Understanding the Direction of the New Hamas Government: Between Tactical Pragmatism and Al-Qaeda Jihadism

No. 542    May 2006

  • Hamas has reaped the fruits of the “Green Revolution” that it led in recent years to win many local authority elections, obtain a stable majority in the Palestinian parliament, and take decisive control of executive authority. Hamas’ tactical agreement to play by the democratic rules was a Trojan horse. It exploited the fragmentation of Fatah and the weakness of the Palestinian Authority to achieve political dominance as a first stage toward establishing Islamic rule that will implement Sharia law and lead, in fact, to the eradication of democracy.

  • Hamas views its political mission as the vanguard of the worldwide Islamic revolution led by its parent-movement, the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas’ rise to power has inspired Islamic movements all over the world and motivated them to emulate Hamas’ approach (tactical participation in a democratic process) in order to win similar successes in their own countries, especially in Jordan.

  • The current leader of the international Muslim Brotherhood, Mahdi ‘Akef, recently issued a new strategy calling on all its member organizations to serve its global agenda of defeating the West. He called on individual members of the Muslim Brotherhood worldwide to not only join the “resistance” to the U.S. financially, but also through active participation.

  • Hamas Interior Minister Said Sayyam, who is responsible for the Palestinian security forces, publicly committed himself on March 24, 2006, not to order arrests of operatives who carry out terror attacks. In light of al-Qaeda’s growing interest since August 2005 in developing a presence in the West Bank and Gaza, Sayyam’s declaration amounts to an open invitation to terrorists of all stripes to acquire a refuge and a convenient base for activity.

  • It should come as no surprise that the Palestinian Authority under Hamas rule is becoming a safe haven for Islamic terror organizations, first and foremost al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda totally rejects any element of Western influence and sees terror as the most effective means to overthrow the infidel regimes, spread Islam, and establish Islamic rule. Hamas, however, is prepared to make a pretense of going along with Western democratic rules and thereby exploit them to remove the infidel regimes, propagate Islam, and install Islamic rule that will eliminate democracy. However, its ultimate long-term goals are no different from al-Qaeda’s.

  • As recently as March 2006, high-level Hamas officials attended events in Pakistan and Yemen where members of the al-Qaeda network were present and in one case offered monetary support for the new Hamas government. Al-Hayat reported on April 4, 2006, “a definite presence” of al-Qaeda operatives in the Gaza Strip who had just infiltrated from several Arab countries.


Triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood

The establishment of the first Palestinian Islamic government constitutes the culmination of the “Green Revolution” that Hamas has led in recent years in the Palestinian Authority. After the elections in Afghanistan and Iraq under the tutelage of the United States, which seeks to spread democracy to the Muslim world, the Hamas movement, which is hostile to the United States, succeeded by democratic means to become a legitimate political force and take power in the Palestinian Authority. The parliamentary majority that Hamas obtained in the January 2006 elections (74 of 132 parliamentary seats) meant it had a majority to form a government without the necessity of a coalition with other parliamentary blocs.

This was the first time that the Muslim Brotherhood has used the electoral process successfully to take virtually exclusive control of an Arab regime in the very heart of the Arab world. (Previously, Hassan Turabi rose to power through the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan.) In recent decades, the Muslim Brotherhood had sought to replace secular regimes in Egypt and Syria, but failed. Despite the surprise expressed in intelligence circles in Israel, the Middle East, and the West, there were clear indications that Hamas would take power by democratic means. Over the past year, the heads of Israeli intelligence pointed to clear and imminent signs that Hamas was gaining strength and becoming the dominant force in the Palestinian Authority.

In intelligence overviews presented to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, both the head of IDF Military Intelligence, General Aharon Farkash, and the head of the Israel Security Agency, Yuval Diskin, offered assessments that the fragmentation and the organizational and ideological crisis in Fatah were weakening Palestinian chairman Mahmud Abbas, who was not capable of advancing significant political and security reforms.

According to their assessments, Hamas was gaining political power in light of its substantial achievements in four rounds of local authority elections; and Hamas had a huge advantage over Fatah in light of its extensive organizational infrastructure, its public image as free of corruption, and the attribution of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza to the victory of Hamas’ armed struggle.1

Israeli intelligence circles view Hamas’ rise as extremely significant, given that it is part of the worldwide Muslim Brotherhood movement, which works similarly in other countries (such as Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Syria) to establish Islamic rule as the basis for reviving the caliphate. Indeed, Article Two of the 1988 Hamas Covenant describes the organization as “one of the way of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” The current leader of the international Muslim Brotherhood, Mahdi ‘Akef, admitted openly in an interview to Asharq Alawsat (December 11, 2005) that the Brotherhood is a global movement whose members everywhere share a basic, similar religious worldview (spreading Islam until it takes over the whole world).

