Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1264, (1 - 7 October 2015)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1264, (1 - 7 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Hamas: Modified strategies, new alliances

Regional players are reshuffling their cards in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, with the main winners being nonstate actors, writes Fadi Elhusseini

Al-Ahram Weekly

Many observers saw Tony Blair’s meeting with Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal as a breakthrough that could take Hamas out of a bottleneck and lead to a long-term truce between the movement and Israel.

But it now appears that the crux of the issue surpasses initial assessments, coming as it does in the midst of entangled developments that may lead to various domestic, regional and global transformations.

After years of estrangement, Meshaal met with a Saudi leader, King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud. Following the meeting, Meshaa-l had talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdoğan and, recently, with the former representative of the International Quartet, Tony Blair. According to The Guardian, this meeting was the fourth between the two men, raising hopes for a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported that Israel agreed to a sea route between the Gaza Strip and Cyprus in return for a long-term ceasefire with Hamas. The news and speculation coincided with contradictory statements from Hamas officials; some confirmed the story while others refuted it. Leaks suggested that Hamas’s Consultative Council was almost unanimous in support of such a deal, with reservations expressed by only two leaders of the movement.

These developments corresponded with statements by Turkish officials who urged the need to settle the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Amid Israeli-Turkish talks on re-normalising relations, the officials also declared their rejection of any hostile activities by Hamas aimed at Israel from Turkish soil.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has rebuffed any side agreements between Hamas and Israel. This position, led by Egypt, has been adopted by many Arab countries. It stems from the fact that any “individual” side agreements between Hamas Israel would override the legitimate Palestinian leadership represented by Mahmoud Abbas.

It could also lead to the de facto separation of the Gaza Strip from the rest of the Palestinian lands occupied in 1967, and thus could be considered an official declaration of the death of efforts at Palestinian national reconciliation.

The damage is not limited to Palestinian internal affairs, but would also weaken official Palestinian diplomacy, which only recently managed to achieve remarkable accomplishments.

To elaborate, with the aim of aborting any Palestinian diplomatic activism, the fundamental Israeli strategy is to delegitimise the role of the Palestinian leadership. Having said that, since Palestinians were hit by their own split  between Hamas and Fatah  in 2007, Israel has been using this to propagate its narrative that the PA headed by Abbas does not represent all the Palestinians. A unilateral deal between Hamas and Israel would unequivocally favour Israel’s narrative and said strategy.

When trying to analyse the motives behind Israel’s decision to make a truce with an organisation it considers terrorist and that must be uprooted, it appears that it outdoes the Palestinian-Israeli conflict itself and aims to prolong Palestinian division. In modern history, Israel has always tried to secure one front when it expects or plans an action on other fronts.

In other words, when expecting or planning a war against the southern front (Gaza Strip), it seeks to secure the northern from (Hizbullah). Similarly, when it expects an action on the northern front (Hizbullah), it moves to secure the southern front (Hamas).

However, it has become obvious that Hizbullah is not the sole menace for Israel in the north, but rather Syria with all its complicated components. This argument becomes more convincing when linked to news that major powers are seeking arrangements for a secure exit of Bashar Al-Assad from Syria without any realistic preparations for an alternative.

This would definitely lead to more chaotic conditions on the Israeli northern front and unpredictable reactions by Hizbullah after losing his chief protector and supplier in the Levant.

Whether speculation of a prospective Hamas-Israel truce deal is accurate or not, what is definite is that the Blair-Meshaal meetings are part of a wider context that includes new regional arrangements for Syria for the post-Assad era.

As such, the meetings between Meshaal and the Russian foreign minister and with the Turkish president rest in the same circle: one of the main outcomes of the so-called Arab Spring is that regional and global powers are recognising the important role of nonstate actors in the region.

 Russia, meanwhile, will never accept the removal of Al-Assad until it has secured a new caretaker for its interests in Syria and its environs. In the same way, Turkey shares with Syria long borders and entangled interests, including the issue of the Kurds and fear of a Kurdish entity in northern Syria. Thus, no regional power is left with the luxury of choosing its new allies.

The US closely follows these developments and was able to strike a new arrangement with all Middle Eastern parties, including Iran (following the nuclear deal) and Russia. From one side, some US reports have referred to the fact that the withdrawal of Patriot missiles from Turkey was done with Russian and US cooperation.

On the other side, this decision satisfies the Kurds and makes the US appear more neutral and less fully supportive of the Turkish stance on the PKK. Meanwhile, the US didn’t anger the Turks, as in return it opened the door wide for military cooperation, especially in fighting the Islamic State (IS) group.

These calculations were there on the table when the Saudi king received Meshaal. But this meeting added a new element: the war in Yemen. The current situation in Yemen underscores the necessity for new alliances, particularly since the conflict in Yemen has been taking on a sectarian hue.

Hence, the Saudi-Hamas meeting constituted a stepping stone to a bigger role for the movement in the region, and for the whole Arab order per se. After a four-year hesitation period, Arab regimes have started to absorb the ramifications of the so-called Arab Spring, building new strategies and forming new alliances, basically with new emerging players  nonstate actors and movements.

In the same vein, Sarkis Naoum observes that the nuclear deal was another reason behind the Saudi-Hamas meeting. According to Naoum, this deal pushed the Saudis to move ahead to protect their cards and to gather forces that share a similar ideology, in religion or nationalism.

Naoum referred to a research paper that argued that the main aim for Saudi Arabia is to build a Sunni alliance and an Arab coalition in order to face an anticipated Iranian threat; to end the Houthis’ growing influence in Yemen; and to improve its relationship with Sudan (by improving its relationship with Hamas) as well as to drive Sudan away from Iran.

In nutshell, it is obvious that regional players have started to reorganise their cards and ratify their alliances and strategies to cope with the rapid changes that have come with the Iranian nuclear deal, and are anticipated in the probable fall of Al-Assad and the rising role of nonstate actors  mainly movements of a religious nature.

 

The writer is a Palestinian analyst.

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