What is Hamas’s ‘program of resistance’?

  December 16, 2021   Read time 3 min
What is Hamas’s ‘program of resistance’?
‘Resistance’ as a concept is the most central principle in the thinking and formation of Hamas; it is even part of its very name, ‘the Islamic Resistance Movement’.

When Hamas was established in late 1987, the Palestinian and Arab political climate was still absorbing the shock created by Egypt’s recognition of Israel and the peace treaty concluded by both countries in 1982. Negotiation, rather than armed struggle, was being put forward emphatically as a means to achieve political goals, including the restoration of occupied land. In the same year of 1982, the PLO was defeated by Israel in Lebanon and consequently all Palestinian guerrillas and their leadership were forced to leave the country and move to Tunis. The logic of using armed resistance to liberate Palestine had thus suffered two major blows in one year. Since then, and with the new North African PLO base very far from Palestine, a strategy of peace negotiations and initiatives started to dominate over the armed struggle approach. The PLO itself became far more lenient than before on the issue of negotiation with Israel and the principle of a two-state solution.

By contrast, in reiterating and reaffirming the concept of ‘resistance’ Hamas was declaring its position against any negotiated settlement with Israel, and injecting new blood in a somewhat fading concept. The only way to regain Palestinian rights, Hamas vehemently suggested with rising confidence, was through resistance against the colonial occupation and wresting back rights from the enemy. Hamas’s logic came down to the idea that wherever a military occupation exists, a military resistance should be expected. Such resistance, in all its various forms, would only stop when the occupation ended.

All Hamas’s conduct, policies and actions emanate from and are justified by this conviction. However, there have been few specific details offered about how matters would proceed beyond this concept, particularly on how the ‘withdrawal’ of the occupying troops would take place, or what would follow it. Hamas’s leaders have kept repeating, ‘Withdraw first, and then we take things as they come.’

This ‘strategy’ of Hamas, which in effect spells out no longterm strategy, might appear on the surface to be futile and shallow. Yet, at a more fundamental level, it has proved successful and pragmatic for the organization. First, its plain terminology and uncompromising simplicity have been hard to argue against; second, this same single focus and simplicity conceals Hamas’s theological arguments, which are more difficult to sell; third, it provides an uncomplicated theoretical umbrella under which Hamas’s military and non-military actions of ‘resistance’ can easily be conducted.

Throughout Hamas’s lifetime, beginning in late 1987, various forms of resistance have been deployed, ranging from popular uprisings, mobilization, strikes, and military attacks against the Israeli army and settlers, to executing suicide bombings in the heart of Israeli cities. These have been deployed either in combination or separately, but in all cases using whichever method has corresponded to the specific political environment prevailing at the time. The ultimate aim of any combination of all sorts of resistance, in Hamas’s thinking, is to force unconditional Israeli withdrawal. The struggle of all Palestinian organizations, including of course the PLO and its factions, and the Palestinian Authority which was established in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1993/4, has been focused on achieving such a withdrawal. However, Hamas wants it without surrendering any other Palestinian rights in return, and without the recognition of Israel. The PLO and other Palestinian factions have come to terms with a reciprocal recognition with Israel based on the two-state solution. Hamas will not accept this, but might accept a formula that tacitly recognizes the de facto existence of Israel but without formally recognizing any right of Israel to exist. This is because regardless of whether the withdrawal resulted directly from peace talks or by force, Hamas could logically insist that it takes place without compromising any additional Palestinian rights, or issues such as sovereignty over East Jerusalem, the position of borders and the right of Palestinian refugees to return.

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