Maybe Hamas ain't so bad

Cite this Article
Geoffrey A. Manne, Maybe Hamas ain't so bad, Truth on the Market (January 26, 2006),

hamasProf. B. writes with pronounced skepticism of and hostility to Hamas’ recent Palestinian parliamentary victory here. He sees this as a “decisive victory by a terrorist organization hostile to both the US and Israel,” and asks why anyone thinks this would be a good thing. Well, he’s right as a banal descriptive matter (Hamas is, in fact, “a terrorist organization hostile to both the US and Israel”), but here’s a couple of reasons to be optimistic.

As far as terrorist organizations go (a big caveat, to be sure), there’s a lot to commend Hamas. Not least among them: Its leaders seem not to be, in fact, irrepressibly self-destructive wackos (for the most part), and they recognize that self-preservation will require engagement with Israel. Hamas has (believe it or not) improved social services and governance in the PA town it currently controls. As a group, Hamas is way better than the incompetent Fatah alternative. Relatedly, Hamas has some actual influence with the people, which will be useful in Israel’s efforts to quell the real wackos. And, finally, like it or not, Hamas’ desire for political success in the PA will surely require some moderating of its religious agenda (on which, see here).

Hamas might view this victory as a vindication of its unseemly and subversive past, but I think that is unlikely. As Seth Weinberger notes:

But the act of governing will transform the situation. When Hamas was a shadowy organization conducting a terrorist insurgency, Israel’s options were limited. Targets were hard to find, and there was little to threaten other than the lives of the leaders and the militants. But now Hamas will look much more like a state, meaning that there will be a better chance of creating deterrence. Hamas will have to build social institutions, sit in the parliament and mayoral/gubernatorial houses, and openly campaign to win future elections. If Israel needs to retaliate, there will have much more concrete targets than before. Hamas will not likely be willing to forfeit and sacrifice the political power that it has so difficultly wrested away from Fatah.

There’s more along these lines from David Bernstein, here.

UPDATE: Gary Becker agrees.