Poll June 2006

The Future of Hamas

The Atlantic recently asked a group of foreign-policy authorities about what lies ahead for Hamas

Q: Will the Hamas-led government remain in power over the next four years? (35 votes)

NO: 54% / YES: 46%

“No government in the Palestinian Authority is likely to last four years at the moment.”

“I suspect it will be brought down either in early elections or [by] violence.”

“No. It seems unlikely that the current government will have that kind of stability. Hamas may remain in power, but it may form a coalition with others down the road.”

“No. I doubt they will be able to sustain themselves economically, and their opposition will reorganize.”

“No, but Hamas will be a part of future governments as the leadership of Fatah passes to a new generation.”

“No. Governing is so much harder than criticizing—the popularity of Hamas (and the eradication of Israel) is a fantasy. Either Hamas will behave more responsibly, hurting itself with the Palestinian base, or it will continue to exist on another planet, while Israel will still be there. Either way, trouble is ahead.”

“No. But it is likely to be a major constituent in an unstable Palestinian government for the foreseeable future.”

“Yes. Fatah has been discredited, and Palestinians are looking for an alternative.”

“Yes. I believe that the Israeli government will conclude that its short-term interests are best served by having a Hamas-led government in control and will operate accordingly: it will not take actions that would lead to a total collapse of the Hamas regime; it will not provide covert or diplomatic support to groups organizing to replace Hamas; and it will point to Hamas radicalism and corruption as justifications of Israeli policies. Given the deadlock of Israeli politics, it could hardly have a better Palestinian government.”

Q: If the Hamas-led government stays in power, will it:

A. Adopt a less belligerent stance toward Israel, opening up new opportunities for peace agreements?
B. Continue to be openly and implacably hostile to Israel, resulting in continued (and perhaps escalating) violence between the two sides? (32 votes)

A.: 69% / B.: 31%

“The Hamas-led government will become somewhat less hostile toward Israel, though this will depend in large measure on how the Israelis respond to the new realities in the Palestinian Authority. It will also depend importantly on the extent to which this new government can deliver real improvements in the basic condition of the Palestinians (e.g. jobs and some improvement in their treatment by the Israelis). It is not likely to be able to do this without a measurable softening of its rhetoric toward Israel.”

“If Hamas consolidates power over the coming year in office, it will then become less belligerent in its succeeding months in office. Much also depends, however, on Israeli policy.”

“Hamas’s rhetoric will be about the same, but practicalities will mean a less belligerent posture. Hamas will remain focused on improving the lives of Palestinians.”

“It is an open question whether Hamas will soften its rhetoric to a degree that will satisfy Israel. If it does so only partially, then Israel may respond harshly, leading to escalation on both sides.”

“I think that they will belligerently adopt a less belligerent stance. They understand that their popularity is based on popular perceptions that they can deliver in terms of improving Palestinian governance and standards of living, and this requires some degree of tacit cooperation with Israel. However, they will not want to actually make peace, especially after Israel unilaterally pulls back from most of the West Bank, as seems likely.”

“The real answer is that Hamas will remain formally opposed to Israel and will not engage in peace process negotiations, but it will focus on state building in the Palestinian area and not on violent resistance against Israel.”

“I suspect the answer will be somewhere in between: Hamas will remain rhetorically hostile to Israel but be careful not to stage large attacks that will result in massive retaliation. I doubt there will be a peace agreement, but Israel will continue with its policy of unilateral disengagement from the West Bank.”

“Hamas will likely remain hostile to Israel in rhetoric and as a matter of official policy, but that does not necessarily presage intensified violence. Hamas could actually moderate its domestic actions as it is compelled to govern effectively in order to be re-elected. It may or may not then alter its policy towards Israel simultaneously. But whether it chooses to escalate the violence is an independent variable, in my estimation.”

“The more likely outcome will be that Hamas will continue to be openly hostile to Israel while violence diminishes, because Hamas calculates that for now, at least, violence does not serve its ends, and Israelis opt to move toward pre-1967 borders.”

“There’s an obvious additional option: Hamas will continue to be implacably hostile, but less openly. Yasir Arafat learned eventually that if he spoke like a liberal, he could do almost any hostile thing he wanted and not get criticized. Hamas may tone down its rhetoric and learn to use some ambiguous liberal-sounding phrases in English – e.g., talking about the Palestinians’ legitimate rights and the desire for a just peace. That way it won’t be openly hostile, but it also won’t be creating opportunities for peace agreements, much less peace itself.”

Q: Do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

1. The success of a Hamas-led government would likely help Islamic extremist causes throughout the Middle East. (31 votes)

DISAGREE: 52% / AGREE: 48%

“Disagree. I do not think the fortunes of Hamas will have much impact—one way or the other—on extremist causes elsewhere.”

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