Hamas is on the verge of being vanquished, as its monetary sources in the Arab world grow scarcer, according to Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Schanzer, a former counter-terrorism analyst for the U.S. Department of the Treasury, spoke Nov. 12 at Arizona State University in an event called "Less Hamas, More Hummus," sponsored by Sun Devils for Israel. In his address, Schanzer gave a brief history of Hamas and explained why he believes the Palestinian organization has reached its weakest point.
"Very few people stop to actually learn the Palestinian side," he said as students ate pita bread and hummus.
Hamas was founded after protests in the Gaza Strip and West Bank started the first Intifada in 1987, Schanzer said. One protest group splintered from the Muslim Brotherhood to form Hamas, which led confrontations with the Israeli military during the three years of the Intifada.
At one point in the 1990s, he said, the United States approached Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, for help. The U.S. promised Arafat a Palestinian state if he could end the fighting, but there was one problem.
"Hamas doesn't like anyone coming in and taking credit for its moves," Schanzer said, explaining that Hamas began suicide bombings and other attacks to derail the peace process.
Hamas had three reasons for not wanting peace, he said: It's anti-Semitic, it's anti-Israel and it did not want the PLO to become the party of Palestine. The Palestinians become a house divided, splitting support between the PLO and Hamas.
After Arafat backed out of peace talks, the second Intiada started in 2000, and factions of the PLO resorted to suicide bombing, he added.
"They tried to out-Hamas Hamas," Schanzer said.
Israel focused on Arafat, he said, which made the PLO weaker, but allowed Hamas to grow stronger. Hamas gained more power in 2006, when it won U.S.-approved elections in the Palestinian Authority areas.
"We allowed Hamas to come in," Schanzer said, "or we at least allowed them to run."
Despite the inroads that Hamas made, he said, the divide between it and the Fatah, the largest faction of the PLO, continued to grow. In 2007, a Palestinian civil war broke out over three weeks after Hamas overran the Gaza Strip. About 180 people were killed, and the conflict resulted in a split, with Hamas controlling the Gaza Strip and Fatah controlling the West Bank.
"It's impossible to understand Hamas without understanding the internal dynamic within the Palestinians," Schanzer said.
"The PLO and Hamas have been fighting each other for as long as Hamas has been fighting Israel," he added.
The funding for Hamas is dwindling, he said, leaving it in its most vulnerable position ever. The civil war in Syria pushed Hamas out of its external headquarters in Damascus. Iran has cut its funding, Schanzer said, and the Egyptian military has hammered the group since removing Mohammed Morsi from power, bringing an end to its cash-smuggling operations in Egypt. Schanzer estimated that Hamas now only receives $200 million a year from countries such as Turkey and Qatar, as opposed to the $1 billion it previously received.
"This is … the saga of Hamas, from beginning to end, possibly from cradle to grave," Schanzer said, adding that he's never seen a terror group in as much financial pain as Hamas.
One student asked if anyone was questioning the money given to the Palestinian Authority.
"I am questioning it," Schanzer responded, saying that he found the U.S. has given about $5 billion to the P.A. since 1994, most of which is unaccounted. The White House does not care about how the P.A. uses that money, he said, but only that a peace agreement can be accomplished.
Samantha Weinberg created the event by using the "Less Hamas, More Hummus" campaign model from the Committee for Accurate Middle East Reporting in America, or CAMERA. She and Sun Devils for Israel wanted to educate students about Hamas, she said, so CAMERA flew out Schanzer for the event.
"I didn't know that there was a Palestinian civil war…and I don't think anyone in the room knew about it," Weinberg said.
Jared Hirschl said he heard about "Less Hamas" through friends in Sun Devils for Israel. Hirschl, an Emerson Fellow from the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs, was surprised to learn that Hamas has lost a large portion of its funding.
"You don't really hear about the terrorist side that much," he said. "You don't hear about the money going into it."
Hirschl hopes what he learned from Schanzer can influence his activities in the future.
"Now I'm going to try to learn a lot more … about the Palestinians," he said. "I think that'll help our fight for equality among everybody, and maybe peace in the future."