This term refers to the Islamic-Palestinian movement which supports the establishment of a Palestinian state based on Islamic law over all of Mandatory Palestine and negates the existence of the state of Israel.


The term Hamas (abbreviation of Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya – The Islamic Resistance Movement) refers to the Islamic-Palestinian movement which supports the establishment of a Palestinian state based on Islamic law (Shari'a) over all of Mandatory Palestine and negates the existence of the state of Israel. According to the Hamas Covenant the sole means of achieving this end is through armed struggle (jihad).1


Development of Hamas

The Hamas movement presents a religious agenda for the Palestinian national struggle, which negates the Jewish right to self-determination and does not recognize Israel. Hamas has utilized terror as a way of achieving these objectives. In addition, Hamas has established a social welfare system with schools and hospitals.

It is possible to divide the development of Hamas into four main periods:2

  1. 1967-1976 – Muslim Brotherhood model3: During this period, the movement laid the infrastructure for an Islamic social-welfare system (Dawah). The dominant figure during this stage was Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who returned to Gaza after serving time in an Egyptian prison with members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Upon his return (1965), Yassin began to lay the groundwork for the organization through mosques located in refugee camps. Also established during this period was the Al-Mujama organization (1973), which arranged the Dawah under seven committees: preaching and guidance, welfare, education, charity, health, sport and reconciliation. These committees continue to reflect the essence of Hamas’ social workings.
  2. 1976-1987 – Forming professional associations in the territories: During this period the Al-Mujama was recognized by the Israeli Civil Administration in Gaza as a registered voluntary social and cultural organization4. This recognition allowed Hamas to gain further legitimacy and enabled it to spread its operations into the West Bank as well.
  3. 1981-1987 – Increasing formal political influence: During this period Hamas continued its institutionalization, and expanded its influence in two fields: (1) establishment of private mosques that were not subject to the inspection of the Israeli Civil Administration; (2) Gradual takeover of the Al-Azhar University in Gaza.
  4. 1987-1988 – Establishing Hamas as the resistance branch of the Muslim Brotherhood: The outbreak of the first Intifada (12/87) and the apparent dominance of the secular Fatah movement as the leading force in the armed struggle, marked a turning point in the strategy of Al-Mujama. The establishment of the Islamic Resistance Movement signified a strategic choice towards violence (12/14/87).

The development of Hamas into a militant faction culminated with the publication of the organization’s founding document, the Hamas Covenant (8/88). The covenant expresses an Islamic nationalist perception, which negates the existence of the state of Israel and strives to establish one Islamic state on all of Historic Palestine.

Division of Power

Hamas is characterized by a flexible and dynamic structure with unclear hierarchy. This structure allows Hamas to adapt itself to any diverging reality by readjusting the positions and powers of its structural organs. Its five main centers of authority are:

  • External Hamas (the political bureau) – Members of Al-Mujama and Hamas who are situated outside of the territories established contacts with various elements in order to raise funds and support.5 Over time prominent Hamas officials in Jordan and Syria, under the leadership of Khaled Mash'al, established the Political Bureau. Currently located in Damascus, the political bureau’s chief responsibility is to manage Hamas' foreign relations (including vis-à-vis the Palestinian Diaspora) and its sources of funding.
  • Internal Hamas – In general, the 'internal' branch of Hamas operates the Dawah. This is done through connections with four bodies: the Islamic center which in charge of social activities; the Islamic University; Regional Councils and Internal Security. The Internal Security functions as a 'connecting link' between the operational and the political infrastructure, while maintaining organizational secrecy and exposing collaborators.
  • Hamas leadership in Israeli jails – This body is comprised of Hamas activists who are imprisoned by Israel. They enjoy the sympathy of the Palestinian public and carry substantial influence within the organization.
  • Military wing (Izz-al-din al-Qassam Brigades) – This body is in charge of terror activities against Israel. The military wing is not formally subordinated to any other wing and thus enjoys operational freedom.
  • Advisory Council (Majlis A-Shura) – The identity of the council members (about twenty religious elders) is unknown. Its objective is to provide the organization with religious support and guidance.

Relations between Hamas and the PLO

Over the years Hamas has criticized the PLO's secular-nationalist orientation and strove to present an Islamist-nationalist alternative.6 This debate caused ongoing conflicts between the movements that ceased only with temporary understandings.

Until the Declaration of Principles, the main difference of opinions concerned the Islamic nature of the struggle and the goals of the Palestinian nationalist movement.7

However, following the Algiers Declaration (11/88) at a meeting of the Palestinian National Council, when the PLO accepted the Two-State Solution based on the Partition Plan (UN Resolution 181), and UN Resolutions 242 and 338, the ideological gap between the two movements became political as well.8

After the Algiers Declaration Hamas began to form its own national aspirations and challenged the PLO’s status as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.9 Yet, the Hamas maintained an ambivalent approach towards the PLO, which combines fundamental objection to its national agenda, with a realistic evaluation of the PLO's advantages in the national balance of power.

