Five Myths about Hamas

Professor Nathan J. Brown, that I had the pleasure to interview at George Washington University some time ago, discusses five myths about the Palestinian organization Hamas. What are these five myths? Do I agree with them?

1. Hamas poses no meaningful threat to Israel.

Brown notices that during the current fighting all the ground combat is happening in Gaza; Israeli territory remains relatively unscathed. In fact, since the beginning of the conflict in July 8 about 40 Israelis has died compared to more than 1000 Palestinians. Although a worrisome concern Hamas does not currently represent an existential threat to Israel.

2. Hamas’s popularity stems from the social services it provides.

Brown argues that the number of Palestinians who benefit from [Hamas] services is small. And it’s dwarfed by those who get assistance from the Palestinian government, international aid bodies and nongovernmental organizations. Hamas’ popularity instead derives from the organization’s reputation of being uncompromising on Palestinian rights and uncorrupted by money and power. 

3. Hamas has lost popularity.

Brown says that at this point Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is seen as isolated, aloof and having spent all his political capital on a failed peace process. Instead Hamas improves its credentials in the eyes of Palestinians as the movement that does not bend and dares to take on Israel are being burnished among much of the audience it cares about.

4. Hamas’s loss of regional allies has tied its hands.

Brown writes that Hamas is currently more internationally isolated than it was during the previous round of fighting in 2012. However, the fact that Hamas has relinquished its government responsibilities in Gaza early this year has given to the organization a bit more freedom to maneuver.

5. Hamas has a strategy.

Brown holds that Hamas is resilient, cagey and, in a perverse way, principled in its dedication to armed resistance. But it has no map, and all its actions to date […] have brought Palestinians no closer to any kind of national goal.

All of Professor Brown’s points are very compelling and I think I generally agree with them. Hamas’ lack of a long-term strategy is probably the most controversial issue of the five. Does any actor currently involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have in fact a workable strategy for a peaceful resolution of it?

The last Israeli governments haven’t shown any significant interest in pursuing a genuine diplomatic solution. Palestinian President Abbas has mostly failed in his effort to promote diplomatic negotiations with Israel. The United States, regardless of a few sporadic public statements, has usually aligned itself with Israeli policies even when such policies were criticized by the rest of the international community. All that considered, Hamas’ controversial reliance on a continued armed resistance seems as much as a strategy as those of the above mentioned actors.

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