- Hamas Contained: The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance by Tareq Baconi
While it might be premature to argue that an industry of sorts has developed around the study of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, the number of publications, both academic and popular, has noticeably grown over the last decade and a half. Like any literature, and the one on Hamas is no exception, there is a range of quality from the excellent to the mediocre. Without question Tareq Baconi's book belongs in the former category: Hamas Contained is an exceptional work, providing a rigorous and extremely well-researched and deeply sourced study of this highly misunderstood and demonized movement.
Unlike some of its predecessors, this meticulous and nuanced examination of Hamas is as strong on depth as it is on breadth; the analysis is rigorous and at times unsparing (of all political actors, including Hamas), markedly fair, even impartial. The book is notable for its ability to integrate Hamas's long and complex history (particularly its evolving relationship with Israel and other Palestinian factions, its deepening role in the nationalist movement, and the changing role of violent resistance in the movement's strategic thinking) with an analysis of that history in a manner that is substantive and compelling.
Baconi astutely examines many critical issues often poorly or inadequately addressed in the literature (if at all). Just to name a few: the institutionalization of "resistance as a [End Page 163] national policy" (p. 80); Hamas's legitimacy as a political movement; the policies and strategy surrounding the movement's willingness to accept pre-1967 lines as the basis of a Palestinian state; Hamas's participation in forging a unity government and the various limitations it confronted in doing so; the role of cease-fires by Hamas as a framework within which to govern and engage politically and their use by Israel to manage "the blockade to sustain life in Gaza in return for an end to rocket fire" (p. 155); the relationship between Palestinian Islamism and the nation-state model; and Hamas's damaging political and military policies.
The book's conclusion is particularly important; it is one of the best and most lucid summaries of the movement's strengths and weaknesses that I have read. While some of Baconi's conclusions may not be new to the informed reader, they remain striking and difficult to dismiss given the author's argumentation, revealing the analytical depth of the book they arise from.
For example, Baconi observes in his conclusion that although Hamas remained committed to its ideology, it offered Israel pragmatic compromises concerning the three conditions demanded by the international community, namely renouncing violence, recognizing Israel, and accepting past agreements. He writes:
Throughout the years of the Second Intifada and afterward, Hamas intermittently held fire unilaterally in the face of rapid Israeli militarization. Israel has consistently ignored these overtures. Even after its takeover of the Gaza Strip, Hamas became increasingly effective at policing Gaza's borders, yet calm interludes were systematically ignored by Israel, which maintained its violent chokehold and incursions into the strip. Hamas also made great strides with regard to accepting past agreements, offering to abide by whatever outcome a reformed and representative PLO puts forward(p. 229).
Hamas's concessions were repeatedly dismissed or spurned by Israel.
Baconi deftly argues that Hamas's implicit acceptance of Israel has gone much further than what many Israeli political parties, including those in power at any given time, have offered Palestinians. Hence he concludes, it is not only (or even primarily) Hamas's embrace of armed struggle that has fueled Israel's rejection of Hamas as an interlocutor but Hamas's evolution as a domestic actor willing to engage Israel politically and diplomatically, which threatened a cornerstone of occupation policy: the continued acquiescence of Palestinians to Israeli rule. With the imposition of the blockade in 2007, Israel sought to contain and weaken Hamas, thereby precluding rocket attacks from Gaza, but also to make Hamas stable enough to maintain control over Gaza's...