Symposium: The Transformation of Hamas?

Is Hamas ready to accept Israel and become a democratic force if engaged properly by the U.S.?

In a recent article in The Nation, titled “The Transformation of Hamas,” Prof. Fawaz A. Gerges argues that Hamas is ready to accept Israel and to become a moderate and democratic force if it is engaged properly by the U.S. and the West.

What reality is there to this proposition? Today Frontpage Symposium has assembled a distinguished panel to discuss the supposed “transformation” of Hamas. Our guests are:

Kenneth Levin, a clinical instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, a Princeton-trained historian, and a commentator on Israeli politics. He is the author of The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege.

P. David Hornik, a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva, Israel, and a frequent contributor to and Pajamas Media.


Robert Spencer, a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. His latest book is The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran. He is coauthor (with Pamela Geller) of the forthcoming book, _The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America._

[Editorial note: I emailed Prof. Fawaz A. Gerges several times to invite him to join this discussion, but my invitations went unanswered.]

FP: Kenneth Levin, David Hornik and Robert Spencer, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.

Kenneth Levin, tell us your thoughts on Prof. Fawaz A. Gerges’s article. Is Hamas truly ready to embrace Israelis? This means they are ready to abolish Article 11 of their Charter, which is the sole purpose for their existence. This is a bit confusing. What’s your angle?

Levin: Thanks Jamie.

Gerges’s article is simply pro-Hamas propaganda; it is shilling for a murderous organization dedicated to an explicitly genocidal agenda. Unfortunately, this has become standard fare for pieces touching on Israel in the pages of The Nation.

The Hamas charter that you mention not only calls for Israel’s annihilation but asserts the killing of all Jews to be a religious duty, and Hamas leaders continually reiterate their eternal fealty to the charter’s declarations. Just recently, senior Hamas figure Osama Abu Khaled shot down claims of any moderating of the organization’s goals and asserted that its objective remains Israel’s destruction. In addition, Hamas-controlled schools and children’s television continue to indoctrinate their young audience in the virtues of devoting themselves to the murder of Jews.

Gerges supports his stance by citing Hamas statements in the vein of being prepared to accept an Israeli retreat to the pre-1967 cease-fire lines. But Hamas leaders have repeatedly explained that they view any such “acceptance” as an interim step on the path to eliminating Israel. The same is true with regard to Hamas’s willingness to enter into truces. While Gerges asserts that this too is evidence of the organization’s “moderating,” Hamas has made clear that it views truces as vehicles to facilitate its strengthening its own forces until it is in a better position to pursue Israel’s annihilation.

In expounding his thesis, Gerges makes much of other indirect “evidence” as well, “evidence” as meaningless as the examples cited.

Among his other claims, Gerges asserts that the task of governing Gaza and satisfying the needs of its people is one of the factors pushing Hamas to moderation. This has for almost a century been a recurrent - and empty - line of argument proffered by apologists for despotic, murderous regimes. Many were the voices in 1933 that declared Hitler’s rise to the position of chancellor in Germany and his need to govern the nation would inevitably push him to moderate his murderous objectives.

In a similar vein, Gerges cites Hamas’s violent confrontations with other Islamist groups in Gaza as additional evidence of its moderation. Of course, these confrontations are no more than struggles for dominance among competing parties.

After the 1934 “Night of the Long Knives,” when Hitler, apparently fearing a potentially competing power base, had Ernst Roehm and other leaders of the Nazi Sturm Abteilung, the SA, murdered, numerous voices in the West chose to interpret the move as Hitler’s eliminating Nazi extremists and as evidence of his own moderating.

Having established, to his apparent satisfaction, Hamas’s “political evolution and deepening moderation,” Gerges then gets to his predictable conclusion: The real problem is not Hamas and its genocidal agenda but Israel - which, Gerges suggests, is the true “hardline” and “extremist” party in the conflict. The key obstacle to peace is Israel and its refusal to make the concessions that would free Hamas to go public with its new moderation and allow it to follow its heart and abandon more explicitly its goal of killing all Jews.

This is what passes for serious discourse on the Israeli-Arab conflict in The Nation and likeminded anti-Israel outlets.

FP: Robert Spencer, what do you make of Gerges’s article and Kenneth Levin’s comments? And I would like you to expand on this idea that Hamas would or could somehow stray from Islamic orthodoxy regarding Jews and territories that are considered to belong to the House of Islam.

