Can politics be conducted differently if an electoral triumph results in an unexpected change? The 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, encouraged in particular by the European Union as an important component of future state-building, dealt diplomacy a dilemma. Hamas won the elections, at a time when the international community had completely embraced the “War on Terror” narrative as coined by the US and exploited by Israel.

Hamas won the elections, at a time when the international community had completely embraced the “War on Terror” narrative as coined by the US and exploited by Israel.

By employing a discussion of performative rituals and agency, Catherine Charrett’s analysis in “The EU, Hamas and the 2006 Palestinian Elections: A Performance in Politics” follows the trajectory of EU policy which has operated on dual contradictions. The EU’s commitment to state-building in Palestine was juxtaposed against its commitment to ostracize Hamas. Thus, the bloc prioritized its strategic interests, which were aligned with those of Israel and the US. 

“European interventions controlled the opportunity for Hamas to present itself following the elections and constrained the possibility for Palestinian politics to unfold through its own democratic procedures,” Charrett writes.   

Based on interviews with diplomats, political actors and academics, as well as research and observations, the book outlines the EU’s reliance on its own political rituals and expectations which left no space for Hamas to present itself and articulate its evolution from resistance movement to government. 

The EU’s expectation was a preservation of the status quo with the Fatah political party at the helm, but the Palestinian people’s electoral preference determined otherwise. How Gaza and Brussels would relate to each other politically was determined mainly by US policy, which is influenced by Israel. 

The EU’s abandonment of its peace-building narratives to accommodate Israel played a major part in marginalizing Hamas internationally.

The EU’s abandonment of its peace-building narratives to accommodate Israel played a major part in marginalizing Hamas internationally. Meanwhile, the EU found no constraints in retaining the peace-building image as the question of Palestine was further dissociated from Palestinians and Hamas as the people’s elected representative. Palestine became a self-serving diplomatic agenda for the EU.

Book COver

In the first chapter, Charrett makes an important assertion that sets the tone for the book: “Palestinian politics is reproduced ritualistically in European Parliament politics.” The author’s own experiences in Gaza and Brussels are shared as regularly interspersed reflections throughout the book. Through these anecdotes and observations, Charrett poses questions that introduce the academic and political discussion of how the EU monopolized the political spaces which are relics of coloniality. 

In this regard, Charrett states that the EU “must deny possible alternative recognitions of Hamas in order to maintain the already structured boundaries of who the EU is and is allowed to love, to sympathize with, to recognize.” 

This denial of recognition went further than the stereotyping of Hamas as a terror organization – a label which was influenced by the US War on Terror post September 11. Charrett notes that the EU’s refusal to recognize Hamas in alternative ways ultimately also reflected the fact that the EU was depriving itself of alternative recognition. 

Of course, Hamas was burdened with the responsibility of proving itself to the international community; a complete compromise was required on behalf of Hamas by the Middle East Quartet in return for political recognition and legitimacy. The EU’s acquiescence to these terms proved its incapability to transform itself with regard to the democratic process which took place in Palestine. Meanwhile, the illegitimacy of Hamas remained determined by Israel and promoted by the Quartet. 

Insights from Hamas leaders shared in the book portray the rejection of these external impositions that refuse the movement’s evolution while requiring it to transform, or portray itself, according to Western demands. To protect its diplomacy, the EU interpreted Hamas according to its predetermined parameters. The EU would not tolerate any disturbance in the status quo in order to retain the status it garnered as a peace-building entity. 

Hamas’ transition to the democratic process while retaining its legitimate demands was shunned.

On the other hand, Hamas’ transition to the democratic process while retaining its legitimate demands was shunned. Hamas leaders interviewed by Charrett spoke of the absence of dialogue and how the EU’s isolation policy prevented Hamas from functioning as a government by coercing the leadership into a choice between diplomacy and the survival of the Palestinian people. 

In private, away from the bureaucratic trappings of the EU, some diplomats have conceded they do not share the perception of Hamas as a terror organization. “In these private spaces and unofficial conversations, out of view, out of sight, EU representatives would show dismay concerning their governments’ policies, concerning their policies,” writes Charrett.  Basem Naim, a former Minister of Health in Gaza, is quoted saying that the EU “was not trying to hear the position of Hamas but to dictate policies.”

EU rhetoric published in this treatise affirms the official narrative of Hamas as “a subject that is unacceptable and unwilling to compromise.” Excerpts of official statements emphasize the EU perception of Hamas as incompatible with democracy, while evoking contrasts with Israel and portraying the latter as closer to European values. About the EU, Charrett asks, “Do they remain in a relationship with their own idealized understanding of who they are in relation to Palestinian politics?”

This question harks back to the beginning of the book and its observation that the EU “performs an idea of its own usefulness through the passing of resolutions.” The 2006 Palestinian legislative elections provided an opportunity for change which the EU rejected partly because the “institutionalized rituals” – as the authors describes the bloc’s political dynamics – prevented the consideration of a different outcome. 

The EU relied on, and acquiesced to, the US-Israeli narrative and depiction of Hamas as incompatible with democracy.

Without any policy to follow after Hamas won the elections – a scenario which the EU and the international community failed to consider – the EU sought “to fill the confusion with a claim to certainty.” Hence the EU relied on, and acquiesced to, the US-Israeli narrative and depiction of Hamas as incompatible with democracy.

“The international sanction of Hamas and the culminating physical enclosure of the Gaza Strip emerged from this knowing of Hamas as illegitimate,” Charrett explains. The result is a contrast between Hamas exhibiting political flexibility while the EU remained entrenched in forcing conditions upon the movement to grant its own construct of legitimacy. 

Charrett’s book is an important contribution to the understanding of politics and the space it occupies. Through a comprehension of the EU’s rigid rejection of Hamas, Charrett exposes how commitment to EU policy becomes a form of inaction that has created additional colonial violence for Palestine.