Hamas: Rebranding for a New Middle East?

Article Summary
The conciliatory positions recently adopted by Hamas have puzzled Middle East analysts. Some interpret its new working relationship with its former Palestinian rivals as no more than a facade. Others argue that the dramatic changes to the regional balance of power — and in particular the increased influence of its ally, the Muslim Brotherhood — have presented it with the opportunity to reposition itself. As armed struggle has been replaced by peaceful protest and even democratic participation across the region, Hamas may be set to rebrand as a pragmatic Islamist organization, writes Ma’moun al-Husseini.

Hamas rushed toward Palestinian reconciliation and reached a public agreement with Fatah and the other factions on creating a steering committee comprise of the leaders of the Palestinian organizations. They held a meeting of the Legislative Council (which had been suspended years ago), formed a new government, established a committee to prepare for elections, and managed to resolve some procedural issues related to the release of Palestinian prisoners and the lifting of restrictions on freedom in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. All these developments have given rise to numerous questions, hypotheses and predictions about the developing position of the Islamic movement (Hamas).

Hamas, which used to be a typical ideological movement, managed to gain support among the Palestinian, Arab and Islamic people through their advocacy of resistance, particularly armed struggle against Israel. It has traditionally portrayed this route as the one and only way to liberate "historical Palestine." Now, however, it has turned into a “special kind” of pragmatic movement. It accepts the notion of a Palestinian state within the borders of June 4, 1967, and believes in the necessity of reaching common ground with the various Palestinian political factions, taking into account the regional and international balance of power. It is willing to do all this while adopting "popular resistance" over armed resistance. Indeed, it seems that the latter is over. This was confirmed by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which quoted sources from Hamas saying that as a result of understandings reached during the first round of reconciliation talks in Cairo, Hamas' Political Bureau President, Khaled Mashaal, called on the military wing of the movement to put an end to armed resistance.

Analyses are divided into two major categories: According to the first, Hamas has not changed its ideological or political skin. Moreover, it has not changed its regional or international alliances — a view supported by the fact that its leaders still openly embrace the orginal policy, vision and strategy of the movement. In addition, its highest-ranking political leader is staying in the Syrian capital Damascus, still Hamas’ friend and ally. However, the two sides have their differences regarding the situation in Syria. Furtheremore, ties with Tehran haven’t been cut, although rumors are circulating which claim that Tehran cut its monthly financial aid to the movement.

Under such pretexts, the sudden rush toward reconciliation is merely a pragmatic and tactical approach that aims to keep the Islamic movement (Hamas) isolated from the Arab Spring. It is important to remember that it is under tremendous pressure to change its alliances, positions and its political approach given the implications of the regional and international conditions. It will maintain its traditional relations with certain regional countries driving it in this direction, such as Qatar and Turkey.

According to the second category of analyses, this estimate is unrealistic. Hamas’ shift must be analyzed within the regional context of the Arab Spring, which has allowed it to leave its former regional axis both smoothly and quietly.
These developments have allowed Hamas to return to its normal position within the environment of political Islam, which is reigning in more than one Arab country. This is especially true in Egypt, where Islamists are dominating the parliament.

Those who hold this view have supported their position with ample evidence. These include rising tensions between Hamas and Syria — the Muslim Brotherhood is opposed to the Syrian system and is working to overthrow it. Further evidence for this view is found in the exclusion of Syria (and Iran) from the tour of Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the Hamas Government in Gaza. His tour included Egypt, Sudan, Qatar, Tunisia, Bahrain and Turkey. During his first stop in Egypt, Haniyeh announced that his movement, whose takeover of Gaza, he claims, sparked the current Arab revolutions, does not hide its affiliation to the group which won the majority of the vote in Egypt (the Muslim Brotherhood). Another piece of evidence to support this position is the fact that Hamas joined the international Brotherhood more than two months ago. What’s more, it added "a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (Palestine)" to its official name. It did so to avoid subordination to the Muslim Brotherhood of Jordan (which has close links to the Levant) in its quest for international recognition.

Regardless of the strength of this evidence and these arguments, one fact is undeniable: Hamas is changing its position in light of Arab developments. It is witnessing the unfolding of a struggle, led by "political Islam” and the Muslim Brotherhood, to access power. This recourse to reconciliation may be seen as a sign of important and qualitative progress on the part of Hamas. This underlines the main issue, which is the nature, essence and reality of the Palestinian national movement in the context of Arab, regional and international events.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian movement disregarded Hamas’ political agreement with the Muslim Brotherhood after Hamas and the Islamic Jihad required that the Palestinian Liberation Organization make substantial amendments to their program before they join it. This comes in spite of] the fact that they are already present in the administrative staff of the organization. Moreover, the movement has managed to divert attention away from the many other obstacles it faces, including the Israeli position, which paradoxically has threatened not to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, should Hamas join the Palestinian government. On the other hand, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has stated that Israel does not consider Mahmoud Abbas a partner for peace, and that the Palestinians are “an obstacle to peace.” Israel has made these statements as it continues to carry out the biggest-ever settlement campaign in Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.

It is still too early to reach firm conclusions about what the implications of Hamas' transition to its new axis will be. Questions remain about the future of this Islamic movement, the national Palestinian movement and the Palestinian scene in general. The future of the two politically and geographically divided sides of the occupied territories, the Palestinian cause and the Arab-Israeli conflict are also up in the air. Despite these uncertainties, there are important indications that Palestinian national rights face an unknown and mysterious fate. These assertions contrast with the hollow optimism promoted by some who take into account the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly in Egypt, has promised the Americans to maintain all international agreements (Camp David in particular), should they rise to power.

Given that the Syrian crisis was the key factor accelerating Hamas' reconciliatory shift, the Islamist movement will most probably continue its attempts to dominate the Palestinian scene — be it through democratic means or otherwise. In fact, Mohammed Badi’s description of Hamas should be carefully considered. The Brotherhood mentor said in a meeting with Ismail Haniyeh in Egypt that Hamas was "an impressive model.” Given the new dynamics that have come to light, the road ahead for the Palestinian cause is sure to be riddled with new conflicts.

Sign up for our Newsletter




Cookies help us deliver our services. By using them you accept our use of cookies. Learn more... X