Hamas as a Political Party: Democratization in the Palestinian Territories


Political Science and International Affairs

Document Type


Publication Date



Why do violent movements participate in elections? To answer this question, we examine Hamas's formation of the Reform and Change Party and its iconic victory in the 2006 elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council. We argue that Hamas's formation of this party was a logical step, following nearly two decades of participation in local and municipal elections. Hamas's need to attract resources from external donors, who make funding decisions based on civilian support for the movement, best explains why Hamas decided to participate in local elections in the early 1990s, taking Hamas on a path that eventually led to its 2006 legislative victory. Hamas's foray into elections was consistent with its dual strategy of directing violence against Israel and building Palestinian support through welfare services. We demonstrate that changes in political opportunities (Fatah's decline and the increase in Hamas's popularity), institutional incentives (lax electoral laws and the holding of municipal elections), and the rise of moderate voices within Hamas explain the timing of its entry into legislative elections. Finally, we discuss Hamas's electoral victory, the need for cooperation between Fatah and Hamas, and the role played by international actors as significant factors influencing prospects for peace and democratization in the region.