Relations between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA)

Hamas refused to recognize the Oslo Process or the entity it gave birth to, the PA. However, the political reality forced Hamas to adopt an ambivalent approach towards the PA as well:

  • Dilemma of participating in the PA – Hamas' refusal to recognize the PA prevented it from participating in governmental institutions, and the organization was therefore blocked from political and economic resources. Hamas resolved this dilemma by treating each election mechanism separately:10
  1. Municipal elections: In order to gain more influence in Gaza and the West Bank, Hamas ran in municipal elections, arguing that they were not based on the Oslo Accords but on Jordanian law.
  2. Elections for the Chairman of the PA: After Hamas realized that it did not have the ability to field a candidate capable of defeating Fatah (Arafat and Abu Mazen), the organization boycotted the elections (1/96, 1/05). Its official reason for not participating was that it does not recognize the Oslo Accords.11
  3. Elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC): Due to its refusal to recognize Oslo, Hamas did not participate in the elections for the PLC that were held in 1/96. After the death of Arafat, and in light of harsh criticism of Fatah’s leadership of the PA, Hamas decided to run in elections for the PLC in 1/06. This decision represented a strategic shift – from presenting an alternative to official establishments (PLO and PA), to taking over them and bringing change from within.
  • Dilemma of violent resistance – The use of violence is a central component of Hamas’ identity. Terror operations throughout the Oslo Process caused violent confrontations between the PA and Hamas in 1994 and 1996, killing sixteen Palestinian citizens. Fear of a Palestinian civil war and the threat of IDF operations brought Hamas to adopt a more pragmatic approach, manifested, inter alia, in understandings reached in 1994 that Hamas would not carry out attacks from Area A, and its acceptance of the Hudna during the Second Intifada.

Hamas and the International Community

In general, the position of the international community vis-à-vis Hamas is not unified. There are several approaches towards the movement:

  • Hamas is a terrorist organization: The United States was the first country to recognize the movement as a terrorist organization (1993)12, and has subsequently attempted to disrupt its finances. The EU13 and Canada14 have also recognized Hamas as such.
  • Distinction between the military and the political wings: Australia15 is the only country which makes a distinction between the two wings of Hamas.
  • Refusal to officially recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization: The UN, Russia and the Arab states do not view Hamas as a terrorist organization.

1 For further elaboration see Ethos of Struggle.
2 This division is based on the book “Hamas, al Hakika w’al Wujud” (Hamas, the truth and the reality, 1990, part 1, pages 3-4) written by members of the movement. Quoted in Shaul Mishal, Avraham Sela, The Palestinian Hamas, Vision, Violence and Coexistence; (Yediot Ahronot, 1999), pp. 39-40.
3 “The Muslim Brotherhood” was founded in Egypt by Hasan al Bana in the 1930s. The organization’s long term objective was to establish Islamic regimes in Arab countries. It's activity centered around mosques and Islamic welfare agencies (Dawah). The relations between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian government experienced ups and downs and included wide-range arrests the illegalization of the movement. The writings of Sayid Qutb, the organization's spiritual father, are considered the ideological foundation of fundamentalist terrorism.
4 The movement Al-Mujama was registered as a non-profit social-cultural foundation by the Israeli Civil Administration.
5 For an analysis of terrorism finance see the US Council on Foreign Relations report, Mulslih, Muhammad, The Foreign Policy of Hamas.
6 For further information see: Morton Klein, Focus on Hamas: The PLO’s Friend or Foe? Middle East Quarterly, June, 1996.
7 See Hamas Covenant Paragraph 27: “The day The Palestinian Liberation Organization adopts Islam as its way of life, we will become its soldiers, and fuel for its fire that will burn the enemies.”
8 Ephraim Levy, “Reciprocal institutional relations between the PLO and the PA – Political ramifications”; in Asher Susser (Ed.), Palestinians in the Post-Arafat Era, (Moshe Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University).
9 Mayer Litvack, “Hamas, the PLO and the question of Legitimate Palestinian Representation”, Ibid; and Mishal, Ibid, p. 30.
10 See Interview with ‘internal’ leader of Hamas, Mahmoud Zahar: Regular, Ha’artez, 10/26/05.
11 Litvack, Ibid, p. 37.
13 The EU first made a distinction between Hamas’ military and political wings, see E.C. decision 12/01. However, two years later, the EU officially recognized Hamas as a terrorist organization. E.C. decision 12/22/03.
14 For further information click here.

15 For further information click here.

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