In previous interviews, ‘Akef has been fiercely anti-American, calling the U.S. “a Satan that abuses the religion.” He spoke about his belief that the U.S. would be eliminated: “I expect America to collapse soon,” asserting: “I have complete faith that Islam will invade Europe and America.”2 While sometimes U.S. observers view the Muslim Brotherhood (and even Hamas) as a more moderate alternative to al-Qaeda for Islamists, the Brotherhood has a history of actively supporting global jihadi efforts. Prior to the U.S.-led attack on the Taliban regime, the Muslim Brotherhood actually had training camps in Afghanistan where it worked with Kashmiri militants and sought to expand its influence in Central Asian states, especially Tajikistan.3

This commitment to militant activism continues and is being reinforced. In his December 2005 interview, ‘Akef added: “The entire Muslim Brotherhood in the global arena acts according to a written platform4 (in which jihad is the way to attain our ends)….We have the largest organization in the world. A (Muslim) person who is in the global arena and believes in the Muslim Brotherhood’s path is considered part of us and we are part of him.”5 Not surprisingly, then, the Muslim Brotherhood did not portray Hamas’ triumph as a local victory but rather as “a victory of the Islamic nation in its entirety.”6 From the Brotherhood’s perspective, Hamas members are expected to serve its global agenda and not just their local interests alone. In a recent weekly missive ‘Akef declared a new strategy adopted by the Brotherhood to confront Western imperialism and the satanic alliance between the U.S. and Israel based on supporting the “resistance” in any Muslim country under foreign occupation, including Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan. For the first time, ‘Akef called upon the Brotherhood to grant not only financial and material support but to join the resistance to achieve freedom for the Muslim nation.7

The Hamas leadership as well shares this view of the overall struggle between the Islamist movement and the West. In August 2005, Mahmud al-Zahar, today the new Hamas foreign minister, expressed the hope that Hamas’ victory against Israel, as expressed by the Gaza disengagement, would empower the mujahideen in Iraq and Afghanistan. More recently, Khaled Mashaal, who heads the Hamas political bureau abroad, declared in a Damascus mosque in early February 2006: “We say to this West, which does not act reasonable, and does not learn its lessons: by Allah, you will be defeated.”8 Mashaal added: “Tomorrow, our nation will sit on the throne of the world.” In Sudan, he lashed out at the West for helping the Christian population of East Timor and for opposing Khartoum’s operations against the population of Darfur, which the U.S. has categorized as genocide.9 Thus, Hamas does not confine itself to the Palestinian issue alone. It truly sees itself as the vanguard of a global movement.

Yet, from Hamas’ standpoint, the paramount strategic goal in the short term is to establish its new rule and attain Arab and international legitimacy for its existence based on the Islamic principles of the Hamas platform. Despite its overwhelming victory in the parliamentary elections, Hamas seeks to win international recognition by creating an image of political pragmatism and of readiness to join the international community as a constructive force.

 

The Limits of Hamas’ Tactical Flexibility

As a first step in the direction of pragmatism, Hamas proclaimed after the January elections its great interest in setting up as broad a coalition as possible that would include the rival Fatah movement as a senior partner. In the coalition negotiations, which ultimately failed, Hamas showed readiness to make considerable concessions toward Fatah’s position, but without deviating from its own basic principles. During the course of the coalition negotiations, the guidelines of the Hamas government headed by Ismail Haniyeh were changed three times, to the limits of Hamas’ political flexibility, in an attempt to answer the demands of the international community. Hamas made use of certain themes in the political terminology of the Palestinian Authority and Fatah to present guidelines characterized by constructive ambiguity and vagueness. These included:

  1. Clause 5 (Preamble) – “Cooperation with the international community so as to bring about the removal of the occupation and the settlements and a full withdrawal from the territories occupied in ’67 including Jerusalem.” Hamas traditionally presented jihad as the most effective means of “the liberation of Palestine” and criticized the Palestinian Authority for pinning its hopes on the international community as the force that would coerce political concessions from Israel.

  2. Clause 10 – “The government will act according to the relevant international decisions, upholding national responsibility in ensuring the preservation of our (Palestinian) people’s eternal rights.” This vague formulation was meant to create an impression of implicit recognition of the resolutions of the United Nations and its institutions, even though Hamas still views Islam as the only source of authority for solving the problem of Palestine.

  3. Clause 9 – “The government will act according to the written agreements with supreme responsibility and in a way that preserves the supreme interests of our (Palestinian) people, safeguards its rights, and does not compromise its basic principles.” In light of the international demand to recognize agreements that were signed with Israel, Hamas avoids using the language with which in the past it strongly rejected the agreements with the “Zionist entity.” Moreover, Hamas does not exclude the possibility of having direct contacts on day-to-day issues with Israeli officials.10

  4. Clause 5 (final section) – After the Israeli withdrawal to the ’67 borders, “the region will at this stage attain quiet and stability.” Hamas conveys a message that it will be able to agree to a hudna, a mutual ceasefire limited in time, if Israel withdraws unconditionally to the borders of June 4, 1967.11

This seemingly pragmatic line meshes with the diplomatic and media offensive (aimed also at the American media) that Hamas has waged since the elections. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal speaks of a readiness to achieve “real peace” and of implicit recognition of the Arab peace initiative that was approved at the Beirut summit in March 2002.

