The institutional trajectory of Hamas: From radicalism to pragmatism—and back again?
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This thesis explains Hamas’s development, from its modest beginnings to the political force it is today, by analyzing it as a case of party institutionalization. The analytical framework, based on elements from the literature on social movements and political parties, distinguishes between institutionalization as a process and a property variable. By investigating its ideological and organizational development, the processual element interrogates the institutional trajectory of Hamas, from a militant movement toward a political party. The property element, by contrast, estimates the degree to which Hamas was institutionalized at various historical junctures. The thesis combines the interpretative case study method with within-case, longitudinal comparisons, and relies on interview data, secondary sources, and opinion polls. By referencing suitable theories and grounding the analysis within sound methodological frameworks, the thesis aims to avoid essentializing Hamas, thus contributing with an improved understanding of its development.
The thesis finds that Hamas largely developed as hypothesized, i.e., moderating ideologically and routinizing organizationally, while becoming increasingly valued as an end in itself. From its establishment as a religiously motivated liberation movement set on erecting an Islamic state in the whole of historic Palestine, Hamas limited its territorial claims and softened its focus on religion. Organizationally, Hamas expanded and routinized by easing its recruitment requirements and instituting legitimate decision-making procedures. In short, Hamas developed away from the ideological rigidity and operational logic of a movement organization toward the pragmatism of an institutionalized political party. By 2011, however, Hamas had developed into an awkward but somewhat institutionalized organizational state between that of a liberation movement, a governing party, and a party-statelet. This mixing of roles is explained by the unresolved nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict, which makes it difficult for Hamas to discard its identity as a liberation movement, and by Hamas’s roots as a religious liberation movement, a legacy that counteracts both pragmatism and moderation. Yet, Hamas’s awkward organizational state does not detract from the explanatory power of the applied theories or the relevance of the findings, as the thesis offers a de-exoticized and nuanced account of Hamas’s development. The thesis concludes that through the course of its institutional trajectory, Hamas has institutionalized sufficiently to remain a key political player both in domestic Palestinian politics and as part of the Israel-Palestine conflict.