Hamas in the Light of Regional Developments and Increased Arab Support

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hassan Ahmadian
Ph.D. Candidate, University of Tehran and Expert on Middle East Issues

The Gaza Strip, which has been under a ruthless blockade by the Israeli regime since five years ago, has been witnessing new political developments following a recent visit to the coastal enclave by the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. The visit was carried out on the basis of specific motives which are in line with the newly defined role of Qatar in the regional developments. In parallel to Doha’s efforts to increase its regional clout, Qatar has been trying to draw a peg between Hamas and its previous regional allies, emerge as an active player (perhaps the most active Arab player) in developments of Palestine, and also to elevate its regional and international standings by taking advantage of the issue of Palestine. In addition to common motives of Qatar, the recent visit to the Gaza Strip has led to a major question: what are the main implications of this visit for Hamas’ approach and, on the whole, what are its most important consequences?

Apart from Qatar’s political goals, the visit has had – and will continue to have – tangible consequences as well. Putting an end to the five-year political isolation of Hamas, in which Arab countries as well as Israel, played the axial part; putting an end to or, at least, weakening the siege of Gaza; energizing reconstruction of ravages remained from the war with Israel in 2008 and helping to solve the economic problems of Gaza; promoting national reconciliation by bolstering Hamas against the Palestinian Authority and Fatah and, as a natural consequence of this, highlighting the importance of Palestinian negotiations; increasing Doha’s influence on Hamas in order to put more pressure on the resistance movement later and get it to join and continue negotiations; breaking Egypt’s diplomatic monopoly on this part of the Arab world [which can also be seen as an effort by the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council to become the main pivot of diplomatic efforts in the Arab world]; undermining Israel’s policy on Hamas and the Gaza Strip; and finally, winning international legitimacy for Hamas can be enumerated as the possible consequences of the Qatari Emir’s visit and aid to the Gaza Strip.

The new approach taken by the Arab countries to Hamas, which has been spearheaded and started by Qatar, will clearly undermine the current position of Hamas as an anti-Israeli resistance movement. Nobody can expect Arab countries to offer their support for Hamas without asking something in return. To change Hamas’ policies not only in Gaza, but at regional and even international levels, is a main goal of those countries which are currently helping the resistance movement. In other words, the Arab countries which have adopted Arab peace initiative as the main guideline for their Palestinian approach, expect Hamas to get along with the general strategy of Arab states. In return for that alignment, they will offer their support for Hamas and try to buy it international legitimacy and credit. In this way, Hamas will gradually come to realize that it should by and by give up its armed resistance policy – which has been the main reason for its popularity among the Arab masses and their support for Hamas – or, at least, to modify it and get in line with political initiatives of the Arab countries. These initiatives are all based on the Arab peace initiative which was first brought up in 2002.

Israel’s new aggression against the Gaza Strip, which started on November 14, 2012, and was dubbed Operation Pillar of Cloud, cannot be analyzed separate from recent developments in Gaza, especially the Qatari Emir’s visit to the coastal sliver. Opening the doors of Arab countries to and paving the way for Hamas to gain international legitimacy can, by no means, be favored by Israel. However, the aggression actually increased Arab officials’ visits to the Gaza Strip. On the whole, the recent aggression can be, in fact, considered a message from Israel to Qatar, other Arab countries, and the Arab League, to tell them that Tel Aviv is against giving any concession to Hamas within a regional framework without due attention to Israel’s policy toward the resistance movement. Israel also wanted Arabs to know that establishing Arab contacts with Hamas and giving it necessary aid to enable the movement to run everyday affairs of the Gaza Strip and rebuild the havoc which was wreaked to Gaza during the previous “Operation Cast Lead,” will make no change in Israel’s policy toward Hamas and the Gaza Strip. In other words, Israel is clearly and flatly telling the Arab states that “if you can give financial and economic aid to Gaza and reconstruct it, we are well capable of destroying what you have rebuilt.”

The interesting point is that Hamas had no role in attacking a patrol vehicle of the Israeli army, which was used by Israel as the main pretext to start its recent vicious aggression against the Gaza Strip in mid-November. However, in return for the alleged operation by Palestinians, Israel not only attacked a great number of governmental buildings belonging to the Hamas resistance movement, but also assassinated Ahmed al-Ja’abari, the popular commander of Hamas military wing, Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades along with a number of his close aides. The development was meant to convey a clear message to Hamas and let its leaders know that a change in the policy of Arab countries, especially Egypt, toward Hamas and their official visits to the Gaza Strip will, by no means, reduce responsibility of Hamas with regard to anti-Israeli resistance in Gaza even when other Palestinians movements play a role in resistance against Israel.

The consequences of the Qatari Emir’s visit to the Gaza Strip and, on the whole, the consequences of Hamas’ new approach to Arab countries, are actually meant to relive the Arab support for the movement. However, these consequences are expected to leave their mark on the resistance-based approach of Hamas to Israel and change that approach. In doing so, they will also negatively change people’s support for and the popularity of this resistance movement. If one could attribute Hamas’ past popularity among the Palestinians to its resistance, and especially anti-Israeli struggles, then it would follow that increased influence of Qatar – and other countries which make up the Arab moderateness axis – on Hamas may lead to a possible agreement between Hamas and Fatah, while encouraging its leaders to adopt a more reconciliatory approach to Israel. In that case, the popularity of Hamas among Palestinians would take a nosedive, on the one hand, while other Jihadist movements like the Islamic Jihad and the likes of it, would be strengthened to the detriment of Hamas. As put by the Arab writer, Nicola Nasser, past experiences regarding Qatar’s alliance with the West against Iraq, Libya, and Syria will be adequate to make Hamas think twice before deciding about its future political approach to Israel.

At any rate, it should be noted that the Palestinian policy is of a reactive nature. As a result, nobody can firmly talk about a new approach. Although political developments in the past years have contained telltale signs of the adoption of a new approach by the leadership of Hamas, it should be noted that Hamas regulates its measures and policies mostly on the basis of domestic political developments. An instance of the reactive nature of Hamas policy was seen in the recent Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip in which Israel’s relentless attacks on the Gaza Strip not only failed to corner Hamas, but also elicited its retaliatory response which, this time, covered as far as Tel Aviv and the occupied al-Quds (Jerusalem).

Key Words: Hamas, Regional Developments, Arab Support, Qatar, Fatah, Gaza Strip, Ahmed al-Ja’abari, Ahmadian

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