The Foreign Policy of Hamas

February 15, 2000



Hamas is not a monolithic organization. Hamas is not a fundamentalist movement. Opposition to Oslo and subsequent Israeli- Palestinian agreements, violent attacks on Israeli targets, challenges to the Palestinian Authority (PA), and anti-American polemics, all have fed the belief that Hamas is a militant movement on a collision course with the West and with the forces of moderation in the Arab world. This view must be reassessed. As the peace process moves forward with the signing of the Sharm el-Shaykh agreement between Israel and the PA in September 1999, the foreign policy of Hamas becomes more important to understand because it may have a direct bearing on the Arab-Israeli peace process. At least in this sense, Hamas' policies are extremely relevant for U.S. policymakers. Hamas' presence in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as in Arab countries that neighbor Israel, makes it particularly relevant to America's efforts to forge regional peace and stability.

The Palestinian territories and the Arab countries that neighbor Israel are at the heart of the peace process. Political developments in these areas also have a direct bearing on the policies of the Gulf governments. In addition, Hamas is a major voice of dissent against U.S. policies in the Middle East. Hence, the future course of Hamas may promote or hinder peace and stability in the region. Hamas' political activism, especially its acts of violence against Israel in the mid-1990s, coincided with the rise of the Muhammad Muslih and the United States to a position of unchallenged preeminence in regional and international politics. The confluence of these two currents has challenged America's two declared foreign policy goals: promoting political pluralism and containing radical Islamic movements.

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Palestinian Territories

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

For many in the West, it is axiomatic that Hamas is a combative, ideological monolith that poses a direct threat not only to the peace process but also to Western interests in the region. American policymakers, like the public in general, see Hamas solely in terms of extremism and terrorism. While this is understandable in light of the violent actions of Hamas, it fails to take into account the diversity of the movement and the multiple and complex manifestations of its policies. Hamas should not be viewed as the monolithic enemy of America and the Middle East peace process. Its policies do not reduce to a rigid doctrine of religious reassertion.

Equally important, Hamas proved that it can change and adapt to new developments. The dynamic of the peace process is placing tremendous strains on the movement. The pressures of the PA and of other parties involved in the peace process have added to these strains weakening the infrastructure of Hamas and forcing it to reevaluate its policies and its modes of action. This paper analyzes the foreign policy of Hamas and the diversity of its multiple manifestations. It also discusses the international ramifications of this policy and concludes by suggesting practical measures the United States can take to encourage the inclusion of Hamas in peacemaking and nation-building in Palestine. This paper assumes that a policy of inclusion will broaden the base of Palestinian support for the peace process. It will also encourage more moderation on the part of Hamas.

More on:

Palestinian Territories

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

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