May 3, 2007


REVIEW ESSAY: Kingdom of God: Funded by Iran and Saudi Arabia, hated by Washington and Israel, can the Islamist party Hamas cling to power in Palestine?: a review of nside Hamas: the untold story of militants, martyrs and spies by Zaki Chehab, Hamas: unwritten chapters by Azzam Tamimi and Hamas: politics, charity and terrorism in the service of jihad by Matthew Levitt (Roger Hardy, 07 May 2007, New Statesman)

Matthew Levitt's book, Hamas: politics, charity and terrorism in the service of jihad - first published last year and now reissued in paperback - is, as its title suggests, a different animal altogether. In some respects, this is salutary. Unlike the other two authors, Levitt puts a figure on those Hamas has killed: the 79 suicide attacks it carried out between 1989 and 2004 left 473 dead. (There were, of course, non-suicide attacks, too.) For Levitt, Hamas is a terrorist phenomenon pure and simple. His main theme, pursued at length, is that it is futile for Hamas or others (read: Europeans) to make a distinction between its social and political work and its military activities. As befits a former US treasury official (who now works for a pro-Israeli Washington think-tank), Levitt is a number-cruncher. Using Israeli estimates, he reckons Hamas probably has an annual budget of between $70m and $90m, 80 to 85 per cent of which it spends on its political work and its extensive networks of schools, clinics and welfare organisations, while 15 to 20 per cent goes on military operations.

Much of this money comes from the Gulf, in particular from Iran and Saudi Arabia - a sign that support for the movement crosses the Sunni-Shia divide. Many on the Arab side of the Gulf admire Hamas and prefer it to the PLO, which they still blame for siding with Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait in 1990. For Iran, as for Syria, providing Hamas with money, arms or sanctuary is a means of exerting influence in the Israeli-Palestinian arena, and of showing that their support for the Palestinian cause is more than hollow rhetoric.

Levitt argues that crushing Hamas must entail drying up its cash from external and internal sources and shutting down its social networks. How likely this is to happen is debatable. The chances that the international community, working with non-Hamas Palestinians, will pick up the challenge of running Palestine's social infrastructure, and so put Hamas out of business, seem rather slim. Besides, as Levitt acknowledges in an odd turn of phrase, Hamas officials are "notoriously honest"; Fatah's are not.

Like other writers on the Middle East, the three authors have found themselves overtaken by events. Hamas and Fatah have, after months of haggling and with Saudi cajoling, formed a "national-unity government". Its platform includes an implied commitment to one of the west's demands: an agreement to "respect" previous Israeli-Palestinian peace accords. This is not enough to get western aid flowing again, but it is forcing the US and Europe to reassess their stance towards Hamas. It also suggests that there are some in Hamas who realise the movement cannot expect to hold power without paying an ideological price.

Events trump ideology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 3, 2007 12:00 AM

Sounds like a Likudnik...or Tancredo & McCain who are runniung for the nomination of a major American political party. Pols throw red meat to the crowd.

Posted by: oj at May 3, 2007 1:00 PM