The new Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, has presented toned-down messages regarding the resolution of the conflict. In his words, Hamas “is not hostile to the Jews,” adding that Hamas “is not interested in throwing them into the sea.” Hamas did not want “blood(shed),” and “has no interest in a vicious cycle of violence.”12 In an interview with CBS News, Haniyeh stressed that he had never sent anyone to carry out a suicide bombing and that even if one of his sons were to ask his permission to perpetrate one, he would not consider granting it.13 In an article for the British Guardian entitled “A Just Peace or No Peace,” Haniyeh stated: “We in Hamas are for peace and want to put an end to bloodshed…and offer our hands in peace” based on complete withdrawal from the territories and Israeli absorption of millions of Palestinians into Israel.14

 

Hamas’ Uncompromising Strategic Goals

Clearly, neither the formulation of the Hamas government’s guidelines nor its diplomatic charm offensive indicates any breakthrough or strategic shift in Hamas policy. The changes are solely semantic, aimed primarily at legitimizing Hamas politically. Hamas remains committed to its basic principles, from which it has not deviated. These include:

  1. Fidelity to the Hamas Charter, which calls for jihad as the only means of liberating the entire territory of Palestine.15 Hamas has made clear that the movement’s policy at the present historical stage, until Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank is attained, does not contravene the ultimate, long-term goals of the Hamas Charter.

  2. Refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist under any circumstances. The Hamas government’s guidelines do not mention Israel’s name and do not discuss the possibility of a settlement with it in the future.

  3. Rejection of any possibility of negotiations with Israel. At most, Hamas is prepared to discuss the question of negotiations only after a full Israeli withdrawal to the borders of June 4, 1967, and after Israeli agreement on a mechanism for the return of millions of Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel. Clause 2 of the new government’s guidelines states: “Adherence to the Palestinian refugees’ right of return to their homes and property is a private and collective right that cannot be conceded.”

  4. Adherence to “resistance,” which means all forms of struggle including suicide bombings, as the only way to achieve political goals. Clause 4 of the government’s guidelines states that “resistance in its different forms is a legitimate right of the Palestinian people for the purpose of putting an end to the occupation and restoring national rights.”

  5. The uncompromising aim of the “liberation of all of Palestine from the (Mediterranean) sea to the (Jordan) river.”

  6. Establishment of an Islamic government in Palestine that will apply Sharia (Islamic law) and will eliminate democracy. The Islamic ruling that legitimized Hamas’ participation in the elections stated explicitly that Hamas strives to acquire political power to attain the goals of the Islamic nation. It views Sharia as superior to the PA laws and constitution.16

Hamas’ rise to power has not moderated its uncompromising attitude regarding a final resolution of the conflict. Hamas views itself as occupying a position of power that enables it to impose its demands on Israel that actually entail Israel’s destruction – first and foremost, the absorption of millions of Palestinian refugees. In Hamas’ perception, history is playing into the hands of an Islamic movement that is constantly gaining strength vis-a-vis Israel, which, despite its greater military power, is weak in spirit and unable to cope in the long term with the determination of Hamas and the Palestinian people to regain their “full historical rights.”

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal repeatedly expresses this outlook, which was reinforced by Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza and northern Samaria. In an interview with NEW TV in Lebanon, Mashaal noted that “the Israeli disengagement plan was carried out because the leadership reached a crisis in its policy…since it cannot defeat the Palestinians and break their will.” Hamas’ victory, according to Mashaal, is a “message of the Palestinian people to Israel that the Palestinian people will not be broken and will not be defeated; on the contrary, it has chosen a leadership it believes in that will lead it to victory, liberation, and the regaining of rights.” In Mashaal’s view, “the Hamas movement, the leadership along with the Palestinian people, believe with full faith that they will not be broken and will not submit to the terms of Israel and the United States but rather will impose their own terms.” Mashaal emphasized that Israel “is not capable of withstanding a protracted struggle,” whereas Hamas, the Palestinian people, and the Arab nation do possess the ability to wage such a struggle.17

To this end, the Hamas movement continues to maintain its military wing, the Iz a-Din al-Kassam Brigades, as an independent organization that will not submit to the Palestinian establishment nor be assimilated into a national Palestinian army. A senior leader of the Hamas military wing, identified as Abu Huzaifa, said in an interview with Alwatanvoice.com from Gaza that since the disengagement, Hamas has set up training bases in all the Palestinian towns for training new cadres of jihad warriors.

At these bases, initial regular training lasts over a month and advanced training takes three months. It includes combat skills, physical fitness, rifle practice, firing rockets, warfare tactics, crawling under fences, and climbing and descending from buildings. The instructors are Hamas operatives who were trained abroad. According to Abu Huzaifa, Hamas units for military production are working diligently on developing new and advanced weapons including rockets and explosives. Hamas is also working hard to turn the al-Kassam Brigades into a standing army under Hamas command “until the total liberation of all Palestinian land.”18

