What does Hamas realistically think it can achieve by continuing to use violence against Israel? It seems to me that if the Palestinians engaged in peaceful deliberations they would have achieved their own state long ago and that by continuing their terrorist activity they have undermined the cause.
The question does not ask about what Hamas's goals are, but rather why they reject arbitration (or other non-violent strategies) as a means of achieving them. That is what this answer will primarily address.
Original rejection of arbitration
To understand their reasoning, we should go back to Hamas's original Covenant (quotes from the translation, original here) to understand why they rejected peaceful deliberations and other non-violent or less-violent methods (or at least their public reasoning). Hamas talks extensively about their reasoning. First, they frame the conflict as a religious struggle. As such, they argue that peaceful methods are contary to their principles. Although Hamas uses religious reasoning extensively throughout its Covenant, it bears mentioning that this is based on Hamas's interpretation of Islam, which is decidedly conservative and militaristic, but that this interpretation is not characteristic of Islam as a whole.
Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Abusing any part of Palestine is abuse directed against part of religion. Nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its religion. Its members have been fed on that. For the sake of hoisting the banner of Allah over their homeland they fight. "Allah will be prominent, but most people do not know."
Hamas Covenant, Article 13
Further, Hamas argued that the parties that would arbitrate deliberations would not be sufficiently competent or interested in doing justice. They also seemingly imply that it, given that they consider Israel and Palestine to be rightfully Muslim territory,1 non-Muslims should not judge matters in the land:
Now and then the call goes out for the convening of an international conference to look for ways of solving the (Palestinian) question. Some accept, others reject the idea, for this or other reason, with one stipulation or more for consent to convening the conference and participating in it. Knowing the parties constituting the conference, their past and present attitudes towards Moslem problems, the Islamic Resistance Movement does not consider these conferences capable of realising the demands, restoring the rights or doing justice to the oppressed. These conferences are only ways of setting the infidels in the land of the Moslems as arbitraters. When did the infidels do justice to the believers?
Hamas Covenant, Article 13
They argued that direct fighting represented the only means of success. Other methods, to their minds, were doomed to failure.
There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors. The Palestinian people know better than to consent to having their future, rights and fate toyed with.
Hamas Covenant, Article 13
In short, Hamas would simply disagree with the notion that they are undermining their cause through their use of violence. In fact, if they still adhere to the beliefs in their charter, they believe that the use of arbitration would undermine their cause.
Potential practical difficulties
Although Hamas does not necessarily mention this explicitly in the Covenant, I think we can reason a bit further. Some of their goals would be difficult to achieve through non-violent means, and they are undoubtedly aware of that.
The Covenant more or less implies that Hamas views the entirety of Israel as occupied territory in need of liberation, not just East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank (i.e. Palestine). This goal, clearly, would be quite difficult to settle amicably as long as a significant non-Palestinian population lives in the region. However, subsequent statements have been more open to a peace process, and the group has said at various times that it would potentially accept an agreement in which Israel withdrew to the 1967 borders.
Further, Hamas wants an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, but they want more than that. They want a religious Muslim government.
Under the wing of Islam, it is possible for the followers of the three religions - Islam, Christianity and Judaism - to coexist in peace and quiet with each other. Peace and quiet would not be possible except under the wing of Islam. Past and present history are the best witness to that. It is the duty of the followers of other religions to stop disputing the sovereignty of Islam in this region.
Hamas Covenant, Article 31
In fact, their primary disagreement with the Palestinian Liberation Organization was that the latter was too secular:
Because of the situations surrounding the formation of the Organization, of the ideological confusion prevailing in the Arab world as a result of the ideological invasion under whose influence the Arab world has fallen since the defeat of the Crusaders and which was, and still is, intensified through orientalists, missionaries and imperialists, the Organization adopted the idea of the secular state. And that it how we view it.
Secularism completely contradicts religious ideology. Attitudes, conduct and decisions stem from ideologies.
That is why, with all our appreciation for The Palestinian Liberation Organization - and what it can develop into - and without belittling its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, we are unable to exchange the present or future Islamic Palestine with the secular idea. The Islamic nature of Palestine is part of our religion and whoever takes his religion lightly is a loser.
Hamas Covenant, Article 27
Given that in the region as a whole (Israel plus Palestine), there are more Jews than Muslims, as well as a significant and likely growing number of non-religious Palestinians and a handful of Christians, Hamas is likely aware that this sort of government would be difficult to achieve through non-violent means.
