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What is the Difference Between Hamas, Hizbollah, and Fatah?

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The most salient differences between Fatah, Hamas, and Hizbollah is perhaps two-fold. First, Fatah and Hamas are groups that are directly associated with Palestinian politics and the daily lives of Palestinians. Fatah is based out of the West Bank, while Hamas is based out of Gaza. Hizbollah (sometimes spelled Hezbollah) is based in Lebanon, supported by Iran, and plays a less direct role in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel. Perhaps the second most salient difference between these three groups is that the West formally identifies Hizbollah and Hamas as terrorist groups, unlike Fatah. Yet another difference between these three groups is based on religious differences. Both Hamas and Fatah are predominately Sunni Muslim, whereas Hizbollah has its roots in the Shia denomination of Islam.

Fatah gets its name from Harakat al-Tahrir al-Filistiniya, an Arabic phrase which means "conquest" in English. The name is actually the acronym for that Arabic phrase, only the acronym is taken from the phrase read in reverse. Yasser Arafat founded Fatah in 1950 with the express purpose of reclaiming the entirety of the Palestinian lands from the Israelis. It has since recognized Israel’s right to exist and is at the forefront of Arab-Israel peace talks.

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Hamas, is another acronym for the Arabic phrase, Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya, which translates to "Islamic Resistance Movement.". It is known as a paramilitary group and was founded in 1987 before the First Intifada (Palestinian uprising). Its 1988 founding charter, which it continues to follow, seeks the outright destruction of Israel and the return of that land to the Palestinians. Hamas sprang from the roots of the Egyptian-based, Muslim Brotherhood and was formed by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Mohammad Taha.

The Second Intifada, which happened in 2000, increased Hamas' popularity resulting in its decisive victory in the January 2006 Palestinian Authority's (PA) general legislative elections. Hamas’ avowed intention of destroying the state of Israel stymied Palestinian politics and quickly dried up the flow of international aid. Aid would be continued, the international community stipulated, if Hamas met three requirements: recognition of the state of Israel, a rejection of violence, and compliance with Fatah.

In an attempt to break the deadlock, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) brokered a power-sharing deal in 2007 that invested Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh as PA prime minister. However, peace was short lived and the tensions that had agitated under the surface came to a head in June 2007 with the Battle for Gaza that has since resulted in an intermittent state of civil war. Hamas took Gaza, ousting Fatah members. As a consequence, on 18 June 2007, Abbas decreed that Hamas was thereafter an outlawed party and replaced Haniyeh with Dr. Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister. Fayyad’s appointment runs counter to Palestinian basic law, but was seen as a necessary measure considering the exigencies of Palestinian politics and the international situation. Ever since, the Palestinian Authority and the West have refused to acknowledge the Hamas leaders who control the Gaza Strip. Rather, Fatah is recognized as the formal and sole representative of the Palestinian people.

The genesis of the Hizbollah movement (or the Party of God) is to be found in Lebanon in the 1980s. It is the creation of a group of radical Lebanese Shia Muslim clerics whose primary aim was to resist Israeli occupation of the country’s southern region. This aim was achieved in the year 2000, when Israel withdrew its troops. This success, and the earlier religious revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeinito the head of the state of Iran, inspired Hizbollah to grander designs, notably the creation of a unified Shia Islamic state. It has become increasingly mainstream in recent years and has sought and won a number of positions in Lebanon’s parliament.

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