Spencer: Jamie, Kenneth Levin is entirely correct, and his observations are important. Gerges’s article is indeed, as Levin says, “simply pro-Hamas propaganda…shilling for a murderous organization dedicated to an explicitly genocidal agenda.” And it is crucial to bear in mind that “the Hamas charter that you mention not only calls for Israel’s annihilation but asserts the killing of all Jews to be a religious duty, and Hamas leaders continually reiterate their eternal fealty to the charter’s declarations.”

Of course, in contrast to this, Gerges insists that “there are unmistakable signs that the religiously based radical movement has subtly changed its uncompromising posture on Israel.” But not even Gerges could bring himself to assert that there have been any signs at all, subtle or not, that Hamas has changed its uncompromising posture on Islam, and that makes all the difference. For as long as Hamas remains a group committed to what it regards as Islamic purity, it also remains committed to the Islamic principle that land that is considered to have once belonged to the dar al-Islam belongs by right to the dar al-Islam forever. It remains committed to the idea that, as the twentieth-century Pakistani jihad theorist Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi put it, non-Muslims have “absolutely no right to seize the reins of power in any part of God’s earth nor to direct the collective affairs of human beings according to their own misconceived doctrines.” If they do, “the believers would be under an obligation to do their utmost to dislodge them from political power and to make them live in subservience to the Islamic way of life.”

This means that if Hamas remains an Islamic group, it remains committed to the destruction of Israel. The strategy that Hamas may pursue in order to attain this goal may change enough to deceive Fawaz Gerges or, if he is in on the joke, then the readers of The Nation, but the goal remains the same.

It is also important to note in light of Gerges’ article that Hamas also, insofar as it continues to be an Islamic religious party, also believes in the acceptability of deceiving unbelievers, particularly in wartime. This is based on a hadith in which Muhammad says that lying is permissible in war, and others in which he says “war is deceit.” Also, Qur’an 3:28 warns Muslims not to take unbelievers as “friends or helpers” (َأَوْلِيَا — a word that means more than casual friendship, but something like alliance), “unless (it be) that ye but guard yourselves against them.” This is a foundation of the idea that believers may legitimately deceive unbelievers when under pressure. The word used for “guard” in the Arabic is tuqātan (تُقَاةً), the verbal noun from taqiyyatan — hence the increasingly familiar term taqiyya. Ibn Kathir says that the phrase given above as “unless (it be) that ye but guard yourselves against them” means that “believers who in some areas or times fear for their safety from the disbelievers” may “show friendship to the disbelievers outwardly, but never inwardly. For instance, Al-Bukhari recorded that Abu Ad-Darda’ said, ‘We smile in the face of some people although our hearts curse them.’ Al-Bukhari said that Al-Hasan said, ‘The Tuqyah [taqiyya] is allowed until the Day of Resurrection.’”

While many Muslim spokesmen today maintain that taqiyya is solely a Shi’ite doctrine, shunned by Sunnis, the great Islamic scholar Ignaz Goldziher points out that while it was formulated by Shi’ites, “it is accepted as legitimate by other Muslims as well, on the authority of Qur’an 3:28.” The Sunnis of Al-Qaeda practice it today.

It is much more likely that Hamas is practicing taqiyya in appearing to accept the existence of Israel and being willing to negotiate, than that they have actually abandoned Islamic doctrine on these matters.

FP: Thank you Robert Spencer.

David Hornik what do you make of the comments by Kennth Levin and Robert Spencer?

I would also like you to comment on two points:

[1] Gerges makes much of the fact that Hamas participated in elections and was elected. Does this by necessity confer reasonableness and legitimacy on Hamas?

[2] Gerges’s alleged quotes showing Hamas officials’ moderation were said in English. Is there a chance that Hamas’s messages are a bit different in Arabic to their own people?

Hornik: Jamie, Kenneth Levin’s comments are right on the mark. I wanted to add something to his observation that “Gerges supports his stance by citing Hamas statements in the vein of being prepared to accept an Israeli retreat to the pre-1967 cease-fire lines.” Kenneth rightly points out that “Hamas has made clear that it views truces as vehicles to facilitate its strengthening its own forces until it is in a better position to pursue Israel ’s annihilation.” It could also be added that, in regard to Gaza, Israel already has retreated, fully, to the pre-1967 cease-fire lines, in the 2005 disengagement. Hamas took power in Gaza in winter 2006 not long before the Olmert government–which ran on a platform of further withdrawals in the West Bank–came to office in Israel (indeed, Olmert eventually offered Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas essentially all of the West Bank).