That said, it is worth noting that they generally state that Islamic law should be established through democratic means:
Hamas officials say they have no plans to impose Islamic law. “What you are seeing are incidents, not policy,” said Younis al-Astal, a Hamas legislator. “We want Islamic law to be the standard, but we believe in persuasion.”
However, while this may work for Palestine, I suspect that Hamas must be aware of the challenges it would present in Israel.
A further factor, which likely does not apply to all members of Hamas, is anti-Semitism. Although the original charter contains many statements that could be seen as anti-Semitic, in recent years Hamas has stated, at least publicly, that they do not have any dispute with Jews for the sake of being Jews. However, several high-ranking members have made statements suggesting that they would like to see violence visited upon Jews (or sometimes, just Israelis) for its own sake, not simply as a means to ending the occupation. For instance:
For example, in a column in the weekly Al Risalah, Sheik Yunus al-Astal, a Hamas legislator and imam, discussed a Koranic verse suggesting that “suffering by fire is the Jews’ destiny in this world and the next.”
“The reason for the punishment of burning is that it is fitting retribution for what they have done,” Mr. Astal wrote on March 13. “But the urgent question is, is it possible that they will have the punishment of burning in this world, before the great punishment” of hell? Many religious leaders believe so, he said, adding, “Therefore we are sure that the holocaust is still to come upon the Jews.”
While such statements undoubtedly do not represent the public policy of Hamas and may not even represent the majority opinion, it seems likely that there are a significant number of members who do dislike Jews or Israelis and would like to harm them for non-utilitarian reasons. Even when not framed in those terms, it is likely that many more members would like retribution against the Israeli government.
1: By right of conquest. Article 11: "This is the law governing the land of Palestine in the Islamic Sharia (law) and the same goes for any land the Moslems have conquered by force, because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Moslems consecrated these lands to Moslem generations till the Day of Judgement."
From Hamas’ perspective, Israelis drove Palestinians out of the Palestinians’ ancestral land through war and terrorism, and continue to oppress, abuse, expropriate, and kill Palestinians to this day. They reject the Jewish religious argument that God gave that land to the Jews, and see no justification for the state of Israel; they only see the imposition of an oppressive Jewish state backed by Western (ex-colonial) powers.
The main goal of Hamas (as with most terrorist groups) is to:
- Bring their complaint into the public realm in a way that is difficult to ignore or silence, and…
- Force Israel to be increasingly violent and oppressive, making Hamas look increasingly righteous
It’s tremendously sad that Hamas rejects the passive ‘civil disobedience’ model outlined by Thoreau and used so effectively by Gandhi and Martin Luther King. I can’t fault their complaint, but their methods leave a lot to be desired.
what does Hamas realistically think it can achieve?
"Realistically" is a tricky qualifier. Also, questions about people's thoughts, private and collective, are problematic. That being said - here's my perspective on what Hamas may think it can achieve:
- Continuing and increasing casualties and costs for Israel for its direct occupation of Palestinian land (and I'm being vague here regarding whether it's 1967-occupied land or 1948-occupied land) and its siege of the Gaza strip.
- Israeli withdrawals from Palestinian land, in favor of an independent Palestinian state/proto-state.
- Easing of the Israeli siege on Gaza.
- Maintenance and strengthening of the commitment of Palestinians (again, vagueness regarding which part of them) to the struggle for Palestinian national liberation.
- Increased awareness to the Palestinian plight, in the Arab world, the Islamic world and the world in general.
- Adoption by Palestinians of Hamas' intra-societal views, e.g. the role of Islam in society and various related cultural preferences.
- Better social welfare than whatever Fatah would institute.
Naturally you could argue about how much of this is realistic, and how much of this is desirable (and about what constitutes an independent state). But assuming you agreed on desirability, Hamas can make a decent argument about the achievability, and in fact about past gains, on most of the above.
I can’t help but notice that if the Palestinians engaged in peaceful deliberations they would have achieved their own state long back.
With respect - I would claim that statement is either naive and misinformed, or facetious. I strongly suggest you read up on the history of the Zionist movement in Palestine.
If Hamas were ever to pose a real threat, they would lose this cover and Israel will purge the Gaza Strip.
Hamas' military wing is not an army which could face the Israeli one and prevail. It's true that Hamas, and other factions and phenomena among the Palestinians do pose various threats to US, Saudi and Israel interests (not necessarily in that order); however, since Hamas is not a "terrorist group" but a large and deeply-rooted political movement - the kind of "purge" you are suggesting is a out-and-out genocide of the people of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (where many support Hamas as well). Israeli politicians and military leaders occasionally bring up such a purge in their rhetoric, hinting that by hitting some choice targets and driving around on tanks through Gaza they might make Hamas go away.
