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Hamas and the Peace Process

Yehezkel Shabath
Policy Paper No. 127, 2001


Hamas is a branch of the Islamic movement. It was formed in Gaza in 1987 by the Moslem Brotherhood with the goal of establishing an Islamic state in “Palestine”. Its leader was Shaykh Ahmad Yasin, who together with other Shaykhs, drafted the Islamic Charter. The articles of this charter are very extreme – stating that Palestine in its entirety is sacred to Islam in perpetuity and that no Moslem has the right to relinquish even the slightest part of it.

During the years of the intifadha*, Hamas committed extremely cruel acts of terror, including suicide bombings perpetrated in the wake of the killing at the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the elimination of Yahya Ayyash. Hamas vehemently opposed the peace process, criticized it, battled against it and believed that it would fall. After ‘Arafat’s entry into Gaza in July 1994 and the consolidation of his power in the autonomous territories, Israel urged him to arrest members of Hamas in order to prevent them from carrying out further acts of terror. ‘Arafat partially acceded to Israeli demands in order to acquire additional areas in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.

The leaders of Hamas saw that the Peace Process was successfully progressing and the Palestinian Authority was securely established in the autonomous territories, while their own policies were suffering repeated failures and they decided, for the time being, to toe the line and “bend in the face of the storm”. In the course of 1996, they began to issue relatively moderate declarations and the head of the Hamas political office – Musa abu-Marzuq – presented a new plan. According to the plan, Hamas expressed willingness to sign a cease-fire agreement with Israel and stop all terror attacks in exchange for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem and the dismantling of all settlements.

In their declarations, the leaders of Hamas added that they would support ‘Arafat’s policies in order to attain as much as possible of Palestine in this generation and leave the liberation of the remainder to future generations. Hence, Hamas, for all intents and purposes, adopted the “step-by-step policy”, which had been the policy of the PLO for some time.

During the years 1996-1997, `Arafat continued to “eat away” at Hamas. In those years, three major factions developed within Hamas: One, a relatively small faction, abandoned the jihad and returned exclusively to cultural and philanthropic activities; the second, central faction, supported suspending the jihad, for the time being, and focusing on political activity as opposition within the Palestinian Authority; and the third, smallest faction, continues to advocate the path of jihad. The central faction, which is the predominant one, established, in 1996, a party named the “Islamic National Salvation Party”. This party is, so to speak, a political arm of Hamas and functions as a legal, political opposition party in the context of the Palestinian Authority.

In addition, the Islamic movement has, to a certain degree, split, and other small Islamic parties which function within the Palestinian Authority have been established. The central faction in Hamas attempts, as far as possible, to avoid a confrontation with the Palestinian Authority which would lead to a situation similar to the one encountered by the fundamentalist Islamic movements in Egypt and Algeria – a bloody war with the current regime.

* Transliteration of Arabic and Hebrew names and terms was done by Professor Shabath.

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