Hamas' Lost Decade

Behind the Group's Uphill Battle for International Legitimacy

Palestinian supporters of Hamas celebrate their victory in the Palestinian election during a rally in Khan Younis, south of Gaza Strip, January 2006. Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters

Ten years ago this month, Hamas stormed to victory in the Palestinian legislative elections. A year later, the group seized control of Gaza from Fatah forces loyal to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. A decade on, Hamas remains in full control, despite having technically relinquished its ruling status as part of a 2014 reconciliation deal with Fatah.

Hamas hasn’t had an easy time in power. Apart from its seemingly interminable struggle with Fatah for the heart and soul of the Palestinian cause, the group has had to contend with constituents increasingly disappointed with its poor record of governance and internal divisions between pragmatists and ideologues. An Israeli economic blockade and a relentless Israeli military campaign that has included two full-scale assaults on Gaza have also overshadowed Hamas’ rule.

It is a testament to the group’s staying power, not to mention the weaknesses of Fatah and the political limits of Israel’s anti-Hamas strategy, that the group is still a viable political player at all. Yet for all that, Hamas has failed to turn its lasting rule into the formal recognition and legitimacy on the world stage that it so badly wants. In March 2015, Bassem Naim, the former health minister in Gaza, told the Al-Monitor news site that “The movement is contacting several countries around the world and in Europe, to overcome Hamas’ isolation,” adding, “Certain countries are communicating with us, but they do not want nor do they encourage publicly announcing that for personal reasons.”

After ten years, that isn’t much to boast about, especially given that Hamas leaders have spent the past decade working to gain international legitimacy. In 2009, one Australian journalist, whose meeting in Syria with Hamas’ political boss, Khaled Meshaal, was sandwiched between meetings with groups of British, Greek, and Italian lawmakers, joked that Meshaal consider building a “parking lot for the vehicles bringing foreign delegations to visit.

Meshaal has continued to meet with public figures from across the world, including, most notably, former U.

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