At any rate, there are restraining forces - internal and external - which have curtailed Israeli destruction and killing so far to a level at which the genocidal effects are insufficient to root out Hamas.
By continuing their terrorist activity they have undermined the cause.
You seem to be assuming that "the cause" is "An entity called a state which Israel agrees to".
For me, it is quite difficult to decide whether Hamas' tactics have been more of a help or more of a hindrance. They have certainly had both benefits and detriments.
And unfortunately a lot of pro-Palestinians have failed in condemning them, further hurting the cause.
See above. Also, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone".
Hamas is a national liberation movement whose stated goal is to free Palestine from Israeli occupation. The occupation of Palestine was imposed by violence and Hamas believes that violence is necessary to end the occupation. Though it should be emphasized that Hamas has not chosen violence over peaceful means - it has chosen to complement peaceful means with violence.
Hamas is not the only national or popular group fighting perceived injustice that has chosen violence. Other groups include
- the Russian Bolsheviks who fought the Russian Tsar,
- the Yugoslav partisans who fought the Nazi occupation,
- various Zionist groups who fought the British in Mandatory Palestine,
- the African National Council who fought the apartheid regime in South Africa,
- and the Irish Republican Army who fought the British in Northern Ireland.
These groups choose violence for the same reason: because it works. If you like science fiction, you might enjoy this clip: Star Trek - TNG: Data on the Effectiveness of Terrorism Who is right: Data or Picard?
Hamas didn't start out as a violent organization. In 1973, the wheel-char bound preacher Sheikh Ahmed Yassin found Hamas predecessor, the charity the Islamic Center (al-Mujama al-Islamiya), in Gaza, as an ofshot to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The MB is, by and large, a non-violent organization, although it has been involved in some coup attempts in Arab countries. Yassin's religious charity was not concerned with worldly affairs. As such, it was in opposition to the secular left-wing Fatah movement led by Yassir Arafat. Infamously, Israel even supported the Center as it saw the Center as a useful counterweight to Fatah.1,2
In 1987, the First intifada broke out. The Center decided that they needed to involve themselves. According to rumors, against Yassin's wishes, the Center's leadership decided on militancy and Hamas - an acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement (Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah) - was founded. During the first few years of the intifada, Hamas's mostly limited its use of violence to Palestinians. For example, it punished and sometimes executed Palestinians spying for Israel. Hamas also tried to prohibit prostitution, curb the flourishing drug trade in Gaza, and the selling of alcohol and pornography.3 It also captured Israeli soldiers and demanded the release of Yassin and other Hamas members held by Israel in exchange. Israel refused these exchanges and the soldiers were either killed by Hamas or died during botched Israeli rescue attempts.4,5
Eventually, it became riskier for Palestinians to collaborate with the Israeli government and the drug epidemic abated. Thus, from Hamas perspective, its violence was successful.
Hamas's violence intensified following a massacre committed by a Jewish settler in Hebron in 1994. He killed 29 Palestinians praying in the Ibrahimi mosque.6 Hamas began carrying out suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, reasoning that if the Israeli side targeted civilians so could it. According to some authors, Hamas's violence derailed the ongoing peace process between the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel, which they opposed.7 According to others, the peace process was a sham and doomed from very beginning.8 Assuming the first view is correct, Hamas again achieved its goal using violence.
Fast-forward to 2006. Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza raid Israel and capture the soldier Gilad Shalit. Some years later Israel is forced to exchange Shalit for over 1 000 Palestinian prisoners. Yet another example of achieving a goal using violence.
Hamas may also have looked at its rival Fatah which practically has ceased using political violence. Fatah has not been able to extract any notable concessions at all from Israel. To the contrary, the Israeli government is now contemplating formally annexing parts of the West Bank. Given Fatah's strategy's failure, Hamas may have concluded that the liberation of Palestine requires violence.
- if the Palestinians engaged in peaceful deliberations they would have achieved their own state long ago
this is a common misperception or, I would say, propaganda in the West. Interestingly, they stick this propaganda only to non-western countries/people, not for themselves.
If all disputes could be solved in peaceful means then there would have been no WW1 and WW2. Right? And, what about the Irish struggle for independence from the UK? What about the American Civil war? What about Falklands War?
Can Germany or Poland take back the land they lost to the USSR from the Russian Federation in a peaceful means?
Can Ukraine take Crimea back from Russia through dialog?