54 “Transatlantic Intelligencer: Barak on Hamas, Barcelona Plot, and Tariq Ramadan,” World Politics Review, February 5, 2008,

55 For Khaled Hroub, “The phrase ‘the destruction of Israel,’ as often used by the media when referring to Hamas’s ultimate goal, is in fact never used or adopted by Hamas, even in its more radical statements” (Hroub, Hamas…” op. cit., p. 38.)

56 Chehab, op. cit., pp. 202-203.

57 “The Hate Industry: Hamas Incorporates Crude Anti-Semitism into Its Battle for Hearts and Minds,” Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, April 8, 2009; English/eng_n/html/hamas_e069.htm.

58 “Exclusive: Hamas Leader Interview,”, September 17, 2009.

59 Bassem Naeem, “Hamas Condemns the Holocaust,” The Guardian, May 12, 2008;

60 Ibid. It is exactly what the report of the IICC and Alan Johnson do. The IICC report, for example, affirmed: “anti-Semitism is rooted in Hamas’s ideology: the Hamas charter, adopted in 1988, is full of anti-Semitic myths inspired by The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and claims the so-called “Jewish control” of the media, movies and education. The charter also makes the claim that Jews were behind revolutions and wars all over the world (Articles 17 and 22 of the Hamas charter).”

61 Hroub, “Hamas…,” op. cit., p. 31-33.

62 Alan Johnson, “Hamas and Anti-Semitism,”, May 15, 2008; commentisfree/2008/may/15/hamasandantisemitism.

63 Zuhur, op. cit., p. 29, and Hroub, “Hamas…,” op. cit., p. 38.

64 Gunning, op. cit., p. 226.

65 Hroub, “Hamas…,” op. cit., pp. 21, 39.

66 “Dealing with Hamas,” ICG Middle East Report N°21, January 26, 2004, pp. 13-14: To a UN senior official who asked him: “Suppose that tomorrow, the PA and Israel reach agreement to establish a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders alongside Israel. A referendum is held, which shows clear Palestinian popular support for the peace agreement. What would Hamas do?” Zahhar responded: “Hamas will never go against the will of the Palestinian people.”

67 Zuhur, op. cit., pp. 44-45.

68 Ibid. p. 45.

69 “Nous avons implicitement accepté de reconnaître Israël dans ses frontières de 1967, à condition évidemment que les droits des Palestiniens soient reconnus et qu’ils jouissent d’une authentique souveraineté.,” Khaled Meshal’s interview in Rapport d’information no. 630, Commission des Affaires étrangères du Sénat, Septembre 2008, p. 233.

70 Chehab, op. cit., pp. 111-112.

71 Matthew Levitt, “Hamas’s Ideological Crisis,” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, Vol. 9, November 6, 2009, pp. 86-88.

72 Gunning also makes the argument that “One of the reasons that has been cited for Hamas’s inability to agree to implicitly recognise Israel is precisely this ‘collective leadership’ culture that militates against flexibility and developing new positions.”

73 Gunning, op. cit., pp. 112-113.

74 Ibid. p. 113.

75 Levitt, op. cit., p. 82.

76 Chehab, op. cit., p. 105.

77 Hroub, “Hamas…,” op. cit., p. 56.

78 Gunning, op. cit., p. 236. Khaled Meshal declared in September 2009: “In the past, Yasser Arafat recognised Israel but failed to achieve much. Today, Mahmoud Abbas recognises Israel, but we have yet to see any of the promised dividends of the peace process. Israel concedes only under pressure...” (cf: “Exclusive: Hamas leader interview,”, September 17, 2009)

79 Gunning, op. cit., p. 221-222.

80 Ibid., p. 221-222.

81 Ibid., pp. 228-231.

82 Ibid., p. 227, 232.

83 Ibid., pp. 195-196, 211, 234-235.

84 In the mid-1990s, Hamas launched a harsh campaign of violence in order to impede peace negotiations.

85 Gunning, op. cit., p. 238.

86 IICC, “The Six Months of the Lull Arrangement,” December 2008.

87 “Gaza Truce Broken as Israeli Raid Kills Six Hamas Gunmen,” The Guardian, November 5, 2008; http://

88 “Human Rights in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories,” Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, Human Rights Council, September 15, 2009, pp. 10-11.

89 Ibid., p. 17.

90 “Hamas Restrains from Another War with Israel in Gaza,” xinhuanet, January 11, 2010;

91 “Hamas ‘Working to Curb Gaza Rocket Attacks,’” BBC News, 2 April 2010;

92 “Le Djihad accuse le Hamas d’empêcher les tirs de roquette à Gaza,” Reuters, November 10, 2009.

93 “Gaza: 13 morts, 100 blessés dans des heurts entre le Hamas et des salafistes,” AFP, August 14, 2009.

94 “Accord de réconciliation: le Fatah a signé, le Hamas réclame plus de temps,” AFP, October 15, 2009;

95 “La libération de Gilad Shalit pourrait être proche,” Le Point, 29 November 2009 ;

96 “Moubarak derrière Abbas dans le plan de réconciliation interpalestinienne,” France 24, October 20, 2009 ;

97 Cyriel Martin, “Un désaccord au sein du Hamas bloquerait la libération de Gilad Shalit,” Le Point, November 25, 2009 ;

98 Volkhard Windfuhr, “The Internal Divisions of Hamas,” Der Spiegel, September 1, 2009; http://www.,1518,600349,00.html.

99 Hroub, “Hamas…,” op. cit., p. 55.

100 Chehab, op. cit., p. 203.