Even though Hamas has refrained from carrying out terror attacks since fall 2005 (as Israeli intelligence sources attest), it continues to view “resistance,” a Palestinian codeword for armed struggle in its various forms, as the only means to remove Israel from the entire territory of Palestine. Hamas Interior Minister Said Sayyam, who is responsible for the Palestinian security forces, has outlined the Hamas government’s policy regarding terror. Sayyam, who supports suicide bombings against civilians,19 announced on March 24, 2006, that he does not intend to maintain any security coordination or cooperation with Israel, and publicly committed himself not to order arrests of operatives who carry out terror attacks. Hamas, he suggests, will seek to coordinate the military activity against Israel.20 His early appointment of a prominent Aqsa Brigades (Fatah) commander as his ministry’s spokesperson implies his future intentions.21

 

Hamas and Al-Qaeda: Partners in Global Jihad

On March 2, 2006, PA Chairman Abbas told Al-Hayat (UK) that he had received intelligence information indicating the presence of al-Qaeda operatives in the West Bank and Gaza,22 just two days after Israel publicized the arrest of two al-Qaeda operatives in Nablus. Azzam Abu al-Ads and Bilal Hafnawy were indicted for recruiting operatives to carry out terror attacks for al-Qaeda and planning a combined terror attack in Jerusalem with a suicide bomber and a car bomb. Members of the gang who were recruited by al-Qaeda’s infrastructure in Irbid, Jordan, were arrested by Israeli security forces at the Allenby Bridge on December 10, 2005, when returning from Jordan.23

However, on March 15, 2006, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal called Abbas’ warning about an al-Qaeda infrastructure in the PA “unfortunate,” adding that “we don’t understand the logic behind these statements.” He emphasized that “al-Qaeda has no presence on Palestinian soil.”24 Yet on April 4, 2006, Al-Hayat reported “a definite presence” of al-Qaeda operatives in the Gaza Strip who had just infiltrated from several Arab countries including Egypt, Sudan, and Yemen.

It has been known for some time that al-Qaeda operatives are present in the Palestinian Authority. In August 2000, Israel’s security service uncovered a terror network linked to al-Qaeda and headed by Nabil Okal, a Hamas operative from Gaza, who underwent military training in camps of the terrorist chieftain Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and Afghanistan during 1997-1998.25 In July 2005, al-Qaeda gangs fired Kassam rockets at the Israeli town of Neve Dekalim in Gush Katif and also disseminated a video documenting its activities.26 On October 7, 2005, the Palestinian news agency Ma’an published a declaration circulated in Khan Yunis in which al-Qaeda announced the establishment of a branch in Gaza. The declaration, signed with the name “Qaedat Aljihad in Palestine,” states that the organization’s main goals are: implementing Islamic law (Sharia), setting up a Sharia state, reviving the idea of the caliphate in the hearts of the Muslims, and working to create a worldwide Islamic caliphate.27

More recently on March 26, 2006, a senior Hamas figure, Muhammad Sayyam, met in Peshawar, Pakistan, with Sayyid Salah al-Din, leader of the Kashmiri terror organization Hezb ul-Mujahidin,28 which had training camps in Afghanistan until the Taliban’s fall from power and functioned as an al-Qaeda affiliate.29 Sayyam heads the Yemeni branch of the Palestine Scholars Association, which advocates uncompromising jihad against the infidels and legally sanctioned suicide bombings against civilians in Israel. He sees the role of Muslim religious sages as spiritual guides whose task is to motivate the masses to struggle against Islam’s enemies and attack them with suicide bombings.30

Saudi Islamist cleric Sheikh Dr. Nasser Al-‘Omar hosted a reception for a Hamas delegation led by Khaled Mashaal in Riyadh on March 12, 2006, also attended by prominent clerics and Islamists, some of whom had served prison terms for their suspected support of al-Qaeda or for criticizing the Saudi government.31

In honor of a visit to Yemen by Khaled Mashaal on March 20, 2006, the Hamas office in Yemen organized a conference to recruit financial aid for the Hamas movement and the new Hamas government. Sheikh Abd al-Majid al-Zindani also took part in the conference, meeting with Mashaal, calling on participants to assist the Hamas regime, and setting a personal example by contributing 200,000 rials.32 Zindani stressed that “the support we can provide at present is money (emphasis added),” hinting at other forms of support for Hamas in the future.

On February 24, 2004, U.S. authorities had designated al-Zindani as a terror supporter, “loyal to Osama bin Laden and a supporter of the al-Qaeda organization.” The U.S. Treasury Department stated: “The U.S. has credible evidence that al-Zindani, a Yemeni national, supports designated terrorists and terrorist organizations” and “has a long history of working with bin Laden, notably serving as one of his spiritual leaders.” The statement said al-Zindani “support[ed] many terrorist causes, including actively recruiting for al-Qaeda training camps,” and in 2004 “played a key role in the purchase of weapons on behalf of al-Qaeda and other terrorists.”33

Relations between al-Qaeda and Hamas go back to the early 1990s. In April 1991, Sudanese leader Hasan Turabi hosted a “Popular Arab and Islamic Conference” in Khartoum that brought together for the first time Islamists from the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. In addition to Hamas, Osama bin Laden also attended and in subsequent years turned Sudan into his main base of operations. Turabi continued to host this jihadist gathering in 1993 and 1995; Hamas training camps in Sudan existed alongside those of al-Qaeda. Their solidarity could be inferred from bin Laden’s explicit reference to Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin as one of the five ulema on which bin Laden based his August 1996 Declaration of Jihad Against the U.S.34

