By: Deeplaxmi Patil, Research Analyst, GSDN
Hamas, derived from the acronym of its official title, the Islamic Resistance Movement (Harakat al-Muqāwamah al-Islamiyah), stands as a significant Palestinian Sunni Islamist political and military organization. It currently holds governance in the Gaza Strip, an area situated within the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. Headquartered in Gaza City, Hamas also maintains a presence in the West Bank, the larger of the two Palestinian territories, where its secular rival, Fatah, holds control.
Established in 1987 by Palestinian imam and activist Ahmed Yassin during the First Intifada against Israeli occupation, Hamas originated from Yassin’s Mujama al-Islamiyah Islamic charity, which had affiliations with the Muslim Brotherhood dating back to 1973.The history of Hamas has been marked by significant conflicts with Israel, including multiple wars in 2008–09, 2012, 2014, and most recently in 2021. The ongoing 2023 conflict erupted when Hamas launched an attack on Israel, targeting Israeli military bases and civilian communities, resulting in casualties among civilians and soldiers. This assault has been characterized as the most substantial military setback for Israel since the 1973 Arab–Israeli War. In response, Israel initiated an ongoing ground invasion of Gaza.
Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by dozens of countries due to its history of armed resistance against Israel, including attacks targeting civilians. The group is known for its Islamist militant ideology and governs the Gaza Strip, where it maintains control over a significant population. While some nations differentiate between its political and military wings, the organization’s actions, including the recent massive surprise attack on Israel resulting in numerous casualties, have led to widespread condemnation and designation as a terrorist entity. The group’s hostility towards Israel, coupled with its backing from countries like Iran and harbouring of leaders in Turkey, continues to create instability in the region and hinders prospects for peace and stability in Gaza.
The United Nations has not labelled Hamas as a terrorist organisation due to various geopolitical reasons and differing perspectives among member states. Some member nations within the UN do not consider Hamas solely as a terrorist organisation but rather as a political entity representing certain Palestinian interests. Additionally, the UN operates under a complex framework where designating a group as a terrorist organisation involves a consensus among its member states, which can be influenced by diplomatic considerations, regional dynamics, and differing interpretations of terrorism. Hamas is recognized as a terrorist organisation by several countries, including the United States, Israel, the European Union, Canada, and others. However, the lack of a unified global consensus within the UN prevents the organisation from receiving a universal terrorist designation by the entire body.
Factors contributing to this lack of designation include:
1. Political Considerations: Some member states view Hamas as a legitimate political entity representing certain Palestinian interests. This viewpoint creates divisions within the Security Council, hindering unanimous agreement on labelling Hamas as a terrorist group.
2. Geopolitical Dynamics: The Security Council comprises diverse nations with varying geopolitical interests. Veto powers held by countries like Russia often impede actions against entities linked to Iran, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, due to their alignment with Iranian interests.
3. Lack of Consensus: Efforts to designate Hamas as a terrorist organization have faced opposition within the Security Council. Attempts, like the 2018 resolution introduced by former U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, received minimal support, highlighting the lack of consensus among member states.
4. Complexity of Definition: There may be differing interpretations of terrorism and its applicability to certain groups. Some nations might not categorize Hamas solely as a terrorist organization, viewing its actions within a broader political or resistance context.
5. Diplomatic and Legal Considerations: The UN operates under specific legal and diplomatic frameworks. Designating an entity as a terrorist organization involves legal intricacies, and disagreements among member states can hinder the legal criteria for such a designation.
These factors, among others, contribute to the absence of a UN Security Council designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization, despite declarations by individual nations and ongoing criticism from certain quarters for not taking a decisive stance against the group.
How Hamas is funded?
Hamas receives funding from various sources despite being designated as a terrorist entity by the United States and the European Union, restricting official assistance from these entities. Historically, Palestinian expatriates and private donors in the Persian Gulf have been significant contributors to Hamas’s finances. Some Islamic charities in the West have channelled funds to Hamas-backed social service groups, resulting in asset freezes by the U.S. Treasury.
Presently, Iran plays a significant role in supporting Hamas, providing funds, weapons, and training. Despite a brief rift due to conflicting positions in Syria’s civil war, Iran contributes approximately $100 million annually to Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and other designated Palestinian groups. Iran promptly praised Hamas’s 2023 assault on Israel and pledged continued support.
Turkey, under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been a consistent supporter of Hamas. While Ankara claims to provide only political support, accusations have arisen regarding funding for Hamas’s activities, including potential diversion of aid from the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency.
Division among member states within the United Nations
The response to labelling Hamas as a terrorist organization has been contentious and divided among nations, especially within the United Nations Security Council. The attempts made by the United States, notably under the leadership of former Ambassador Nikki Haley in 2018, to designate Hamas as a terrorist group faced significant resistance. Despite efforts, the resolutions brought forth by the U.S. received minimal support, highlighting a lack of consensus among Security Council members on this issue.
Russia, as one of the permanent members of the Security Council possessing veto power, has been a notable obstacle in taking decisive action against entities like Hamas. Its stance has often acted as a roadblock in pursuing measures against Iran and Iran-backed entities, further complicating efforts to condemn groups like Hamas at the international level.
In recent instances, the U.S. urged the Security Council to condemn terrorist attacks attributed to Hamas, but immediate action was not taken due to the lack of unanimity among council members. This underscores the challenges in achieving consensus on matters related to Hamas within the Security Council, with divergent opinions among member nations impeding unified action. The responses from different countries and officials also reveal broader tensions and accusations of bias within the United Nations. Israeli and U.S. officials have criticized the U.N., particularly the Security Council, for what they perceive as an anti-Israel bias.
Countries Designating Hamas as a Terrorist Organization:
Countries supporting and opposing the designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization display a significant divergence in their stances.
1. United States: Designated Hamas as a terrorist organization in 1995.
2. Canada: Followed suit in November 2002.
3. United Kingdom: Designated Hamas as a terrorist organization in November 2021.
4. European Union: Designated Hamas’s military wing in 2001 and, under pressure from the US, designated Hamas in 2003.
5. Japan and New Zealand: Designated the military wing of Hamas as a terrorist organization.
6. Jordan: Banned the organization.
Countries Not Regarding Hamas as a Terrorist Organization:
1. Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Russia, Norway, Turkey, China, Egypt, Syria, and Brazil: Do not classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.
2. Arab and Muslim World: Hamas has lost its pariah status in some regions, with its representatives being welcomed in capitals of Islamic countries.
3. Varied Opinions: Some governments and academics view Hamas as a multifaceted organization, with terrorism being just one facet.
The designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization remains a subject of contention and divergence among nations. While certain countries, notably Western nations, and some Asian states, have labelled Hamas as a terrorist group, others, especially in the Middle East and parts of Asia, do not share this viewpoint. This discrepancy in classification highlights the complexity and varying perspectives on the nature and actions of Hamas in different geopolitical contexts.
Overall, the response to labelling Hamas as a terrorist organization reflects a complex geopolitical landscape within the United Nations, marked by differing perspectives, accusations of bias, and challenges in achieving consensus among member nations, particularly within the Security Council.