Hamas in Gaza

This briefing is provided by a friend of RZIM.

Key Facts

  • Hamas is an off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood (although it claims to have separated from them)
  • It grew out of the ‘intifada’ – the Palestinian uprising against Israel in the 1980s in the Gaza strip.
  • The current head of Hamas is Khaled Meshaal but he is under pressure from Yahya Sinwar who wants to orientate Hamas towards Iran, whereas Meshaal wants to orientate towards Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
    • Meshaal does not live in Gaza, he was born in the West Bank, but has lived in Qatar for most of his adult life.
    • The Prime Minister of Gaza until 2014 was Ismail Hanyeh deputy leader of Hamas.
    • He was born in Shati Refugee Camp, Gaza Strip in 1963.
    • Hanyeh is the chief of Hamas’ political bureau
    • He was deputy leader of Hamas between 2007 and 2014
    • In 2014, as part of a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, Hanyeh stepped down as Prime Minister.
    • On 8 December 2019 Hanyeh met with President Erdogen of Turkey and there are ongoing reports that Istanbul is becoming a base for Hamas operational planning.
    • He resides between Gaza and Qatar.
  • Hamas’ key doctrines are
    • The creation of an Islamic state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. This therefore requires the elimination of the state of Israel.
    • It’s Charter (1988) is summed up in their slogan: ‘Allah is our target, the Qur’an is our constitution: jihad is our path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of our wishes.’
    • The rule in that Islamic state being under shari’a.
  • Their main financial support comes from Qatar and, more recently, Iran. It’s economy produces almost nothing. If Hamas had not been supported by these two over the years, then Gaza would have collapsed into chaos many years ago.
    • Hamas uses Cryptocurrency to try and bypass international controls on supporting terrorism.
    • A large portion of its military budget (approximately $100 million) goes on the construction of smuggling tunnels which financers are encouraged to ‘invest in’.
    • It uses child labour in the construction of the tunnels and more than 160 children have died in their construction.
    • International charities have been set up to fund Hamas projects including (until they were shut down and prosecuted) the Holy Land Foundation.
  • Hamas uses the classic Muslim Brotherhood technique of creating long-term support through the provision of welfare and education for ordinary people.
  • Hamas’ main political rival is Fatah, another party in the Palestinian Authority (which covers both Gaza and the West Bank) whom Hamas briefly shared power with in 2006 before the two clashed and Hamas expelled Fatah from Gaza in 2007.
  • It continues to send rockets into Israel along with other attacks, including suicide bombings.
  • In 2017 Hamas held a press conference in Qatar in order to publish a supplement to their 1988 Charter. The supplement positioned their work as Palestinian nationalism, rather than their previous focus on the evils of Jews.
    • However, it still does not recognise the existence of the state of Israel.
    • They have also acknowledged that the Qatar Declaration (2017) does not supersede the 1988 Charter.
  • There have been suggestions that Hamas leaders might accept the pre-1967 boundaries of the state of Israel as a temporary Palestinian state as part of a twenty year truce between themselves and Israel.
  • After years of decline in 2019 Gaza’s economy grew 2%, however, it is expected to decline again in 2020.

Analysis
As mentioned above, it seems that the Hamas leadership has been making trips to Qatar and Turkey for the purposes of finding both funding and places of refuge as they appear to be coming under increasing pressure both from multiple sources. (Abu Amer, 2020)

Hamas is being hurt by the sanctions imposed on it by the international community and has suffered increasingly heavy military reversals at the hands of the Egyptians who have been destroying many of the smuggling tunnels that Hamas had been relying on both militarily and financially. In December 2019, Khaled Meshaal met with Robert Malley of the Washington DC based International Crisis Group (former Middle East advisor to Barak Obama) and Meshaal’s colleague Mousa Abu Marzouk (Hamas head of International Relations) met with representatives from the UK, France and Switzerland with the intention of seeking supporters to advocate for them in multiple issues, including international recognition of Hamas’ rule in Gaza.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has been a long-time friend to Hamas. Reports such as that it published in 2004 argued that Israel’s policies contributed to the support of Hamas in Gaza. (Anon, 2004) It went on to praise the achievements of Hamas and contrasted them with the work of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority.

However, although these diplomatic efforts have been ongoing, it is only with President Erdogan in Turkey that the meetings have met with discernible success. This is probably due to the fact that the meetings discussed above (such as that with Robert Malley) have been with people who have influence in Europe and America, but no power within decision-making circles. The meetings are perhaps, therefore, if nothing else, a signal of the growing desperation within the organisation at the current state of affairs. In this context, the publication of the update to the 1988 charter could be viewed as another sign of the outworkings of the pressure that Hamas, particularly Meshaal himself, is under.

The loss of the tunnels, combined with the crackdown of the US and other Western states on ‘Charities’ which have helped to fund Hamas’ activities, are undermining its ability to continue operating. Furthermore, the ongoing economic decline in Gaza is undermining its legitimacy as an exemplary ‘Islamic state’ to be emulated. This has practical as well as ideological implications as the weakening the core of its support amongst the ordinary people of Gaza will impede its ability to carry on its operations against Israel. Indeed, it would be fair to say that, had it not been for the support of Iran and Qatar, it is likely that the Hamas’ government in Gaza would have been completely untenable.

Hamas’ agreement Fatah, their political adversaries, in 2014 could also be seen as another symptom of that growing desperation. For, having ousted Fatah from Gaza forcibly in 2007, they know that Fatah will demand a high price for cooperation. Indeed, there is evidence that the fragile cooperation between the two is already highly strained for there are reports that when both Haniyah and Mahmoud Abbas (leader of Fatah) met in early January at the funeral of Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, there were strong arguments over whether Hamas or Fatah truly represented Palestinians between the two of them. (Yedid, 2020)

It seems therefore that Hamas’ situation is increasingly untenable. This is good news for Israel (as well as for Christians and believers in democracy in Gaza), but the concern will be that an already energetic Iran will, in Hamas, find another proxy through which to advance its agenda, including the destruction of Israel. The situation therefore is very delicate. On the one hand there is the real possibility that Hamas will be defeated, but, at the same time there is good reason to believe that Hamas would be preferable to direct Iranian control in Gaza. Furthermore, the desire of President Erdogan to recreate the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East also leaves no room for Israel if that were to come to fruition. Hamas’ increasing reliance on Turkey is therefore troubling as well.

It is important therefore that, as Christians praying for events in the Middle East and Israel-Palestine specifically, we are wise in what we pray for and are aware of the potential dangers that lie in the removal of Hamas from power in that region.

References

Adnan Abu Amer (2020), ‘Hamas intensifies Western dialogues to break political isolation’. www.al-monitor.com January 13.

Anon, (2004) ‘Dealing with Hamas’ www.crisisgroup.org January 26.

Baruch Yedid, ‘PA, Hamas fight in[sic] out in Oman over who really represents “Palestinians”’ www.jewishpress.com January 15.

Hamas Charter (1988) Full Text: https://fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/880818.htm

Hamas Charter Update (2017) Full Text: https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/hamas-2017-document-full

3 Likes

Thank you so much for this report I appreciate the information.
Mike

2 Likes