A Palestinian supporter of Hamas holds the Islamist movement's flag in Gaza City, 2011.
© Said Khatib
A Palestinian supporter of Hamas holds the Islamist movement's flag in Gaza City, 2011.
Last updated: July 24, 2013
Rami Khrais: Is Hamas changing its game?

“By deeply connecting itself to the new camp of Islamists, especially in Egypt, Hamas has to pay the full political expense”

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No doubt, Hamas today is not what it was before the Syrian crisis. As a Palestinian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood, it has followed the unprecedented shift in the Middle East over the last two years to reposition itself a shoulder by shoulder with its “Brothers” and their regional allies. Having moved from Damascus to Cairo and from Tehran to Doha, Hamas seemingly made its choice regarding the recent shift in the Middle East.

However, Hamas’s stance on the Syrian crisis has gradually developed over the last two years from lapsing into silence at the beginning, showing moderate criticism against Assad, to eventually taking bold positions against the Syrian regime and its allies. Over the last month, Hamas has asserted such strong position as the scene in Syria has been dramatically altered with Hezbollah’s intervention in the battles on the ground and Iran’s intensive assistance to Assad.

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Hamas clearly condemned Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria after the al-Qusayr battle, urging its old friend to pull its fighters out from Syria. More strikingly, Abdel Aziz Duwaik, Hamas’s leader and the discharged chair of the Palestinian parliament has recently considered “Jihad” in Syria as a priority task even before fighting Israelis in occupied Palestinian territories.

As a conflict intensifying in Syria and over the Middle East, many observers see Hamas’s recent positions as a participation in the campaign led by the Islamists and backed by Gulf countries to entrench the sectarian nature of the conflict against Assad. The Egyptian Muslim Brothers, influential Islamic clerics like al-Qaradawi, and the now ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, have all raised the sectarian tone in their discourse regarding the Syrian crisis lately. Hamas has become more connected to such Islamist camp.

It seems that Hamas has already entered this track

In practical terms, Hamas’s stance over Syria has already cost it a long-standing base in Syria and, more significantly, the financial and military assistance from Iran. In the backdrop of Hamas’s support to the Syrian revolution, Iran has decided to cut its monthly assistance of $25 million to Hamas and cease the military cooperation. In addition, Hamas’s position has already stirred a tension in the Islamic Palestinian movement itself.  Mahmoud al-Zahhar, a controversial Hamas leader, has recently rejected Hamas’s statement against Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria, claiming that such statement does not represent Hamas’s actual position which is completely neutral, he said.

Moreover, al-Quds al-Arabi, a London-based Arabic newspaper, alleged that al-Qassam Brigades, the militant wing of Hamas in Gaza, sent a message to movement leaders abroad complaining against their stance regarding Hezbollah, asserting on the deep alliance with the Lebanese militant group that had long been standing beyond Hamas in its fight against Israel.

To be sure, Hamas’s dilemma is not a financial one. As a part of the Muslim Brothers’ networking worldwide and with its growing connection to Qatar (Qatari Emir donated about half a billion dollars to projects in Hamas-led Gaza), Hamas could guarantee an alternative source of money. The problem that is being challenged by Hamas right now is political. By deeply connecting itself to the new camp of Islamists, especially in Egypt, Hamas has to pay the full political expense if it wants to regionally reposition itself. 

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To put it clearly, the Islamists in Egypt have showed a high degree of pragmatism in dealing with Israel. In addition to the deep commitment to the peace treaty between two countries, President Morsi’s tenure saw noticeable security cooperation with Israel in Sinai. Recognizing this track and the whole landscape in the region, Hamas has steadily approached its new allies’ political positions. The Gaza strip is living a calm situation thanks to the cease-fire agreement signed with Israel under the Egyptian auspices. Hamas, moreover, has adopted strict measures to prevent other militant groups of launching attacks against Israel across the borders. Still, the Palestinian Islamist movement lacks international acceptance. If Hamas wants to complete the circle by representing itself as an alternative to Fatah and being consistent with the Islamists’ trajectory in the region, it has to deeply alter its political approach.  

It seems that Hamas has already entered this track. Ghazi Hamad, a moderate Hamas’s figure, recently admitted that Hamas met some figures close to the White House and Western ambassadors to discuss deleting Hamas from western lists of terrorist organizations. Such gestures would probably boost the convergence between Hamas and Western countries, but it is bound with the whole landscape in the Middle East. Islamists’ ascend in the region is being challenged with overwhelming opposition. So, if Hamas decide to go to the end with its new camp, it should take into account that its position in Palestine will be deeply affected by the developments in the region. Palestinian politics has become more susceptible to Middle Eastern politics than ever before.

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