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Hamas Ditches Damascus

Khaled Meshal, the longtime head of Hamas, has left Damascus for good, according to Hamas spokesmen in Gaza as reported by the NYT.

For decades, Syria provided sanctuary for top Hamas operatives when no other Arab country would host the leaders of a group considered terrorists by many and opposed to the then dominant Fatah faction of the Palestinian movement.

It was always an odd marriage of convenience.  Hamas is a fervently Sunni group with roots in the Muslim Brotherhood; Syria’s ruling regime is nominally secular and actually a cover under which a religious minority limited the political participation of the majority Sunni population.  But Hamas needed a base, and the Assad dynasty’s political legitimacy strategy was to pose as the true friends of pan-Arab nationalism and the war against Israel.

But now Hamas has options. Turkey and Egypt are getting in closer touch with their inner Islamism. Fatah, corrupt and weak, has lost the aura that came from Arafat’s presence at its head. And Assad is a liability.  His murderous tactics in his war for survival have embittered Sunnis and liberals across the Arab world; the idea that he stands for anything other than dynastic self interest and minority rule has become a sick joke.

The logic behind the marriage of convenience has collapsed from the Hamas point of view; now that the husband has lost all his money, there is no more reason for the bride to stand by her man.

The question now hovering over the Israeli-Palestinian process is whether Hamas, whose most obvious possible allies — Egypt, Turkey and Jordan — all have diplomatic relations with Israel, will modify its stance toward the Jewish state as it moves toward mainstream politics. The rewards could be large and if anything could get the stalled peace process going it would be a Hamas acceptance of the principle of a two state solution.

On the other hand, Hamas could be drawing closer to these other countries precisely because they are moving away from the policy of accepting the Jewish state as Islamist influence grows in their politics.

In the few direct contacts I’ve had with Hamas, its been made clear that the organization doesn’t want to repeat what it considers Arafat’s greatest mistake: he accepted Israel’s right to exist too early and in exchange for too little from the other side. It wasn’t clear whether Hamas was open to making such a concession under any circumstances, much less what its conditions might be.  But understanding the organization’s bottom line is important; when circumstances change, so do your options.

One of the great unanswered questions in the Middle East: is Hamas changing its mind or just moving its stuff?

Via Meadia is watching.

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  • Y.

    Lets remember that Israel already paid for Arafat’s (pretend) acceptance of the two states principle. The idea here is to make Israel pay twice for the same empty words, and this without even accepting the rest of the accords. And afterwards, I guess some would like Israel to pay off yet another splinter organization in order to get what would be promised from Hamas…

    This is a complete non-starter, and if the intl. community goes anywhere near it, the likely result would be to completely alienate Israel.

  • Kris

    It would be helpful to explain that Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

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