As noted in the case of al-Zindani, al-Qaeda and Hamas have long shared global funding mechanisms. On October 22, 2003, Richard A. Clarke, the former National Counterterrorism Coordinator on the U.S. National Security Council, acknowledged that Hamas and al-Qaeda had a common financial infrastructure: “the funding mechanisms for PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] and Hamas appear also to have been funding al-Qaeda.”35

Even though Hamas and al-Qaeda share a similar worldview that seeks to impose worldwide Islamic rule, recently disagreements have erupted between the two organizations over how to implement the Islamic revolution. In a taped missive on March 5, 2006, Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s deputy, called on Hamas to continue its armed struggle and reject agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Al-Zawahiri emphasized that “no Palestinian has the right to give up even a grain of Palestinian land,” and warned Hamas against “the new American game that is called a political process,” alluding to democratization. Khaled Mashaal responded by saying that Hamas did not need advice from al-Qaeda, and will continue to act in keeping with its worldview and the Palestinian interest.36

Mashaal’s reaction indicates a difference between Hamas’ agenda and al-Qaeda’s. Al-Qaeda totally rejects any element of Western influence and sees terror as the most effective means to overthrow the infidel regimes, spread Islam, and establish Islamic rule. Hamas, however, is prepared to make a pretense of going along with the Western democratic rules of the game and thereby exploit them to remove the infidel regimes, propagate Islam, and install Islamic rule that will eliminate democracy. Yet, in substance, Hamas has not rejected the heart of al-Zawahiri’s advice: it still refuses to give up armed struggle or recognize past Israeli-Palestinian agreements, and it steadfastly refuses to state that it is prepared to make peace with Israel. In other words, Hamas is prepared to adopt a pragmatic tactic that does not violate its basic principles as a means of realizing its ultimate long-term goals, which are no different from al-Qaeda’s.

 

Hamas’ Short-Term Policy

Khaled Mashaal said in Yemen on March 20, 2006, that “Hamas is capable of making a distinction between the [current] stage [of Hamas’ strategy] and political tactics.” In this context, Mashaal outlined the Hamas government’s goals in the coming period by order of priority:

  1. Reorganizing the Palestinian house (parliament, government)
  2. Appealing to the Arab, regional, and international arenas in order to dispel fears about the Islamic stream’s accession to power
  3. Seeking to obtain material assistance and support for the Palestinian people
  4. Connecting the Palestinians to the Palestinian diaspora, and linking the latter to the Palestinians in Palestine so that they will be included in the (Islamic) reforms
  5. Being open to the regional and international arenas, and conducting a dialogue with them on the basic issue of the rights of the Palestinian people and the honoring of its wishes37

An interim assessment of Hamas points to initial achievements in this plan of action. They are as follows:

  1. Hamas controls the Palestinian Authority parliament and has set up a stable Islamic government (sworn in on March 29, 2006) that also includes a Christian minister. At the same time, Hamas has not succeeded in including any other coalition partners. In the first meeting of parliament, Hamas was able to mobilize the required eighty-eight members of parliament, and canceled a set of decisions taken by the outgoing parliament in its final session.

  2. These included decisions that were supposed to enhance the powers of Mahmud Abbas of Fatah, the head of the PA, vis-a-vis the parliament and the government, which are controlled by Hamas. The main law that was canceled had stipulated the establishment of a constitutional court to act as a supreme arbiter for disagreements between the chairman of the Authority and the government and parliament. The law had determined that the chairman of the Authority – Abbas – would appoint the judges of the new court. 38

    Hamas is working carefully to gradually accustom the public to the change in the nature of the government. The new Hamas chairman of the parliament, Abd al-Aziz Dweik, claimed in an interview to the foreign media that “no one in the Hamas movement has any intention to implement Sharia by force…but rather by persuasion and preaching in a good spirit.”39

  3. The greatest Hamas political achievement was the invitation to its leadership for talks in Moscow at the beginning of March. The Hamas delegation, led by Khaled Mashaal, met with the Russian foreign minister and senior ministry staff. For Hamas, the visit was an important breakthrough as it seeks to persuade the international community to accept the Palestinian voters’ decision and recognize the legitimacy of the Hamas government.40

    The Hamas delegation also visited Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Hamas received generous promises of assistance to the new Islamic government in light of the reduction and stoppage of aid from Western countries. Al-Hayat reported on February 28, 2006, that Teheran promised Hamas aid totaling $250 million as compensation for the Western boycott. Saudi Arabia also promised assistance to the Palestinian Authority, but demanded that Hamas accept the Arab peace initiative and, implicitly, that it sever itself from Iranian influence, which arouses great concern in the Arab world.41

    In the Arab arena, the Arab Summit that convened in Sudan at the end of March committed itself to assist the Hamas government politically and economically. The chairman of the Arab League is trying to open a political path for Hamas by urging that Hamas’ implicit agreement to the Arab peace initiative would exempt it from the Israeli and American demand to explicitly recognize Israel’s right to exist.42 On the eve of the summit, Khaled Mashaal called on the leaders of the Arab states to support the Palestinian Authority under Hamas’ leadership with a sum of $170 million per month that would enable it to run the affairs of the Authority and pay salaries.43

