When Daud asked me to provide a preface for his book on Hamas foreign policy, I was keen to agree. This was partly because I respect his work on the question of Palestine. This is an issue that raises great passions and Daud has been committed for a long time to justice for the Palestinians, but he remains calm and considered and thoughtful at all times. I knew that his book would have these qualities.
My second reason for wanting to agree, is that I believe everyone who cares for justice and an end to the terrible cruelties inflicted on the Palestinian people, is entitled to know more of Palestinian realities. This is not easy in the case of Hamas as there is such an barrage of hostile propaganda and a refusal of the powers that be to meet with or provide platforms for Hamas spokespeople. This means that it is very difficult for objective observers to be well informed. It is an indisputable fact that Hamas won a substantial majority of votes in the 2006 elections in the Palestinian occupied territories. The elections were scrutinised by delegations from all parts of the world and found to be entirely free and fair. The Hamas victory was not expected and Western powers were determined to prevent them taking power in the fairly powerless Palestinian Authority, set up in the Oslo Peace Accords. Violent resistance to Hamas was organised and supported and in consequence Hamas took over control of the Gaza Strip. Following this, a cruel siege was imposed on the people of Gaza which continues to this day.
I took the view in the case of Sinn Fein, Hamas and Hezbollah that if in any conflict area, large numbers of people voted for a group that Western powers boycotted and denounced, then democrats should seek to find out what their views were in reality and why large numbers of local people supported them. It is for this reason that I joined one of the boats that travelled to Gaza from Cyprus to “break the siege” and also took part in a number of parliamentary delegations that visited Gaza through the Rafah crossing, in the days when the Egyptian Government was willing to facilitate this. It is not of course possible for everyone to visit Gaza therefore it is essential that they should be written material available that gives a sympathetic but accurate account of Hamas thinking and action.
My doubt however was to ask whether what was needed was an account of Hamas foreign policy? Surely it is states that have foreign policies and it is a little odd to talk of liberation movement’s foreign policy. I decided to read the text of Daud’s book and then make my decision. I was of course wrong in thinking liberation movements don’t have foreign policy. They obviously have to relate to other states and groupings if they wish to win support for their cause. I have no hesitation now in recommending this book because the story of Hamas’ relations with the rest of the Arab world and more broadly is substantially, the story of Hamas. The book does not deal of course with the detail of Hamas rule in Gaza but otherwise it takes us through the whole story. This includes amongst other things, the effect of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991 and the launch of the Madrid process; the 2006 elections in Palestine; relations with Europe, Russia and the Global South; and the Arab spring of 2011.
Daud Abdullah is sympathetic to Hamas and their Muslim brotherhood origins and therefore his account is sympathetic but not uncritical. This is a valuable and readable book and I recommend it warmly.
The book launch for Engaging the World: The Making of Hamas’s Foreign Policy with contributions from Clare, can be viewed here.