Hamas Officials: The Track Record

Now that Hamas has won the election, can its members govern? Renee Montagne speaks to Robert Malley, of the International Crisis Group, about the track record of officials in Hamas.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Hamas's victory is the group's biggest success at the polls, but in recent months Hamas has won control of many key Palestinian towns and cities in local elections. To learn more about how Hamas has governed, we turn to Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group, which has just produced a study called Enter Hamas, it's an in-depth look at the group's entry into mainstream politics.

Hello.

ROBERT MALLEY: Hi, how are you?

MONTAGNE: Hamas has already local offices in its control. Let's look at their track record. What kinds of services have they been able to provide for their constituents?

MALLEY: Well, they've had a track record first as a non-governmental, non-municipal government organization and has been able to provide social services to charities to mosques, through other means. They have now for the past two months have a record as managers of municipalities. They've been elected in large numbers in municipal offices and the record, as far as we could tell is one of pragmatism.

They've been able to provide some services and they've continued to deal, when necessary, with Israeli officials, when it came to sewage lines that were both in Palestinian and Israeli towns, or with electricity, or with other issues that affected both communities.

MONTAGNE: Tell us more about the connections that Hamas has had with Israeli authorities. In theory, Israel doesn't speak to Hamas and Hamas doesn't touch Israel.

MALLEY: That's right, and that's why these have been embarrassed contacts for both sides. But to some extent, they're necessary contacts, because some of these municipalities that Hamas controls, they're right across from Israel or they're right next to an Israeli settlement. And however much it's distasteful for Hamas officials to have to deal with Israelis, they have told us, on the record, that if they have to do it, they do it. And they have done it, although again, they've done it as little and as infrequently as possible. As opposed to their Fatah predecessors, who met openly and frequently with Israeli counterparts.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's look though at where they've fallen short in keeping their promises. What sort of things has Hamas not been able to deliver in office?

MALLEY: Well, several things. Number one, because there's this dire financial situation, which all municipalities across the Palestinian territories face, they have not been able to improve standards of living in the way they had promised they would do. They haven't been able to obviously affect the physical restrictions that any Palestinian faces because of the closures and because of the state of relations with Israel.

And in some cases, although more limited than some may have feared, they have imposed moral, social, culture restrictions which have derived from their Islamist outlook, and those have been, to the extent they've happened, they've been extremely, of great concern to Palestinians living in those municipalities. Though as I said it's not been a pattern that one could recognize throughout the municipalities.

MONTAGNE: Unemployment is terribly high in the territories. Hamas hasn't really been able to provide jobs so far.

MALLEY: No, and again, they face perhaps a worse financial situation than other municipalities because the donor community, the Europeans, the Americans, and others, and the Palestinian Authority, have been less than willing to share equally in resources. So you already face a budget crunch, you add to that the fact that external donors don't want to give you as much money; and the Palestinian Authority, which was until recently was in Fatah's hands, didn't want to give them much money either. It has made it difficult for them to live up to their promises that life would be significantly better under Hamas leadership.

What we were hearing from Palestinians as we prepared this report, was, they were complaining, to some extent, that Hamas had not been able to radically transform the standard of living. But, they say, if we have to choose between somebody who's inefficient and somebody who's inefficient and a crook, we'll choose the one who's inefficient.

MONTAGNE: But in a way you would have to say that it's Hamas's own fault if the donor community is not giving to them, or investment is not being made in areas that they control. This is a group that has deployed suicide bombers, it has called for the destruction of Israel, that's quite a problem for them. Is it not? Because their political position is preventing them from getting to their people what their people need most.

MALLEY: They're going to have to make tradeoffs between ideological purity and political pragmatism. They've already made some concessions, and now they may have to do more, because it's not just municipal funding that's at stake, it's the existence of the Palestinian Authority. Because if tomorrow the United States and Europe decided they were no longer going to fund the Palestinian authority, there would no longer be a Palestinian Authority to fund.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

MALLEY: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Robert Malley served on the National Security council under President Clinton. He's now with the International Crisis Group. We spoke to him in Jerusalem.

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