Will Hamas Become More Moderate?

That remains to be seen.

We could look to other groups like the IRA/Sein Fein and even moderate members of the Taliban for examples of how certain political realities cause militant groups to become more moderate over time.

Interestingly, once certain conditions were met with the IRA, there wasn’t much controversy in the U.S. about President Clinton and Senator Mitchell’s efforts to broker peace in Northern Ireland. The same goes for discussions about likely future negotiations/reconciliation between the Afghan government, NATO and the moderate members of the Taliban, assuming such members exist. But when it comes to Hamas, any discussion of the possibility of negotiations with a unity government that includes Hamas is politically off-limits in the U.S. (although not in Europe and South America).

From the AP:

After four years of turbulent rule in the Gaza Strip, the Islamic militant group Hamas is weighing a new strategy of not directly participating in future governments even if it wins elections — an approach aimed at avoiding isolation by the world community and allowing for continued economic aid.

Hamas officials told The Associated Press the idea has gained favor in recent closed meetings of the secretive movement’s leadership in the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt and Syria, and that it helped enable last month’s reconciliation agreement with the rival Fatah group of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Talks on implementing that accord have dragged on, particularly over the makeup of a “unity government.” The agreement envisions a government of nonpolitical technocrats — in line with Hamas’ emerging thinking — but Abbas wants to retain current premier Salam Fayyad, a respected economist viewed by Hamas as a political figure.

The new approach reflects both the group’s rigidity and its pragmatism: On the one hand, Hamas refuses to meet widespread global demands that it accept Israel’s right to exist; on the other, its leaders grasp the price Palestinians would pay if the Islamic militants emerged fully in charge of a future government.

It also stems from a growing sense that its experiment with direct government in Gaza has cost Hamas popular support among Palestinians.

“Hamas found that being in government caused huge damage to the movement, and therefore it has changed its policy,” said a top participant in the Hamas talks, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the extreme sensitivity of the issue.

Some Palestinians criticize Hamas for softening its “resistance” by not carrying out a suicide bombing in years in a bid to gain some international legitimacy. Others charge that its rocket attacks on Israel have worsened Gaza’s isolation and impoverishment.

Some bristle at the stricter Islamic lifestyle imposed on the coastal strip, where alcohol is now hard to find, while others think this hasn’t gone far enough.

A survey in March by respected pollster Khalil Shikaki shows Hamas — which handily won elections in 2006 — now has the support of only 26 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, compared to 40 percent for Fatah. The survey of 1,200 people had a margin of error of three percentage points. Other surveys show an even steeper decline in popular backing.

As a result, “Hamas is re-evaluating its choices and resetting its priorities,” said Yehya Mussa, a prominent Hamas lawmaker. “Being in government was a burden on Hamas, a burden on the image of Hamas, a burden on its resistance enterprise.”

Proponents of the new strategy appear to include Khaled Mashaal, Hamas’ Syria-based political leader. Most opposition initially came from Hamas’ military and political circles in the West Bank and Gaza, but that now appears to be waning.

It would be interesting to see what would happen if Hamas agreed to the Mideast Quartet’s demands that Hamas recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by past agreements. I personally think they should do all of the above because the people of Gaza are suffering and there can be no two-state solution so long as the Palestinians are divided and Gaza and the West Bank continue to battle for supremacy. I also believe that peaceful resistance is the best way for the Palestinians to achieve their goals. What the West seems to ignore about the unity government is that it’s what he Palestinian people want- they are tired of the Occupation, tired of the Hamas v. Fatah situation and tired of the double standard imposed by the international community regarding their fundamental human rights.

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About Stacy

Attorney, Publisher, Foreign Policy wonk

View all posts by Stacy


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