Despite Election, Hamas Is Still a Terrorist Organization

Nov. 22, 2006 — -- Since the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) garnered 44 percent of the vote in the Palestinian legislative elections last January, critics of the Bush administration have consistently demanded that Washington "recognize" the organization.

These critics argue that the Palestinian elections were the freest and fairest in the Arab world (true), that the outcome reflects the "will of the Palestinian people" (false), and that Hamas provides social services to Palestinians in need (irrelevant).

Those advocating recognition of Hamas based on these three criteria are engaged in an analytical sleight of hand.

The fact that a given organization that has historically engaged in terrorism participated in an election and continues to undertake relief work does not necessarily mean that it can no longer be considered a terrorist group.

Indeed, supporters of recognition have never offered a compelling argument to support the contention that by dint of its electoral gains and charity work, Hamas should no longer be considered a terrorist organization.

Moreover, there is no serious scholarly work arguing that electoral participation, charity work and terrorism are mutually exclusive.

To deny that Hamas is a terrorist group is an ideological position rather than an analytical conclusion based on an honest consideration of the evidence.

What supporters of recognition tend to neglect is the violent imperative that gave impetus to Hamas' founding.

In the mid- and late 1980s, members of the Palestine branch of the Muslim Brotherhood were concerned that an organization called Islamic Jihad was gaining nationalist prestige among Palestinians at the Brotherhood's expense, because of Jihad's use of violence against Israelis.

For these members of the Brotherhood, the solution to their political problem was the establishment of Hamas.

This new organization would continue the Brotherhood's historic mission of Islamization of society through good works, but it would also include a military wing to perpetrate terrorist acts against Israelis in an effort to burnish the group's nationalist image thereby outmaneuvering Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian political arena.

Thus, the founding covenant of Hamas is explicit in its mission to liberate all of historic Palestine using a variety of tactics including violence.

Steven A. Cook is the Douglas Dillon Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. This essay is part of a debate series being sponsored by IQ2 US, in New York on Nov. 29, 2006. For more information visit

The result has been the bloody carnage the world has witnessed on Israeli buses, cafes, restaurants, clubs, and shopping malls, killing thousands of innocent Israelis since the mid-1990s.

Moreover, since Hamas came to power, it has never renounced violence as a means of achieving its primary political objective -- the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territory that includes Israel proper under Islamic law.

To be sure, the Hamas leadership has periodically called for or agreed to what is called a "hudna" or cease-fire.

To the uninitiated (or gullible) this seems like a positive step toward a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Yet hudna connotes a temporary quality to the cessation of violence. It was during one such hudna negotiated under the auspices of the Egyptian government that Hamas orchestrated the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit and the killing of two of his fellow soldiers in June 2006 along the Israel-Gaza border.

Under the weight of the available evidence that Hamas is, in fact, a terrorist organization, supporters of the Islamic Resistance Movement tend to shift their argument to focus on Israeli behavior.

They argue that Israel has expropriated Palestinian land, continues to illegally settle in the West Bank, has killed Palestinian civilians, and worked to undermine the Palestinian Authority under both Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas.

All of these claims are true, but citing this sorry state of affairs does not analytically alter the fact that Hamas is a terrorist organization.

If the issue was whether Israel had contributed to an environment where extremist ideologies, alienation, and ultimately, terrorism could thrive, serious observers would have very little to debate.

More importantly, however, discussion of Israel's behavior is explicitly intended to change the subject away from Hamas' own actions and absolve it of responsibility for its own behavior.

Simply participating in an election does not confer democratic legitimacy on a given organization.

One of the primary principles of democratic governance is nonviolence. Yet, Hamas leaders have consistently stated that they will not relinquish their "right to armed struggle."

Despite the best efforts of the Islamic Resistance Movement's supporters, participating in last January's elections is analytically irrelevant to the question of whether Hamas is a terrorist organization.

Sadly it remains a group dedicated to the violent destruction of Israel and, in the process, the inevitable and purposeful killing of innocents.

Not until Hamas alters its founding charter, renounces violence, and simultaneously puts down its arms can observers confidently conclude that Hamas is not a terrorist organization.

Steven A. Cook is the Douglas Dillon Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. This essay is part of a debate series being sponsored by IQ2 US, in New York on Nov. 29, 2006. For more information visit