 

Hamas and the PLO

In the internal arena, Hamas succeeded in undermining the PLO’s status as the sole representative of the Palestinian people and in gravely damaging its authority to make decisions that obligate the entire Palestinian people. Hamas completely rejected the demands of Abbas and the PLO Executive Committee to alter the guidelines of its government, accept the PLO’s (1988) Resolution of Independence, and indicate that the PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians. Hamas presented its government’s guidelines to the parliament in blatant defiance of the PLO and its status as the supreme source of authority for the Palestinian Authority.44

The clash over this issue led Palestinian figures, including members of the Palestinian National Council, to declare that the PLO in its present composition no longer represents the Palestinian people, given the stagnation that occurred over the past decade and the PLO’s decisions to change its national charter and approve the agreements with Israel. This meshes with Hamas’ demand to carry out comprehensive reforms in the PLO, particularly holding democratic elections in the Palestinian diaspora for PLO institutions in order to enhance the refugees’ role in the future struggle to realize the “right of return.”45

 

The Impact of the Hamas Victory on Jordan

The relations between Hamas and Jordan’s Hashemite regime are more complicated, despite Jordan’s official support for the new Islamic government. On March 22, 2006, Jordan publicly warned Hamas not to interfere in the kingdom’s internal affairs through its connections with the Islamic Action Front Party, which is a front party for Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood movement. This warning was publicized after Zacki Bani Irshid was elected as general secretary of the Islamic Action Front. Irshid is considered the figure closest to Hamas.46

Indeed, Hamas’ overwhelming victory in the elections for the Palestinian parliament had caused shock waves in Jordan. Dr. Azaam al-Huneidi, head of the Islamic Action Front faction in the Jordanian Parliament, praised Hamas’ achievement and saw it as an important signpost and model for the Islamic takeover of Arab regimes. Al-Huneidi regards Hamas’ victory as holding great significance for the awakening of Islam in the Arab world. The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan seeks to influence decision-making in the national arena, and is prepared, according to al-Huneidi, to take the reins of executive authority (i.e., government) – in a way similar to Hamas. He expressed confidence that if elections were to be held in Jordan according to a fair election law, the Muslim Brotherhood would easily take power in a democratic process.

Al-Huneidi called upon the Jordanian government to implement the democratic rules of the game, and to refrain from trying to hinder the progress of the Muslim Brotherhood. He warned the government that the Jordanian people and the Muslim Brotherhood, whose popularity and political power is constantly growing, “will not be quiet for long” in the face of continued neglect and contempt for the will of the people and the absence of genuine democratic reform.47 Emboldened by the Hamas victory, politicians in the Islamic Action Front have begun to break the “gentlemen’s rules” of Jordanian politics, according to which opposition parties do not directly criticize the Hashemite monarchy.48 Jordan’s growing Islamist movement is convinced that the same democratic process used by the Palestinians would lead to an Islamic Republic in Jordan, as well.49

 

Implications for the Future

Hamas has reaped the fruits of the “Green Revolution” that it led in recent years to win many local authority elections, obtain a stable majority in the Palestinian parliament, and take decisive control of executive authority. Hamas’ tactical agreement to play by the democratic rules was a Trojan horse that enabled the movement to participate in the elections as a legitimate political force. It exploited the fragmentation of Fatah and the weakness of the Palestinian Authority to achieve political dominance as a first stage toward establishing Islamic rule that will implement Sharia law and lead, in fact, to the eradication of democracy.

Its landslide victory in the elections has not blinded the Hamas leadership, which is aware of the momentous challenges it faces in transforming itself from an extragovernmental movement into the dominant governing party. This is not just an intra-Palestinian challenge. Hamas views its political mission from a broad Islamic perspective as the vanguard of the worldwide Islamic revolution led by its parent-movement, the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas’ rise to power has inspired Islamic movements all over the world and motivated them to emulate Hamas’ approach (tactical participation in a democratic process) in order to win similar successes in their own countries. The key factor is to activate the masses as an organized force to translate their power into decisive political influence in democratic elections, or as a means to impose an Islamic revolution.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which has a loyal and dedicated organizational infrastructure throughout the world, has found in Hamas’ important political and psychological achievement a convenient basis for a frontal offensive against the West. The leader of the Brotherhood recently declared for the first time a significant change in strategy for the struggle against the West and Christianity – primarily, a shift from extending economic and material assistance to Islamic organizations that fight in arenas of struggle against the West (Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan) to actual participation in the struggle.

From now on, the duty to take part in jihad on the battlefield does not fall only on local Muslims but rather on all Muslims everywhere. This means that Muslim Brotherhood activists in Islamic centers in Europe and North America are also called upon to contribute to the campaign against the West, to continue financial assistance to the Islamic organizations fighting the United States and its allies, and to dispatch fighters to the arenas of battle.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s transition to a frontal battle poses a complex intelligence challenge to Western democracies that requires increased surveillance both of radical Islamic actors suspected of involvement in terror, and of money transfers from the West to organizations that are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and active in the arenas of battle.

