March 17, 2006 No.

Victory Through Political Participation: Hamas's New Strategy and Its Limitations An Assessment and Policy Recommendations

In a Capitol Hill briefing held today on Hamas's strategy after the Palestinian elections, MEMRI's President Yigal Carmon presented an assessment of this strategy and its limitations, as well some policy recommendations.

The briefing was sponsored by the House of Representatives International Relations Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation, and co-sponsored by the leadership of the committee, Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Rep. Steven Rothman (D-NJ). The Chair of the Middle East and Central Asia Subcommittee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Ranking Member Gary Ackerman also co-sponsored the event.

The following is a summary of the assessment:


Of the three Islamist threats facing America today - Al-Qaeda, Iran, and the Muslim Brotherhood - the first two have chosen the path of confrontation to promote their goals, whereas the third has chosen the path of political participation. This choice was prompted in large part by the global War on Terrorism, which made Hamas (as part of the mother organization, the Muslim Brotherhood) realize that in the post-9/11 world, terrorist organizations have no future, while political participation could still allow them to achieve some of their major goals.

Political participation requires adaptation to political constraints. However, such demands were not placed upon Hamas prior to the January 2006 parliamentary elections; nor were they placed upon the Muslim Brotherhood prior to the Egyptian parliamentary elections in November-December 2005. Only after Hamas's victory were conditions formulated for recognizing Hamas's future political participation.

The three demands currently being made of Hamas are vis-à-vis Israel: renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel, and respecting prior agreements.

These conditions are ineffectual:

1) They can be met on a limited tactical and temporary basis - and, indeed, Hamas has begun to do so.

2) The limited focus on Israel overlooks the more important, broader issue - namely, the political participation of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as of secular nationalist movements, in other Arab and Muslim countries.

Hamas's success, though limited to the Palestinian territories, poses a regional threat to U.S. interests. If the West reconciles itself to that victory, the Muslim Brotherhood is likely to repeat that success in Egypt and Jordan. Abu Mazen and the PLO will be further pushed aside, and the current regimes in Jordan and Egypt may be severely threatened. This will have implications for the stability of the entire Middle East.

The critical point will be when Hamas assumes command of the Palestinian security forces. At that point, the crisis will become much more difficult to manage, as well as more likely to spin out of control. This is liable to happen because Hamas's declared strategy is one of combining political participation with continued resistance, as stated by Mash'al, Haniya, and Al-Zahar ("The hoisted rifle will be in one hand, and politics and authority in the other."). [1]

The desired scenario is that, rather than combining political participation with continued resistance, Hamas will undergo a process of further moderation - similar to the process undergone by the PLO. Hope for this scenario may be gleaned from the tactical/temporary moves currently being stated and made by Hamas in its efforts to gain world recognition for its takeover.

However, the likelihood of this scenario is not high. Unlike the PLO, which is a distinct, national organization limited to one people and one land, Hamas is bound to the regional - and even global - Muslim Brotherhood movement, with its comprehensive Islamic framework. As such, it is likely to keep the faith.


U.S. demands should focus on internal, ideological, and organizational transformation. They should be directed not only towards Hamas, but, first and foremost, towards its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood. (Indeed, these demands should be applicable to secular nationalist movements as well.)

Framing these demands as universally applied international standards will garner the support of the E.U. and the U.N.

In order to encourage the Brotherhood and its branches to take the first steps in adapting themselves to international political standards, political recognition should be granted only when the following conditions are met by Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and included in their official political platforms with which they go to elections:

1) Endorsement of politics to the exclusion of violence and the use of force. Hamas needs to transform itself from an armed resistance movement into an unarmed political party. The same holds true for Fatah, which was supposed to undergo this transformation in the Oslo process, but has not done so, to this day. Once Fatah takes such a step, the pressure on Hamas and other factions to do the same will gain momentum; in the event that Hamas does not comply, it will be denied international recognition.

2) Endorsement of the full package of democratic values. This demand is long overdue. It will reverse the erosion of the notion of democracy, which, in recent years, has been reduced to mean only free elections.

This full package of democratic values should include: equality of all before the law regardless of religion, ethnicity, or gender; and the official endorsement in the organizations' political platforms of all constitutional freedoms, embodied in internationally-accepted conventions, such as the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, the U.N. Charter, relevant E.U. conventions, and other accepted international standards.

*Yigal Carmon is MEMRI's President.

[1] For Al-Zahar's statements, see Al-Quds (Jerusalem), February 15, 2006; for Haniya's statements, see ; for Mash'al's statements, see ;

For other translated clips of Hamas leaders' statements see