Hamas: terrorist organization or resistance movement?

Hamas, an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, the Islamic Resistance Movement, is a fundamentalist organization founded in 1987 and actives in the district of Gaza and later in Judea and Samaria. In response to the Muslim Brotherhood to the first Palestinian intifada, Hamas was born as a military campaign against Israel. Later, the movement became an independent group and emerged at the forefront of armed resistance to Israel; then, it was recognized as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. Recently, the European Court has annulled the decision to keep Hamas on a list of terrorist groups, a status erroneously based not on an examination of Hamas actions, but on factual imputations derived from the press and the Internet.

Created by the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Sheikh Ahmad Yassin established Hamas as the Muslim Brotherhood’s local political arm, following the outbreak of the first intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli control of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. In this phase, Hamas consolidated its position and authority in the Gaza Strip. The organization regulated the activity in the field of social assistance, so Palestinians started to support Hamas. Clinics, free medical care, schools and charities. Thus, Hamas earned the reputation as being honest, in contrast to the corruption in Fatah. Backbone of the Palestinian armed struggle against the State of Israel, Fatah is a political and military organization founded in 1959 by Yasser Arafat, leader of the Organization for the Liberation of Palestine (PLO).

The ascent to power of Hamas is slow and gradual, but after the soft approach, in April 1993, five months before the Oslo Accords – the historic pact that established limited self-government for parts of the West Bank and Gaza under the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) – Hamas employed suicide bombing. According to Oslo, Arafat could have obtained the financial and political support of Israel for the Palestinian cause and he would have shown Hamas was not the right direction for the sake of Palestine. Tensions between Fatah and Hamas began to rise when Arafat and Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords. The strategy of violence designated Hamas as a terrorist entity and undermined the peace process. The United States and the European Union included Hamas on the list of terrorist organizations, cutting it off from official assistance that the international community provided to the PLO. In the post-Oslo world, the failure of the Camp David summit triggered the second intifada in 2000 and ushered in the new era of terrorism.

If the second intifada is a breakthrough for the military wing of Hamas, the election victory of the organization is a political triumph. At the municipal election of 2005, the movement won many popular votes, even in the West Bank strongholds of Fatah. The turning point came in 2006. Hamas won the 2006 elections, winning 76 of the 132 seats to Fatah’s 43. The President Mahmoud Abbas (also known by the kunya Abu Mazen) appointed Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, as Prime Minister of the PNA, but Fatah refused the cohabitation. The Hamas government was immediately boycotted by the international community, which supported Abbas, PNA President and leader of Fatah. A series of attacks took place between the two parties and caused the civil war in Gaza, in 2007. At the end of the conflict, Hamas gained the Gaza Strip and Fatah retained control of the West Bank. Hamas and Fatah sought a national coalition government, but the fighting intensified and Mahmoud Abbas announced the dissolution of the current unity government and the declaration of a state of emergency. At the same time, Israel declared the Gaza Strip, under Hamas control, a hostile entity and imposed sanctions, such as power blackout; imports were heavily restricted and the borders were closed. Israel and Hamas declared a six-month truce. Despite the international community’s appeals for a long-term ceasefire in Gaza, Israel and Hamas continued to fight because of mutual accusations of agreement violations. Israel launched the Operation Cast Lead and, in 2012, the Operation Pillar of Defense. In April 2011, Hamas and Fatah reached reconciliation, which was brokered by the Egyptian intelligence. The formation of an interim government was needed to organize the legislative and presidential elections. After intensive negotiations in the following months, Abbas became President of the PNA. The United States and the European Union recognized the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, whereas Hamas continued to reject the core principles of the Middle East Quartet (the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia), recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Relations between Hamas and its allies got complicated, as well. The relationships with Iranian and Syrian governments became critical when Hamas refused to hold rallies in the Gaza Strip in support of Assad. Iran reduced financial assistance, although a new rapprochement worries Israel and the United States now. In 2013, the Hamas government was placed under financial strain when the administration of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was overthrown and replaced by the military. Cairo is hostile to Hamas, which is seen as an extension of its chief domestic rival, the Muslim Brotherhood. After the election victory, the Palestinian organization maintained a very warm relationship with Qatar. The Hamas’ relationship with Qatar went back when Israel blockaded the Gaza Strip, after the movement won the elections. At that time, many countries chose not to help the Palestinians, but Qatar, Turkey, Malaysia and some Arab and Islamic organizations reduced the effects of the blockade.

Hamas remained in full control inside the Gaza Strip until it announced a plan to form a reconciliation between the Palestinian government and Fatah, in 2014. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denounced the new agreement, accusing Fatah to seek coexistence and compromise with Hamas, at the expense of a possible peace with Israel. The new cabinet took office on June, but the atmosphere between Israel and Hamas is poisoned. Netanyahu accused the movement of kidnapping three young Israelis and promised not to leave the crime unpunished. As matter of the fact, the Israeli security forces launched the Operation Sovereign Border. A ceasefire agreement that Israel pledged to ease restrictions at Gaza border in exchange for a cessation of rocket fire from Hamas militants.

The stalemate in the Middle East peace process, which has fed several opinions in favor of recognizing a Palestinian State, coincided with the Court’s decision to exclude the movement from blacklist, despite having dictated restrictions. The Court ruled that the asset freezing should stay in place for three months, pending further EU actions, in order to ensure that any possible future freezing of funds would be effective. Moreover, it will likely give EU authorities several months to rebuild its evidence that Hamas is a terrorist organization, even if the eventual unfreezing of Hamas funds could reinforce it. Hamas was added to the EU’s list of terrorist groups in 2003, after it claimed responsibility for several attacks against Israeli during the second intifada. The European decision to remove Hamas from the list of terrorist organizations is legal, because the accusation of terrorism was based not on judgments but on conclusions derived from the media and the Internet. Hamas celebrated the decision as a legal victory for Palestinian rights, amending any injustice done to Hamas. The consequence is that the Court has made not simply a legal ruling, but indeed a political decision that is the responsibility of the EU governments. By coincidence, the European Parliament called a two-state solution for the recognition of Palestinian statehood. However, the opposition of the United States to the Israeli reaction made more noise. The Hamas Covenant calls for the destruction of the State of Israel and its replacement with a Palestinian Islamic State from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea and there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. The holy war is a religious duty for Palestinian Muslims to wrest control of Palestine from Israel. Anyway, the decision of the EU judges could open very important scenarios in that area. As for the “terrorist” and then “Nobel Peace Prize” Yasser Arafat, any peace agreement cannot exclude Hamas.

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