Via Meadia has been watching the increasingly empowered Hamas as it explores the opportunities opening up to it in a changing Middle East. Questions abound. As the group makes new friends in Egypt and Turkey, will it leave its old friend Iran behind? Will it modify its positions on peace talks with Israel and the two state solution? And where will all this leave the prospects for peace and Palestinian self-rule?Some of the ambiguities emerge in this report by the New York Times on the recent delegation Hamas sent to Tehran:
Hamas, the Islamic militant group, appeared to be trying to keep the visit low-key. Hamas officials in the Palestinian enclave either avoided calls from reporters or refused to comment on the trip, while Hamas television provided no immediate coverage. Mr. Haniya’s office sent a short text message to journalists saying only that he had arrived in Tehran on a private plane from Kuwait.But the Iranian news media reported on the warm official welcoming ceremony, during which Mr. Haniya reviewed an honor guard.
Hamas wants as many friends as possible. It wants to be courted and coaxed, whether by Turkey, Iran or Jordan. Iran, for its part, wants a footprint in the Palestinian territories. Ultimately, Hamas’s heart is in the Sunni world—which is why the Tehran visit was kept low-key—but politics is a complicated thing. The relationship between the leaders on the ground in Gaza and the international leadership of the movement, who hunkered down in Damascus until things grew too hot there, is not always harmonious.Hamas, like the Palestinian movement as a whole, is a factionalized, divided movement. Leaders have personal followings, and in some cases the family and clan ties so notable in Palestinian politics before 1948 are still influential today. In a united Palestinian state, these social divisions might not be so very problematic, but the dependence of the Palestinian movement on foreign funders and governments over the years has turned those divisions into a crippling wound. Different countries and rulers have sponsored their own Palestinian groups; this is one of many ways in which various Arab and Muslim regimes have been more interested in using and manipulating the Palestinian question for political purposes than in solving the refugee problem.Now the various Hamas factions are looking for the financial support they need to maintain their positions in what looks to be a post-Assad world coming soon. Iran desperately wants enough of a following to give some color to its claim to represent the front line of Islamic resistance to the U.S. and Israel: Someone will take the money and recite the lines. Turkey, Egypt and Qatar also seem to be fishing in the troubled waters of the Palestinian movement with hooks of gold.The interaction of the external powers wanting Palestinian allies and Palestinian leaders wanting foreign friends will be brisk and competitive; a lot is at stake. One likely though not certain result: The Palestinian movement will become even more divided than it is now, making it much harder either to hold successful negotiations with Israel or to build up a functioning, sustainable state on Palestinian turf.