A dream come true
The Haniyeh-Mursi meeting in Cairo, though low-key and without serious objectives, is confirmation of a new era in Arab politics, writes Khaled Amayreh in the occupied Palestinian territories
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Mursi and Haniyeh during their meeting in Cairo; Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal during a recent meeting with the Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badei
Hamas's leadership at home and abroad is almost euphoric about Ismail Haniyeh's three-day visit to Cairo and meeting with Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi earlier this week.
They have good reason to be more than happy with the newfound chemistry and courtship with Cairo.
Shunned, boycotted and faced with hostility by much of the international community, especially those states falling under Israeli-American influence, the idea of a Hamas prime minister having an audience, let alone a cordial one, with the president of the largest and most powerful Arab country amounted to wishful thinking only a few months ago.
The brazen hostility the former regime of Hosni Mubarak displayed in the face of Palestinian Islamists reached unprecedented highlights when Mubarak and his aides colluded with Israel against Hamas, especially on the eve of, during and immediately after the 2008-9 genocidal Israeli onslaught on the starved and hermetically sealed Gaza Strip.
Mubarak and Israel, by and large, viewed Hamas as a common enemy, with each side having its own particular reasons and considerations. Hamas is the ideological daughter of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mubarak's arch foe, and allowing it to grow and get stronger went against the core of Mubarak's Arab policy. Mubarak was not a Zionist per se, but he knew that a strong Hamas meant a strong Islamist opposition at home.
As to Israel, Hamas was, is and will continue to be an existential threat since the movement doesn't recognise the legitimacy of the Jewish-Zionist occupation of Palestine, and is vehemently unwilling to give up such iconic Palestinian rights as those pertaining to Jerusalem and the right of millions of uprooted refugees to return to their ancestral homeland in what is now Israel.
The meeting between Mursi and Haniyeh didn't lead to dramatic results. President Mursi agreed to help the blockaded Palestinians overcome power and fuel shortages stemming from an unrelenting six-year siege imposed by Israel in order to induce the people of Gaza to rise up against the Islamist movement. The Egyptian leader also promised to facilitate the passage of fuel donated by Qatar to Gaza.
Mursi also agreed to allow Gazans to visit and pass through Egypt on their way abroad. Egypt is currently the only conduit through which the estimated 1.7 million Gazans can access the outside world.
Upon his return to Gaza, Haniyeh affirmed that the Rafah Border Crossing would be opened according to a new policy, excluding heavy-handed Israeli interference. He described his meeting with Mursi as "historic" and reflective of the Egyptian people's will.
But these achievements, though important for thoroughly tormented Gazans, decimated by non-stop Israeli aggressions and Western indifference, are beside the point. The real achievement of the meeting was that it took place at all and the tacit and implicit messages it conveyed to all parties concerned.
To the Israelis, which spared no efforts inciting every state under the sun against Hamas, the message was clear, namely that there is a new reality in Egypt and that the Zionist state must come to terms with it, if it ever wants to maintain an acceptable level of relations with the largest and most powerful Arab country.
To be sure, Hamas doesn't want Egypt to adopt a brazenly bellicose attitude towards Israel, an attitude that could undermine Egyptian interests, at least for the time being. But the Palestinian Islamic movement would like to see Egypt check Israel's phenomenal insolence and recalcitrance vis-³-vis the Palestinians.
And it seems some within the Israeli political establishment are willing to give this way of thinking on Hamas's part the benefit of the doubt.
Last week, an Israeli study concluded that it was necessary to lift the Gaza siege, mainly in order to prevent a further exacerbation in relations with Cairo.
According to Israeli media, researchers at the Institute for National Security Studies advised Israeli leaders to allow the opening of the Rafah Border Crossing and to lift the Gaza siege to avoid a potential military confrontation with Egypt.
The study, which was conducted by senior academic researchers from various disciplines, is based on an analysis of discussions had by Egyptian intellectuals on Facebook and the discourse of journalists since the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mursi, in Egypt's presidential elections.
The mere meeting between Haniyeh and Mursi also sent an unmistakable message to Washington, namely that the Egyptian presidency is not at America's beck and call and that the president of Egypt is responsible and answerable to the Egyptian people first and foremost.
It was inconceivable during Mubarak's era that Washington would allow such a meeting to go ahead without a private or even public rebuke from the White House or the State Department.
The fact that Washington remained silent and issued no comment on the meeting speaks volumes, underscoring the new realities in the Arab world.
The last message the meeting conveyed went to Fatah, the party of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
It is no secret that Fatah viewed with visible consternation the victory of the Brotherhood's presidential candidate, whose assurances that Egypt stood at the same distance from all Palestinian factions didn't assuage the group's fears that the new Egyptian leadership would favour Hamas at Fatah's expense.
Thus, the meeting is expected to further enforce these fears, especially given the warm chemistry noticed between Haniyeh and Mursi.
Hamas has no illusions about what Mursi's Egypt can do in terms of helping the Palestinians withstand Israeli oppression and repression. Prior to his visit to Egypt, Haniyeh said: "We would like to see a strong and prosperous Egypt, and the last thing we would want to see is wrong and unwise moves that undermine Egyptian national interests."
Translated into political reality, Hamas is expected to be more sensitive to infiltrators, Islamist or otherwise, into Sinai, which could destabilise Egypt's political arena across the border.