From Rebel Movement to Political Party: The Case of the Islamic Resistance Movement

Alastair Crooke

The view held by many in the West that transformation from an armed resistance movement to political party should be linear, should be preceded by a renunciation of violence, should be facilitated by civil society and brokered by moderate politicians has little reality for the case of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas). This is not to suggest that Hamas has not been subject to a political transformation: it has. But that transformation has been achieved in spite of Western efforts and not facilitated by those efforts. While remaining a resistance movement, Hamas has become the government of the Palestinian Authority and has modified its military posture. But this transformation has taken a different course from the one outlined in traditional conflict resolution models. Hamas and other Islamist groups continue to see themselves as resistance movements, but increasingly they see the prospect that their organizations may evolve into political currents that are focused on non-violent resistance.

Standard conflict resolution models rely heavily on Western experience in conflict resolution and often ignore the differences of approach in the Islamic history of peace-making. Not surprisingly, the Hamas approach to political negotiation is different in style to that of the West. Also, as an Islamist movement that shares the wider optic of the impact of the West on their societies, Hamas has requirements of authenticity and legitimacy within its own constituency that bear on the importance attached to maintaining an armed capability. These factors, together with the overwhelming effect of long term conflict on a community’s psychology (an aspect that receives little attention in Western models that put preponderant weight on political analysis), suggests that the transformation process for Hamas has been very different from the transformation of arms movements in traditional analysis. In addition, the harsh landscape of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict gives the Hamas experience its special characteristics.

Hamas is in the midst of an important transformation, but the political currents within Israel, and within the region, make the outcome of this transformation unpredictable. Much will depend on the course of Western policy (its “ Global War on Terror”) and how that policy effects revivalist Islamist groups such as Hamas, groups that are committed to elections, reform and good-governance. This briefing paper explores Hamas’s transformation, and suggests ways for the West to engage the group as perhaps the last remaining way of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Read the complete briefing paper, From rebel movement to political party: the case of the Islamic Resistance Movement (PDF)


  1. Mohammad Afghan Pakhtoonwal wrote:

    In a recent interview the Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that : “The West should stop poisoning the Palestinians among themselves. You were advocating democracy for the Palestinian people? Well, be kind enough to accept its choice”(Al Jazeera TV).

    The biggest obstacle yet to be tackled by the West is a lack of understanding that Hamas will not negotiate but on equal realpolitik terms.

    The status of Jerusalem, for example, is seen as the basis for any meaningful negotiations by Hamas and Muslims around the world. So is the right of return for refugees.

    Israel’s willingness or unwillingness to accept Hamas and its democratic victory is irrelevant to the Peace Process.

    Hamas is seen by the world at large as a legitimate political force. It is imperative that the West should take this on board.

  2. […] Alastair Crooke, Conflicts Forum, March 4: […]

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