Hamas on the Move
Turkey Today’s Zeman, reported that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet with “top Turkish officials” to discuss measures for recognition of the Palestinian state. Abbas is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Tuesday or Wednesday.
It is not, however, the travels of Abbas that have sparked interest. It is analysis of the possible travels of Palestinian Premier Ismail Haniyeh that have become a matter of international interest in recent days. Haniyeh is said to be planning to leave Gaza for the first time since the brutal 2007 Hamas takeover to embark on an “official tour” of multiple Arab and Islamic countries.
Yusef Rizka, political advisor to the de facto prime minister, told Quds Press that “there is a ‘previous invitation’ from Emir of Qatar Hamad Al Thani to Haniyeh to visit Doha, and if this visit takes place, Haniyeh will go on a tour that may include – in addition to Qatar – Turkey, Bahrain and other countries in which Arab revolutions took place and Tunisia could be one of them.” Qatar is one of the few Arab countries that openly supports Hamas. Exiled Hamas leader and arch terrorist Khaled Mashaal has visited Doha several times.
Turkey which has been an unofficial meeting base for Fatah and Hamas representatives in the past and strongly supports recognition of an independent Palestinian state, may be another important stop on the Haniyeh itinerary. Turkish statements generally express its position as “supporting Gaza” rather than naming “Hamas.” Internationally, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority are considered “legitimate;” Hamas is cited as a terrorist organization by the United States, European countries and Israel.
Hamas is on the move, both literally and figuratively. Changes in Syria, one of its major supporters, have caused reassessment and possibly repositioning of the Hamas alliances. Reports of the removal of its arsenal from Syria have surfaced for weeks: the continued unrest may cause the organization to remove its political bureau from Damascus as well.
Hamas’ decade long association with both the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood network and the Shiite, Iranian-led alliance enabled it to sit on many Muslim fences. Now, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s active opposition to the Alewite based Assad regime, its close alliance with Shiite Iran, and the wide ranging political changes throughout the region instigated by the “Arab Spring” have significantly changed the balances. If Assad is toppled, a Sunni led government could prove an even stronger partner.
The situation in Damascus is complex for Hamas. If Assad is toppled, and the Muslim Brotherhood is successful, a Sunni led government could prove an even stronger partner and supporter of Hamas. However, a Syrian Muslim Brotherhood victory over Assad could result in a break with Tehran.
As intra-Muslim tensions increase, Hamas may not be able to continue to seek the support of increasingly divergent Muslim camps and may be forced to select a singular alliance. Are Haniyeh’s travels intended to seek new supporters and regional sponsors on the shifting sands of the Arab Spring? Is the de facto Hamas Prime Minister of Gaza seeking support with his suitcase?
Harder divisions in the Arab political world may also highlight internal disagreements within Hamas. The urgent need to find new headquarters, new supporters, and new suppliers may reveal significant fissures within Hamas. The promotion of Haniyeh’s planned tour of Arab states, beginning with those countries which have already issued invitations and possibly extending even to Jordan (where Khaled Meshaal is rumored to be seeking reconciliation), may create a difficult agenda .
(Jordan’s 1999 eviction of Hamas may have resulted from concern about the organization’s strength and its inability to control the Islamist organization. Hosting Hamas also posed problems for peaceful Israeli-Jordanian relations. In addition, the U.S. pressure on Jordan was not insignificant either, given the fact that Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State. Jordan officially cited conduct of illicit activities in the Kingdom as the reason.)
Egypt’s military leaders have been publicly friendly to Hamas in the wake of President Hosni Mubrak’s ouster in February, but analysts note that tensions remain due to the group’s harboring of terrorists active in Sinai. Haniyeh’s announced trip comes as Islamic parties – including Hamas’ parent organization the Muslim Brotherhood – claim they have won by a landslide in the country’s ongoing parliamentary elections.
While Haniyeh refuses to recognize Israel, he may be taking advantage of some tacit understanding with the Jewish State – in the wake of the release of Gilad Shalit – that gives him confidence in his own safe passage. Unconfirmed talk within Israeli diplomatic circles revealed the possibility that as part of the Shalit deal, Israel guaranteed Hamas leaders personal security if and when they relocate from Damascus. A Hamas statement on December 18 reissuing its the call to kidnap additional IDF personnel may jeopardize any arrangement, (should one exist).