The Washington Quarterly

Is Hamas Winning?

Hamas members are ‘‘ants,’’ declared Yasser Arafat, the father and long-time leader of the Palestinian national movement, during a private speech in 1990. Its cadre, he went on, should cower in their holes lest they be crushed by Arafat’s Fatah forces. Arafat’s swagger seemed justified. Fatah had ruled the roost for decades, and after Hamas emerged in December 1987 as the first intifada erupted, the Islamist organization was on the ropes. After a few unimpressive attacks, Israel had quickly arrested over 1,000 Hamas members, including its top leadership. In 1989, less than three percent of Palestinians in Gaza, where Hamas would later prove strongest, supported the organization. Journalist Zaki Chehab claimed Hamas’ military wing only had twenty machine guns as the intifada wound down. Fatah, it seemed, would remain the dominant force in the Palestinian National Movement.

Just over twenty-five years later, Hamas has turned the tables, becoming the de facto government of Gaza and threatening to surpass Fatah as the voice of the Palestinian people. Regardless of which dimension of success you look at recognition from Arab and Muslim states, relations with Israel, and most importantly its position vis-a-vis Fatah/Hamas is emerging triumphant. Israel, the United States, and the international community must recognize the ugly truth: Hamas is winning, and it may be too late to reverse this trend.

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