Seemingly, if Hamas’s aim is–as Gerges claims–a genuine territorial compromise with Israel, it would have encouraged the then-Israeli trend of withdrawal by showing Israel what a peaceful, constructive neighbor it could be in Gaza. Instead, of course, it rained hundreds of rockets and mortars on Israel until even the highly reluctant Olmert government had to launch Israel’s Gaza campaign last year, while the Israeli public soured on the idea of further withdrawals and elected a more realistic government. Yet, if you search the word “rocket” in Gerges’s article, you’ll come up with nothing. “Siege” is a different matter–he refers to the Israeli “siege” of Gaza several times but never refers to “rocket,” which is like referring to fire-trucks while leaving out the issue of fire.

Robert Spencer, in stressing Hamas’s inevitable religious commitment as an Islamic organization to the liberation of any part of dar al-Islam that is ruled by non-Muslims–meaning in this case, of course, not only the West Bank but the pre-1967 state of Israel itself–goes to the ideological heart of the matter. It is difficult to believe that Fawad Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern politics and international relations at the London School of Economics, is not aware of this tenet of Islam and how inextricably Hamas is bound to it, and the fact that he professes to take at face value a few Hamas statements in English about a territorial deal with Israel casts doubt on the ingenuousness of his article.

As for Hamas’s having been democratically elected, on which Gerges (like all other Hamas apologists) also puts much emphasis, naturally it can be pointed out that another totalitarian movement committed to the annihilation of Jews, the National Socialists in Germany, were also democratically elected, had to deal with all the mundane details of governance, etc., and it hardly had a moderating effect on them. Gerges never gets around to asking what has become of democracy in Gaza since Hamas’s election; the answer, of course, is that Gaza has become a classic, one-party, totalitarian political entity with no political opposition allowed and certainly no further elections in sight. Hamas’s brief venture at joint rule with Fatah in 2007, even though Fatah was in a distinctly subordinate position, ended with Hamas’s bloody ouster of Fatah and total takeover in June of that year, with its erstwhile Fatah compatriots being thrown off tall buildings.

And as for your question, Jamie, about Hamas’s messages to its own people in Arabic, as distinct from the few quotes in English to Western journalists that Gerges cites, the answer is that the messages in Arabic remain steeped in genocidal anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel. Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV recently broadcast a play staged at the Islamic University in Gaza City claiming that Jews, as part of their religious practice, drink the blood of Arabs and Muslims and wash their hands in it. In a recent sermon in a mosque in the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza, Hamas-affiliated preacher Ziyad Abu al-Hajj stated that “the time will come, if Allah so allows, when their property [of the Jews] will be destroyed and their children will be exterminated, until not one single Jew or Zionist remains on earth.” During Israel’s campaign in Gaza last year, a book called The Zionist Holocaust was seized; it was printed by Hamas in 2008 and is full of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic hatred.

There is no murderous, anti-Western, totalitarian movement–whether Nazism, Soviet communism, Chinese communism, Hezbollah, Hamas etc.–that has not had its apologists in the West. Gerges’s article is part of that inglorious tradition.

FP: Thank you David Hornik.

Kenneth Levin, some thoughts on Robert Spencer’s and David Hornik’s comments and some final words?

Levin: The points made by Robert Spencer and David Hornik are all incisive, further demonstrating the intellectual dishonesty of Gerges’s arguments. Robert Spencer’s observations about Hamas’s commitment to Islamic orthodoxy, with its categorical rejection of accepting territorial control of any part of what is deemed dar al-Islam by unbelievers, itself gives the lie to Gerges’s thesis. The discussion of Islamic religious sanctioning of deception against unbelievers provides further, important elaboration on Gerges’s sham claims.

David Hornik’s discussion of what would have been Hamas’s behavior in the wake of Israel’s Gaza withdrawal had it genuinely been interested in an ultimate accommodation with Israel is another incisive rejoinder to Gerges. And David’s point about the absurdity of suggesting that electoral success somehow confers legitimacy on a genocidal regime is likewise on target. His additional examples of what, in fact, Hamas is currently telling its own people, with its anti-Jewish blood libels and its references to pursuing the annihilation of the Jews, further casts Gerges’s distortions in their proper perspective.

As David Hornik also notes, Gerges’s, and The Nation’s, apologetics for a genocidal regime is hardly something new but rather has a pedigree as hoary as it is ugly.

FP: Thank you Kevin Levin,

Robert Spencer, final comments?

I’d like you to touch on Gerges’s argument, which is a bizarre and ongoing theme and assumption in the media, that Palestinians have made all kinds of concessions and that Israel has made none. We know that in terms of the planet that we happen to be occupying, Israel has made eternal concessions, many of which are mentioned in this symposium. What concessions have the Palestinians ever made? I can’t even think of one. All that comes to mind is the violation of the Oslo accords, the preaching of hate in the Palestinian media, mosques and schools, and the constant terror being inflicted on Israelis.

What concession have the Palestinians ever made? (i.e. cracking down on the terrorist infrastructure, conceding that maybe Jews should not be exterminated from the face of the earth, etc.) Can you think of one real one?

Spencer: Jamie, in this context David Hornik’s observation is apposite, that “Hamas’s messages to its own people in Arabic, as distinct from the few quotes in English to Western journalists that Gerges cites, … remain steeped in genocidal anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel.” The closest thing that the Palestinians have ever come to an actual concession has been the appearance of concessions manufactured for the Western press, but contradicted in their Arabic statements.

Yasir Arafat, for example, agreed to the Oslo Accords, which angered many Palestinians with their apparent concessions to Israel, but Arafat explained in Arabic that he was following the model of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah. This was a pivotal treaty that Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, agreed to with the pagan Arabs of the Quraysh tribe, who were at that time (although they were his own people) his principal enemies. Muhammad made significant concessions, to the consternation of his closest followers, but broke the treaty when he was in a stronger position vis-à-vis the Quraysh and no longer needed to make concessions to them in order to get what he wanted.

Sure enough, true to Arafat’s analogy, the Palestinians did indeed break the Oslo accords. And despite numerous entreaties from naïve Western leaders, they have never recognized Israel’s right to exist (although several Palestinian leaders, including even Khaled Meshaal of Hamas, have give the appearance of doing so on some occasions), nor have made any other concessions.

It’s noteworthy that last year when Obama met with Netanyahu, he pressed him for concessions on the “settlements,” but when he met with Mahmoud Abbas, he said nothing about the Palestinians needing to end the rocket attacks against Israeli civilians, the genocidal jihadist rhetoric on official Palestinian TV, or anything else. The Palestinians have never conceded an inch to the Israelis. And they never will. Fawaz Gerges must know that.

FP: Last word goes to you David Hornik.

Hornik: “The loathsome occupation in Palestine - its land and its holy places - by these new Mongols and what they are perpetrating upon this holy, blessed and pure     land - killing, assassination, destruction, confiscation, Judaization, harassment and splitting the homeland - are clear proof of…hostility, of incomparable racism,     and of Nazism of the 20th century. The Jews, the enemies of Allah and of His Messenger, the enemies of Allah and of His Messenger!…

“Oh Muslims! The Jews are the Jews. The Jews are the Jews. Even if donkeys would cease to bray, dogs cease to bark, wolves cease to howl and snakes to     bite, the Jews would not cease to harbor hatred towards Muslims. The Prophet said that if two Jews would be alone with a Muslim, they would think only of     killing him. Oh Muslims!… The Prophet says: ‘You shall fight the Jews and kill them….‘ … this land will be liberated only by means of Jihad….”

These words did not issue from Hamas, but were part of a mosque sermon shown on Palestinian Authority TV on January 29, less than two weeks ago. In raising the inane issue of whether Hamas has “moderated,” articles such as Gerges’s further distort the picture by implying that, regarding Fatah–the organization embodied by the Palestinian Authority of the West Bank–moderation has already occurred. Of course, that is far from the case, as–among many other things–the murder of an Israeli soldier last week by a Palestinian Authority police offer testifies, along with the ongoing indoctrination of the West Bank population in genocidally anti-Jewish themes as the above extracts from the sermon exemplify. If this is what happens under Fatah rule–relatively secular compared to Hamas, which is not the same as secular–then discerning a moderating trend in emphatically religious Hamas is the height of inanity–at best.

As for Hamas, it has been disclosed in Israel that last December 12, five Hamas operatives were arrested while trying to infiltrate Israel from Egypt. They were supposed to carry out an attack that had been planned by Rahad Said, a senior Hamas commander in Gaza, involving mass murder and the kidnapping of another IDF soldier–in addition to Gilad Shalit, kidnapped in June 2006 and held ever since, in gross violation of international law, without so much as a visit by the Red Cross. Under interrogation, one of the five captured terrorists disclosed that still another Hamas terrorist was aiming to infiltrate Israel. Based on the information, this operative was captured on December 31 and has confessed to “planning to plant bombs in populated areas.” If Hamas is seeking compromise and peace with Israel, it somehow is not getting the message through. Fawad Gerges and The Nation, in claiming to hear such a message, are taking a side in the conflict between barbarism and civilization and it is not the right side.

FP: Kenneth Levin, David Hornik and Robert Spencer, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium.


To get the whole story behind why the Left reaches out in solidarity to Islamic terrorist entities like Hamas, read Jamie Glazov’s new book, United in Hate: The Left’s Romance with Tyranny and Terror.