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Research Report

Hamas:: A Social Welfare Government or War Machine?

Hillel Frisch
Copyright Date: Nov. 1, 2015
Pages: 53

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 1-4)
  2. (pp. 5-6)
  3. (pp. 7-8)
  4. (pp. 9-10)

    Hamas enjoys a reputation for being dedicated to the public welfare of Palestinians and to the needs of Palestinian society, and for providing many social services. It retains this image despite its responsibility for a long list of brutal kidnappings and suicide attacks against Israel, and after waging three rounds of military confrontation in the space of seven years. The following study tries to evaluate the veracity of this claim. It focuses mainly on the Hamas government, which ruled Gaza from June 2007 - after wresting exclusive control from the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority - up to the establishment of the...

  5. (pp. 10-14)

    The Hamas movement is frequently portrayed as an organization that has provided important welfare services to the needy segments of the Palestinian population.¹ These services ranged from organizing the zakat - the Islamic tithe - to running football clubs. On the eve of the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007, it is estimated that Hamas was expending four to five million dollars monthly on social and welfare programs.²

    This portrayal overlooks Hamas’s decision to engage in political violence, and the human welfare effects of this decision on the Palestinian population. Just as states often face the dilemma of choosing...

  6. (pp. 15-18)

    No sooner did Gaza’s inhabitants suffer the impact of curtailed access to the Israeli labor market in the 1990s, than they had to face, from 2001 onwards, the pernicious effects of the trade diversion conducted by violent means by Hamas and other Gaza organizations, in search of revenue. Countless articles have attacked the government of Israel for the supposed siege of Gaza it imposed after the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007 and the establishment of the Hamas government. According to many human rights organizations, this “siege” is responsible for an almost perpetual humanitarian crisis in Gaza (an unfathomable...

  7. (pp. 18-20)

    Hamas supporters could argue that, however grievous the social welfare impact of Hamas rule on Gaza’s inhabitants, this was offset by the emotional gains of living under full Palestinian rule for the first time in the 90 years of Palestinian national struggle. Unlike areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, Gaza has been totally free of an Israeli presence since 2005, and under Hamas rule since 2007. Of course, the strength of this argument depends on the meaning of political independence and freedom. Does it mean formal independence, or does it refer to the quality of freedom the Hamas government provides...

  8. (pp. 21-23)

    As a general rule, governments that are accountable to free parliaments, a free press, and civil society organizations provide economic welfare efficiently and at low levels of corruption. Governments unrestrained by such institutions are typically characterized by low levels of economic welfare and by high levels of corruption. The Hamas government clearly fits the latter category.

    Parliaments are invariably key institutions in making governments accountable and their activities transparent. This cannot really be said of the Palestinian Legislative Council, which under Hamas rule was essentially a one-party legislature. To recall, in the January 2006 elections Hamas, participating for the first...

  9. (pp. 23-24)

    Public service delivery in Gaza was complicated by the tortuous relationship between the Hamas government and its Ramallah counterpart, which contained elements of rivalry, symbiosis, and dependency. The dependence of Hamas on the PA’s economic wherewithal is a particularly noteworthy feature: for every dollar the Hamas government spent in Gaza, the Abbas government spent at least three (a total of 1.4 billion dollars in PA expenditures, compared with 300-400 million dollars for the Hamas government).44

    The symbiotic yet highly-troubled relationship between the two governments was all too evident in the heated controversies over the obligations of the unity government formed...

  10. (pp. 25-26)

    Assessing the Hamas government’s performance on human welfare is a difficult exercise, due to its persistent and probably deliberate failure over seven years of rule to provide detailed budgets or expenditures, or a breakdown of government employees by ministry. Instead, it made do with providing general budget and expenditure figures that were publicized in the Legislative Council newsletter, and which the Legislative Council approved after receiving the finance minister’s report on the budget.

    A prominent Palestinian economist, Mazin al-’Ugala, noted the deficiencies of this system:

    “The problem is not the appraisal of the budget, but rather the challenge is to...

  11. (pp. 26-30)

    Few regimes since World War II have been as bellicose as the Hamas government. In its insistence on “resistance” in pursuit of the destruction of the State of Israel, it has launched over 8,000 missiles against population centers in Israel (either directly or through affiliated groups), and waged three major rounds of major conflict with Israel: the first in the winter of 2008-9, the second in 2012, and the third in the summer of 2014.56 The temporal intensity of these rounds of conflict in the course of less than seven years has no parallel in the century-long Arab-Israeli conflict.


  12. (pp. 30-35)

    Hamas governance, beyond security control and war-making, had only a minor impact on Gazan society. This was dictated both by the general fiscal constraints within which the Hamas government operated, and by the primacy it gave to the training, arming, and technological development of the Hamas military wing, primarily in ballistic warfare. With 400 to 500 million dollars of expenditure annually, over a third of which was allocated to “law and order” and to war-making, it was a minor partner to the Palestinian Authority. The PA expended three times that amount, albeit mostly on paying government personnel, of whom slightly...

  13. (pp. 35-37)

    At the end of 2013, the parliamentary organ of the Hamas and Gaza-based Palestinian Legislative Council published a 2014 budget that indicated that the Hamas government had every intention of continuing to rule Gaza. Yet just six months later, it agreed to the formation of a unity government in which Hamas politicians were excluded. This change in affairs raises the question: What transpired to force Hamas, at least in terms of civilian governance, to abdicate from its governing role?

    Hamas’s annual budget and expenditure figures for 2013 provide a clue to the answer. The Hamas government presented a budget for...

  14. (pp. 38-39)

    In economics, and increasingly in the field of international relations too, the concept of “moral hazard” is used to describe risky behavior whose costly consequences are borne by parties other than the actor responsible for them. The concept originated in the world of insurance, where it is used to describe, for example, the moral dilemma of the wide pool of responsible holders of car insurance who share in defraying the costs of a few reckless drivers. Frequently, international aid has a similar impact on reckless political actors. Thus, a study of the Balkans crisis in the late 1990s has shown...

  15. (pp. 40-50)
  16. (pp. 51-52)