Hamas: Politics, Charity and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad - Matthew Levitt
The thrust of this book, which our author repeats over and over to the point of parody, is that Hamas does not have separate military and political branches. There is one Hamas, whether offering aid at a neighborhood clinic or school, he tells us, or helping suicide bombers develop their deadly plans.
That idea isn't so radical. Some in Hamas itself say that the Palestinian branch of the (Egypt founded and based) Muslim Brotherhood has a single leadership.
What is radical is the idea that the group that won elections in the West Bank and Gaza over the secular and corrupt Fatah secured a victory for radical Islam and nothing more.
Yet that is the entire focus of Levitt's analysis, rather than trying to explain or offer ways to solve an ongoing policy question in the Middle East: How does the United States reconcile its long-standing effort to disarm terrorist groups with its insistence on elections that led to Hamas' electoral legitimacy?
That's not a question our author wants to explore and clearly is no equipped to answer. He instead argues that Hamas runs clinics and schools only to recruit Jihadis, not out of any greater interest to provide service. He can support easily his argument that much of the money meant for charitable works Hamas has siphoned off to sponsor terrorist acts.
What he misses entirely is that Hamas is now politically accountable. What elevated it over Fatah was not its religious proselytizing. Rather, it could argue - sincerely - that it was providing basic government services that the government was incapable and unwilling to do. The group whose main goal is to Islamicize Palestine is viewed by its servants as a political alternative in government.
No where in the book does Levitt try to find Palestinian opinions, whether through formal polls or even anecdotal evidence in his own interviews. In that, he makes the same mistake as Hamas.
Hamas has miscalculated just how many Palestinians are willing to embrace radical Islam. Levitt's arguments for counter-terrorism measures via financial pressure ignore entirely that most folks in the West Bank are not terrorists.
But he does more than ignore Palestinian viewpoints. He overemphasizes documents and reports from Israeli government agencies, never questioning if they have their own agenda in the matter. Likewise missing is any discussion of the Jewish settlements on the West Bank or the political discord those homes are creating in Israeli politics.
That leaves the analysis weak and the conclusion to easy to knock down. The evidence is clear that Hamas has long used charities as a cover for its terror attacks. But there is no one mentioning how that has changed since a radical group became mainstream by virtue of internal pressure or how outside forces can continue to make sure that pressure creates a more permanent change.