Isolating Hamas – Are we sure?

These are difficult times for Hamas.

For one thing, its parents organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, is under attack by a growing number of regional leaders and is increasingly banned from partaking in mainstream policy-making.In Egypt, not only has the Mohammed Morsi-led administration been ousted from power, the current interim government, under the leadership of Field Marshall Sisi, has officially classified the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Saudi Arabia recently blacklisted the organization in a similar way, ordering membership and/or support to be criminalized and punished with jail time of up to twenty years.

Now, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas are certainly not identical organizations, and differ greatly in terms of the methods they select to bring about political change. That said, Hamas was created by Brotherhood leaders, combines the Sunni Islamist ideologies of Mohammad al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, and traditionally receives a great deal of political and economic support from its affiliates across the region. The boycotts are thus certain to negatively impact Hamas’ political and economic standing.

Additionally, Hamas’ authority and leadership in the Gaza Strip is increasingly challenged by different Palestinian factions defying its desired monopoly of Gaza’s relations with Israel. Of specific relevance to this regard are last week’s altercations between the IAF and Islamic Jihad.Although specifics are as of yet unclear, it appears as though in response to the assassination of three Islamic Jihadists by Israel, about sixty rockets were fired at southern Israel, precipitating further IAF retaliation.

Apart from the fact that these attacks greatly endanger the ceasefire upheld since 2012, they also point to the lack of strong and centralized leadership in the Gaza Strip. Particularly, while Islamic Jihad ensured that all of its undertakings had been discussed and coordinated with HamasHamas was angered over the fact that its specific instructions were not abided by. To make matters worse, Egyptian mediators limited their efforts to Islamic Jihad, transforming Hamasinto a mere spectator of events.

Needless to say, many in the West are cheerful knowing that Hamas is currently facing some tough challenges. Without the financial support for the Palestinian Authority, the EU and US boycotts of the 2006 Palestinian elections, and the land, air, and sea blockade of the Gaza Strip by Egypt and Israel propellingHamas’ demise, is it hoped that perhaps current developments will finally free the world from these much-despised Gazan theocrats. But would we feel the same, knowing about the alternative support Hamas is currently seeking?

One the one hand, it appears that Hamas is dealing with its problems by seeking rapprochement with the Palestinian Authority, and by working towards Palestinian reconciliation. I discussed such initiatives here, but have to report that hardly any progress has been made. Both parties continue to delegitimize each other on various platforms, the Palestinian Authority does not appear to be in a hurry to reciprocate Hamas’ conciliatory gestures, and the international community has yet to express its support or start investing in the process.

As this route is not proving particularly fruitful, it appears  that Hamasmight be rebuilding ties with Iran. As has been widely documented,Hamas-Iran relations suffered a major blow when the former formally withdrew its support for long-time Syrian ally, President Bashar al-Assad. While contacts were never conclusively severed, Tehran responded by slashing its funding for the organization, which was estimated at around $23 million per month.

Today things seem to be changing. The Rouhani regime appears eager to warming up its relationship with other powers in the region to strengthen its position in negotiations with the West. Hamas constitutes an important element in such strategy. In this light, we know that Khaled Meshaal has been meeting with Iranian representatives in Ankara and Doha, and has discussed the details of cultivating relations and the need for moving past earlier crises. Additionally, reports have confirmed that, although limited due to logistical constraints, Iran has resumed its financial aid to Hamas.

Faced with this new reality, the West must ask itself the following questions. Is it not true that by trying to revive the Palestinian unification process, Hamasshowed its willingness to abide by the Cairo and Doha reconciliation deals, and participate in discussions about its own rights to power, new elections, and democratic representation? Is it not true that by extending a hand to the Palestinian Authority, an administrative entity largely designed by pro-Western and pro-Israeli policy-makers, is was working within the Oslo framework and de facto admitting to the legitimacy of such deal? What chances to integrate Hamasinto mainstream politics did we miss, by supporting its supposed isolation?

As Hamas and Iran rekindle their relationship, the West ought to critically reflect upon the role it played in setting the scene for such development.

(Source / 16.03.2014)

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