Hamas’ attempt to create an impression of political pragmatism is primarily aimed at helping it gain international legitimacy for Islamic government according to Muslim Brotherhood doctrine. Hamas has no intention of reaching a settlement with Israel based on mutual recognition; instead it seeks to mobilize the international community to support Palestinian positions based on the principle of “historical justice” including the “restoration” of Palestinian rights, which mainly means the absorption of millions of Palestinian refugees into the State of Israel, which will then inevitably cease to be a Jewish state. In Hamas’ view, this is not the time for concessions. An unconditional Israeli withdrawal to the ’67 borders as Hamas demands is seen as serving the Palestinian interest and putting Israel in a position of strategic inferiority that increases the threat to its existence.

The Palestinian Authority under Hamas rule is becoming a safe haven for Islamic terror organizations, first and foremost al-Qaeda. Hamas’ declared policy of granting immunity to all Palestinian and Islamic terror organizations actually constitutes an open invitation to terrorists of all stripes to acquire a refuge and convenient base for activity. Hamas’ ideological closeness to al-Qaeda and its branches throughout the world (including Yemen and Pakistan) also creates a basis for practical cooperation, including sharing of knowledge, as well as in joint training, financial assistance, recruitment of operatives, and terror attacks.

In the Israeli context, the threat is now many times greater because of its proximity to the urban population concentrations in the center of the country and to strategic targets (power plants, airports). Hamas’ temporary restraint is only a truce that helps it improve its equipment and deployment for the next round of military confrontation. Meanwhile, Hamas is giving other Palestinian terror organizations a free hand to perpetrate attacks against Israel, whose scope has returned to the level that existed before the unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria.

Hamas regards the PLO as the next target for political takeover. Hamas demands comprehensive reforms in the PLO, focusing particularly on nullifying the resolutions on a settlement with Israel and on elections for the organization’s institutions in the Palestinian diaspora. Hamas policy reflects the assumption that its chances of obtaining a decisive majority in elections in diaspora refugee camps are very high, which would thereby enable Hamas to take exclusive responsibility for representing the entire Palestinian people and to appropriate the Palestinians’ historical achievements in the international arena (observer status in the United Nations, membership in international organizations, assets, etc.).

Moreover, the transfer of the Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan to Hamas control would give the movement great political power vis-a-vis the Jordanian regime and a key to the stability of the Hashemite kingdom. The link-up between the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan (with whom many Palestinians in the kingdom identify) and a Hamas-led Palestinian state could throw Jordan into a phase of instability and threaten the continued existence of the royal house. Unlike the Hashemite kingdom, which has not succeeded in creating a Jordanian identity that unites Jordanians and Palestinians, the Muslim Brotherhood offers an outlook that could unite Muslims under the flag of Islam without regard to ethnic origin.

