The Rise and Fall(?) of Hamas

By Jamie Geller

A violent resistance movement born out of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas originated in December 1987 during the First Intifada – or peaceful Palestinian uprising.[i] Primarily operating out of the Gaza Strip, Hamas seeks the establishment of an Islamic society within historic Palestine.[ii] Tactically, Hamas uses violence to achieve broader strategic goals such as spoiling peace negotiations and diminishing Israeli commitment and complacency with the current status quo.[iii] Two years after the group’s founding, Hamas enjoyed minimal popular support – less than 3% in Gaza – as nonviolent resistance appeared to work against the Israelis.[iv] Such statistics oscillate, however, with the success and failures of Hamas’s more peaceful political foe Fatah.[v] In other words, Hamas marginally gains as Fatah – and nonviolent resistance – loses.

Through a historical analysis of Hamas vis-à-vis Fatah and the Arab-Israeli peace process, it can be argued that Hamas strategically capitalizes on Fatah’s losses in negotiations, inability to stop corruption, and failure to foster economic development by using violence to reassert its relevancy and credibility as chief Palestinian vanguard.[vi] Polling statistics find the majority of Palestinians support Fatah but waiver in the face of its losses.[vii] As such, Hamas ultimately handicaps itself by refusing to renounce violence, bounding its zenith of strength by Fatah’s weakness.

But Fatah has been losing since the failure of 1993 Oslo Accords, which later sowed the groundwork for Hamas’s ascent in the 2000 Second Intifada.[viii] Palestinian organizations – among others across the globe – gain legitimacy by providing social services to civilian populations. Hamas is no different, and their legitimacy soared when they were able to provide social services to Gazans that Fatah simply could not.[ix]

This ability to provide social services has since been jeopardized by Hamas’s excessive corruption and economic woes, which could perhaps cost them their Gazan reign. Pundits attribute the Israel-Hamas showdown during summer 2014 in large part to Hamas’s corruption bug.[x] As the Arab Spring swept the Middle East in 2011, Hamas lost many of its notable financiers: Qatar, Egypt, and Iran.[xi] Signaling this economic squeeze, Hamas was unable to pay government salaries prior to the war.[xii] This inability to provide basic needs to its civilians – combined with the group’s excessive taxing – perhaps led Hamas to choose war in hopes of diverting attention from its economic woes.[xiii] Such calculations hurt Hamas’s legitimacy. July 2014 polls found that 71% and 2/3 of Gazans respectively believe crime and corruption plague any prospects for success, demonstrating their unhappiness with Hamas governance.[xiv]

Prior to the war, however, Hamas and Fatah struck a unity deal that contributed to the breakdown in peace negotiations last April. Though one of many since 2011, this reconciliation could eventually result in Palestinian Authority officials returning to Gaza – a political shift favored by 88% of Palestinians along with the majority of the international world.[xv] This Hamas-Fatah unity government withstood the war, and remains standing. For now, both factions convey a sense of unity for self-serving purposes, and have no incentive to abandon the agreement yet.[xvi] This self-serving alliance has served both Hamas and Fatah as well, indicative in a recent pledge of $5.4 billion to rebuild Gaza from the international community.[xvii] Though urging final status agreement negotiations, the donation focuses on emergency assistance that feeds the status quo rather than directly challenging the existing broken system.[xviii] Likely, Fatah will stagnate in statehood advances and any ability to stamp out corruption or achieve economic progress while Hamas simply rebuilds its castle in the coastal enclave, gaining more money to meet the basic needs of Gaza.[xix] Such stagnation will again leave Palestinians frustrated about diplomatic prospects and Fatah’s credibility – resulting in marginal gains for Hamas.

But as details elucidate – and disagreements arise – the reconciliation will likely fall apart just as it has historically.[xx] Thus, the international community should capitalize on Hamas’s degraded legitimacy in the current post-war climate to set the conditions for peaceful Palestinian success. This includes accepting the unity government while focusing on building Fatah’s capacity. The international community should support Palestinian self-empowerment that provides “good government, economic opportunity, and law and order for the Palestinians –and security for Israel by extension – and so removing whatever pretexts may exist for Israel’s continued occupation for the Palestinian territories.”[xxi] By building Fatah’s capacity to stifle corruption, provide social services, calm Israeli anxieties, and demonstrate the attainability of self-empowerment and statehood, the international community can further degrade Hamas’s popularity.[xxii] Fatah only has to deliver just a little more than Hamas, which is possible with the right conditions and political climate, for success.



[i] Zachary Laub, “Hamas,” Council on Foreign Relations, August 1, 2014,

[ii] “The Charter of Allah: The Platform of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas),”

[iii] Andrew Kydd and Barbara Walter, “The Strategies of Terrorism,” International Security, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Summer 2006): pp. 49-80.

[iv] Daniel Byman, A High Price: TheTriumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism (Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 96.

[v] Aaron D. Pina, “Palestinian Elections,” Congressional Research Service, February 9, 2006,, p. 14.See also Daniel Byman, A High Price: TheTriumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism (Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 30.

[vi] “al-Fatah,” START at the University of Maryland,; “Hamas,” Nation Counterterrorism Center,

[vii] “Palestinian Public Opinion Poll No-53,” Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, October 10, 2014,

[viii] Hamas saw the Oslo Accords as almost sacrilegious, and condemned Fatah for acquiescing to the Israelis. This gave them legitimacy among Palestinians. Please see: Jonathan Schanzer, “The Challenge of Hamas to Fatah,” Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2003, pp. 29-38.,

[ix] Matthew Levitt, Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in he Service of Jihad (Yale University Press: April 2007).

[x]Elliot Abrams, “Why Did Hamas Provoke a War?” Council on Foreign Relations, July 9, 2014,

[xi] Zachary Laub, “Hamas,” Council on Foreign Relations, August 1, 2014,

[xii] Nidal al-Mughrabi, “Hamas-hired workers in Gaza strike for wages in test for unity deal, Reuters, June 26, 2014,

[xiii] Tamir Haddad, “Hamas corruption weighs heavily on Gaza,” Daily Star, October 12, 2012. See also, Shuki Sadeh, “Behind Hamas’ guns, a serious problem of dough,” Haaretz, August 1, 2014,

[xiv] David Pollack, “Gaza Public Rejects Hamas Wants Ceasefire,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, July 15 2014,

[xv] David Pollack, “Gaza Public Rejects Hamas Wants Ceasefire,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, July 15 2014, See also Shadi Bushra, “Fatah-Hamas agreement gives unity government control over Gaza,” Reuters, September 25, 2014,

[xvi] Ehud Yaari and Neri Zilber, “Back to the Future: The Latest Hamas-Fatah Reconciliation Deal,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, October 1, 2014,

[xvii] Harry Reis, “Broad Consensus to Rebuild Gaza Without Rearming Hamas,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, August 15, 2014, See also Hamza Hendawi,“Donors pledge $2.7 bullion for Gaza reconstruction,” Associated Press, October 12, 2014,

[xviii] Carol Morello and William Booth, “Kerry pledges more U.S. aid to rebuild Gaza,” Washington Post, October 12, 2014,

[xix] Yezid Sayigh (2007) “Inducing a Failed State in Palestine,” Survival, 49: 3, 7-39.

[xx] David Ignatius, “How to break Hamas’s stronghold in Gaza,” Washington Post, July 21, 2014,

[xxi] Robert M. Danin, “A Third Way to Palestine: Fayyadism and Its Discontents,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2011, See also Byman, p. 205.

[xxii] Robert M. Danin, “A Third Way to Palestine: Fayyadism and Its Discontents,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2011,

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