Hamas in Gaza: Do Sanctions Work?


Hamas in Gaza: Do Sanctions Work?


Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig

Schusterman Visiting Israeli Scholar, Brown University


This past week I attended a guest lecture at Brown U on the situation in the West Bank and Gaza. To my surprise (given the general anti-Israel atmosphere at most elite American universities) it was a very balanced presentation regarding the general situation, with emphasis on what is happening within the Palestinian camp – Hamas vs. Fatah etc. The lecturer’s bottom line: the sanctions against Hamas are not working and indeed might even be strengthening it – precisely the opposite of what Israel and the West want to see. Thus, argued the speaker, we should commence indirect talks with Hamas and try to get them back into the negotiation process.

           Just two related things were missing from his comprehensive analysis. First, any mention of the reason for the world’s sanctions against Hamas; second, can sanctions be successful and if so, how long does one have to wait?

           Several questions from the audience suggested that many Americans are not at all clear what Hamas wants and why almost the entire world has placed sanctions on its Gaza regime. So here in a nutshell are clauses from the Hamas official platform:

Israel will exist until Islam will obliterate it… [Hamas] strives to
raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine (Article 6). The
Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the links in the chain of the
struggle against the Zionist invaders. It goes back to 1930’s, and it
includes the struggle of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1948 war and all
Jihad operations… The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims
fight and kill the Jews (Article 7).

The land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf (endowment) until Judgment Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be
given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries… neither any
organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the
right to deny that. Palestine in its entirety belongs only to the
. This is the law governing the Islamic Shari`ah (article 11).
Nothing is more significant or deeper than Jihad against the Zionist enemy. Resisting and quelling the enemy become the individual duty of every Muslim, male or female. Abusing any part of Palestine is tantamount to
abusing part of the religion [which means death]. There is no solution for
the Palestinian question except through Jihad to eliminate the Zionist
. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a
waste of time and vain endeavors (Article 13). Jihad is the path, and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of all wishes…
[my emphases: SLW]

I could stop here and, as in the movies, merely add: “I rest my case”. But that would be too glib, for one occasionally hears the counter-argument: “well, that’s their initial position, but with power and governance comes responsibility and compromise”. My response to that: one should respect Hamas enough to take it at its word – especially because we are not talking about a “political” matter but rather a fundamental theological principle from their perspective. There is no arguing with Allah; they haven’t changed their tune in many decades and never will.

           So what should Israel and the West do? Are sanctions the best path? One answer to that question is typically Jewish – another question: what other options are there? Any discussion with Hamas on the core issues merely lends it legitimacy and undercuts the more moderate Fatah that at least rhetorically accepts Israel’s right to exist and has been engaged in serious peace negotiations with Israel this past year or so.

           A second answer is that sanctions do, indeed, work! But they are not, as we say in Israel: “Z’bang ve’gamarnu!” [one shot and it’s over]. It’s a relatively long term process. And there are several recent examples to prove it: North Korea eventually came around to agreeing to dismantle its nuclear program; the South African apartheid regime ultimately collapsed under international sanctions; and even “crazy” Qaddafi has led his country away from terrorism back to civilized international relations as a result of heavy international pressure!

           These were bona fide countries with their own resources. Gaza has no natural resources whatsoever, no territorial link to anyone that are not part of the sanctions, and no real ongoing source of financial support. Its regime has been in existence only two years and is already showing signs of internal stress – its popularity is dropping among the Gazan population, tensions are rising between Hamas in Gaza and its “diaspora” leadership (in Syria), there is a large net emigration from Gaza of the middle and educated classes, the economy is almost moribund, and perhaps worst of all (from its perspective) it has had to put its “jihad” against Israel on hold due to Israel’s successful “targeted killing” of those involved in the Kassam rocketry over the border. Hamas is now left with dealing with sewage and concrete – not quite what a politico-theological “revolutionary” movement wants to be involved in!

           Do sanctions work in general? Under the right conditions and with enough staying power – certainly. Will they work against Hamas? The conditions here are definitely more propitious than they were with North Korea and Libya. Israel and the West are trying to “give peace a chance” with the Palestinian Authority. They would do well to continue to “give sanctions a chance” on the other side of the Palestinian divide.


Sept. 21, 2008


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