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Notes

1. http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3132851,00.html http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3118141,00.html; http://www.knesset.gov.il/AllSite/mark02/h0208835.htm#TQL; http://www.knesset.gov.il/AllSite/mark02/h0208846.htm#TQL; http://www.knesset.gov.il/AllSite/mark02/h0208861.htm#1; http://www.knesset.gov.il/AllSite/mark02/h0208864.htm#21; Ha’aretz, January 3, 2006, http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/665761.html; http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART1/040/491.html
2. “New Muslim Brotherhood Leaders: Resistance in Iraq and Palestine is Legitimate; America is Satan; Islam Will Invade America and Europe,” MEMRI Special Dispatch Series, No. 655, February 4, 2004, http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP65504
3. See British Intelligence document in Roland Jacquard, In the Name of Osama Bin Laden (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002), pp. 263-267.
4. For the platform of the Muslim Brotherhood, see http://www.ikhwanonline.com/Procedure.asp
5. Asharq Alawsat (London), December 11, 2005.
6. http://www.ikhwanonline.com/Article.asp?ID=17600&SectionID=104
7. http://www.ikhwanonline.com/Article.asp?ID=19139&LevelID=1&SectionID=213
8. “Hamas Leader Khaled Mash’al at a Damascus Mosque: The Nation of Islam Will Sit at the Throne of the World and the West Will Be Full of Remorse – When It’s Too Late,” MEMRI Special Dispatch Series, No. 1087, February 7, 2006; http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=subjects&Area=jihad&ID=SP108706
9. “Hamas Political Leader Khaled Mash’al Listens to Poetry in Sudan and Declares: There Is No Other Way than Sacrificing Our Property and Our Souls,” MEMRI TV Monitor Project, February 14, 2006, http://memritv.org/Transcript.asp?P1=1044
10. http://www.palestine-info.info/arabic/hamas/hewar/2006/khalid_meshel/khalid_ahraam.htm
11. http://www.palestine-info.info/arabic/palestoday/reports/report2006_1/16_3_06.htm
12. http://www.islamonline.net/English/News/2006-02/26/article03.shtml, February 26, 2006.
13. “Hamas Leader Talks Peace,” CBS Evening News, March 16, 2006, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/03/16/eveningnews/main1414076.shtml?CMP=ILC-SearchStories
14. http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,,1743652,00.html
15. “The Hamas Charter (1988),” Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies, http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/pdf/hamas_charter.pdf
16. http://www.pal-election.com/pages/deen/tash.htm
17. http://www.palestine-info.info/arabic/hamas/hewar/2006/khalid_meshel/meshel_new_tv_19_3_06.htm
18. http://www.alwatanvoice.com/articles.php?go=articles&id=38771
19. http://www.ikhwanonline.com/Article.asp?ID=5401&SectionID=342
20. http://www.islamonline.net/Arabic/news/2006-03/24/article02.shtml
21. http://www.maannews.net/ar/do.php?name=News&file=article&sid=23869
22. Al-Hayat (London), March 2, 2006, http://www.daralhayat.com/special/03-2006/Item-20060301-b7a0a128-c0a8-10ed-001e-064cf07d77ed/story.html
23. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3230691,00.html
24. http://www.palestine-info.info/arabic/hamas/hewar/2006/khalid_meshel/meshel_new_tv_19_3_06.htm
25. http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/1,7340,L-72031,00.html http://www.911investigations.net/IMG/pdf/doc-1412.pdf?PHPSESSID=17fa0b6cbb2afd61c89c26e99327a8f3
26. http://www.moqawmh.com/vb/showthread.php?t=1638 http://www.nfc.co.il/archive/001-D-82744-00.html?tag=1-21-13
27. http://www.maannews.net/ar/do.php?name=News&file=article&sid=9706
28. http://dnaindia.com/report.asp?NewsID=1020268; http://www.hindu.com/2006/03/27/stories/2006032700391300.htm
29. http://www.cj.msu.edu/~outreach/wmd/terror_reference.doc; http://www.saag.org/papers7/paper699.html. See also analysis by Rohan Gunaratna: “Osama was selective in the groups [he] assisted militarily. Other than the three Harakat groups, he also assisted Hezb-ul-Mujahidin, which used al-Qaeda trainers and training infrastructure as well as al-Qaeda finance to maintain its rank and file. Interrogation of Hezb members arrested throughout India revealed that during their training at various camps in Afghanistan, they were addressed by Osama.” Rohan Gunaratna, Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), p. 208.
30. http://www.palestine-info.info/arabic/palestoday/dailynews/2003/aug03/23_8/details3.htm
31. Middle East Media Research Institute, “Saudi Cleric Al-‘Omar: America is Disappearing from the Hearts of Americans,” Special Dispatch No. 1154, May 4, 2006; http://www.memri.org/bin/opener_latest.cgi?ID=SD115406
32. http://www.alsahwa-yemen.net/view_sub1.asp?s_no=12599&c_no=1
33. http://www.ustreas.gov/press/releases/js1190.htm
34. Giles Kepel, Jihad: The Trails of Political Islam (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), pp. 317-318.
35. Counterterror Initiatives in the Terror Finance Program, Hearings before the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, United States Senate, October 22, 2003 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2004), http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=108_senate_hearings&docid=f:20396.pdf
36. “Zawahiri Urges Hamas to Fight on: Al-Qaeda Number Two Ayman al-Zawahiri Has Called on the Palestinian Militant Group Hamas Not to Recognise Past Peace Deals with Israel,” BBC News, March 5, 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4775222.stm
37. http://www.palestine-info.info/arabic/palestoday/dailynews/2006/mar06/20_3/details5.htm
38. http://www.palestine-info.info/arabic/palestoday/dailynews/2006/mar06/6_3/details3.htm#1; http://www.palestine-info.info/arabic/palestoday/dailynews/2006/mar06/6_3/details6.htm#1
39. http://www.thisissyria.net/2006/02/24/levant2.html
40. http://www.palestine-info.info/arabic/hamas/hewar/2006/khalid_meshel/khalid_mosco.htm
41. Ukaz (Saudi Arabia), March 13, 2006, http://212.119.67.86\okazhttp\osf\20060313\con200603132239.htm; http://www.turkishpress.com/news.asp?id=114999
42. http://www.middle-east-online.com/?id=36884=36884&format=0; http://www.alarabiya.net/Articles/2006/03/19/22070.htm#4; http://www.islamonline.net/Arabic/news/2006-03/22/article01.shtml
43. http://www.islamonline.net/Arabic/news/2006-03/26/article14.shtml
44. http://www.palestine-info.info/arabic/palestoday/dailynews/2006/mar06/21_3/details5.htm#1
45. http://www.palestine-info.info/arabic/hamas/hewar/2006/ismael_haneya/27_3_06.htm; http://www.alwatanvoice.com/articles.php?go=articles&id=40924
46. http://www.alwatanvoice.com/articles.php?go=articles&id=40488
47. http://www.jabha.net/body0.asp?field=beanat2003&id=88
48. Thanasis Cambanis, “Jordan’s Islamists See a Path to Political Power,” Boston Globe, March 21, 2006.
49. Ibid.

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Lt. Col. (res.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd. and is a former advisor to the Policy Planning Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

About Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi

Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a co-founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd.