This chapter provides the historic backdrop to Hamas's creation in 1987 and explores the legacy of Islamic Palestinian nationalism that the movement is built on. It narrates the contributions of Izz al-Din al-Qassam and the Muslim Brotherhood to early anti-Zionism, leading up to the 1936 Arab Revolt and the 1948 war. Charting the rise of Fatah and the PLO in the wake of Israel's establishment and the Palestinian nakba (catastrophe) through the liberation era of the 1960s and 1970s, it demonstrates the PLO's recalibration away from armed struggle toward diplomatic engagement. With the outbreak of the First Palestinian Intifada in the late 1980s, a turning point was reached and Hamas emerged as an Islamic Palestinian national movement. Rejecting what it viewed as defeatist concessions by the PLO, Hamas adopted a strategy of jihad and codified its formal charter to liberate historic Palestine.
Mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO marked the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 and the onset of the peace process. This chapter explores Hamas's opposition to that process and the campaign of suicide bombing it waged to force the collapse of negotiations. By analyzing the attrition that shaped relations between Israel and Hamas throughout the Second Intifada, the chapter demonstrates how Hamas used violence strategically in an attempt to force Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territories. Ariel Sharon's iron-fist response and Hamas's failure to compel Israel to relinquish control forced the movement to reckon with the limitations of armed struggle as a means of liberation. Sharon's success in aligning Israeli policies toward Palestinian resistance with President Bush's "War on Terror" further constricted Hamas. By the intifada's third year, Hamas was forced into unilateral ceasefires to limit the damage of Israel's military operations against the Palestinians.
This chapter charts Hamas's efforts to move its conception of resistance away from the battlefield and into the political arena. Several events facilitated an opening for electoral participation as the Second Intifada came to a close, including American pressure on the Palestinian Authority to reform, Israel's decision to disengage from the Gaza Strip, and the campaign of targeted assassinations and military operations carried out ahead of this unilateral withdrawal. After several rounds of domestic negotiations, Palestinian factions agreed on the Cairo Declaration, a cornerstone agreement to reform the PLO and incorporate Hamas into the Palestinian polity. Alongside the imminent power vacuum in Gaza, these developments strengthened Hamas's resolve to participate in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections on a "Change and Reform" platform as a way of shaping the future of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.
Following Hamas's election victory, the United States and Israel led a diplomatic, financial, and military effort to isolate Hamas's incoming government, and to empower Fatah. These measures were manifest in conditions set forth by the "Quartet." This chapter maps these interventionist efforts and the implications they had for obstructing Hamas's ability to transition into the political arena. It explores Hamas's reactions to these policies and its attempts to mitigate their impact, which in turn exacerbated tension in the Palestinian territories. The efforts to isolate Hamas and circumvent its pragmatic attempts at reconciliation ensured the failure of successive unity governments. After Israel's military operations in Gaza and Lebanon in 2006, which erupted following Hamas's capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, a unity government was finally produced through the Mecca Agreement. The chapter describes how foreign meddling and rapid militarization prevented the agreement from taking hold, precipitating a domestic clash in Gaza.
In 2007, Hamas took over the Gaza Strip. This chapter charts the first five years of Hamas's governance and the implications of the crippling Israeli blockade imposed on the strip. In the face of this stranglehold, Hamas consolidated its control over Gaza and pursued initiatives to circumvent the blockade, including the construction of tunnels under the Rafah border with Egypt. Throughout this period, Hamas integrated "resistance" into its institutions of governance, defiantly forging a de facto administration to serve the movement's liberation goals. These efforts created a new dynamic with Israel, culminating with Operation Cast Lead in 2008. While both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority paid lip service to reconciliation during this time, this chapter argues that each faction pursued its own agenda and ultimately locked the Palestinian leadership into a zero-sum competition. This rivalry was adeptly leveraged by Israel to sustain and institutionalize a Palestinian national division.
Surveying the 2011 upheaval across the Middle East, often referred to as the "Arab Spring," this chapter tracks Hamas's efforts to manage its regional relations at a time of flux. It examines the initial good fortune enjoyed by the movement as Islamic parties rose to power in North Africa, and assesses the implications for Hamas's ability to consolidate its grip on Gaza and revive reconciliation attempts. At the same time, Israel sustained a dual-pronged strategy of isolation and deterrence aimed at managing Hamas's military capacity. The removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power in Egypt in 2013 reversed the movement's advance, precipitating a series of unexpected and damaging events that severely undermined Hamas's ability to sustain its government in Gaza. Israel's blockade ultimately achieved its alleged purpose of weakening Hamas and pushing the movement to relinquish its government through the signing of the Shati Agreement in 2014.
The conclusion situates the destruction wrought by Israel's Operation Protective Edge in 2014 as the culmination of dynamics unfolding over a decade of Hamas rule in Gaza. It demonstrates the application and consequences of a broader strategy of containment and pacification. Rather than encouraging Hamas's political overtures, Israeli leaders have misrepresented the movement as little more than a terrorist organization committed to Israel's destruction. These accusations draw on Hamas's Islamist character, conflating the movement with transnational groups such as al-Qaeda, eliding its deeply nationalist commitments tethered to political aims. Israel's policies of isolation have successfully entrenched Hamas in Gaza, and intermittent rounds of military operations to "mow the lawn" have forcefully imposed an ongoing process of pacification. Against this backdrop, the conclusion assesses Hamas's role in politics and Palestinian nationalism, and Israel's broader strategy toward Gaza and the Palestinian territories as the continuation of conflict management rather than resolution.