Website policy


We provide links to articles we think will be of interest to our supporters. We are sympathetic to much of the content of what we post, but not to everything. The fact that something has been linked to here does not necessarily mean that we endorse the views expressed in it.
_____________________

BSST

BSST is the leading charity focusing on small-scale grass roots cross community, anti poverty and humanitarian projects in Israel/Palestine
____________________

JfJfP comments


2016:

06 May: Tair Kaminer starts her fifth spell in gaol. Send messages of support via Reuven Kaminer

04 May: Against the resort to denigration of Israel’s critics

2015:

23 Dec: JfJfP policy statement on BDS

14 Nov: Letter to the Guardian about the Board of Deputies

11 Nov: UK ban on visiting Palestinian mental health workers

20 Oct: letter in the Guardian

13 Sep: Rosh Hashanah greetings

21 Aug: JfJfP on Jeremy Corbyn

29 July: Letter to Evening Standard about its shoddy reporting

24 April: Letter to FIFA about Israeli football

15 April: Letter re Ed Miliband and Israel

11 Jan: Letter to the Guardian in response to Jonathan Freedland on Charlie Hebdo

2014:

15 Dec: Chanukah: Celebrating the miracle of holy oil not military power

1 Dec: Executive statement on bill to make Israel the nation state of the Jewish people

25 Nov: Submission to All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism

7 Sept: JfJfP Executive statement on Antisemitism

3 Aug: Urgent disclaimer

19 June Statement on the three kidnapped teenagers

25 April: Exec statement on Yarmouk

28 Mar: EJJP letter in support of Dutch pension fund PGGM's decision to divest from Israeli banks

24 Jan: Support for Riba resolution

16 Jan: EJJP lobbies EU in support of the EU Commission Guidelines, Aug 2013–Jan 2014

2013:

29 November: JfJfP, with many others, signs a "UK must protest at Bedouin expulsion" letter

November: Press release, letter to the Times and advert in the Independent on the Prawer Plan

September: Briefing note and leaflet on the Prawer Plan

September: JfJfP/EJJP on the EU guidelines with regard to Israel

14th June: JfJfP joins other organisations in protest to BBC

2nd June: A light unto nations? - a leaflet for distribution at the "Closer to Israel" rally in London

24 Jan: Letter re the 1923 San Remo convention

18 Jan: In Support of Bab al-Shams

17 Jan: Letter to Camden New Journal about Veolia

11 Jan: JfJfP supports public letter to President Obama

Comments in 2012 and 2011

_____________________

Posts

Syrian crisis and the divided opposition

This posting has some background pieces on the relation of Hamas and the Israeli government to Syria, and some on the nature of the support for and opposition to President Assad’s regime:
1) AP: Hezbollah chief says group is fighting in Syria, Hezbollah claims fighting for Assad for sake of Palestinians, May 25th;
2) Al Arabiya: Hezbollah, a product of Arab media propaganda , angry denunciation of Hezbollah as inauthentic, May 26th;
3) Foreign Policy: Israel’s Three Gambles, background on Israel’s calculations, May 7th;
4) Ma’an news: Syrian opposition split as peace moves forge ahead fractures in opposition blamed on outside states. May 27th;
5) Al Arabiya: New Syrian opposition group formed Christian, Marxist intellectual’s group joins opposition, May 14th;
6) Dali Hatuqa: Hamas redefines itself after leaving Syria for new allies, background article, October 2012;


Screenshot, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah,confirms in a televised address that Hezbollah is fighting for the survival of Bashir Assad’s regime in Syria. Sheikh Nasrallah said his Shi’ite group is fighting an ‘existential war’ for the anti-Israel resistance, and to prevent the Sunni faction fighting in Syria from gaining control. Hamas leaders abandoned their Syrian patron in the autumn of 2012 when they relocated to Egypt. The Israeli regime is depending on its  military power to  protect itself from the regional escalation which many have predicted.


Hezbollah chief says group is fighting in Syria

By Bassem Mroue, AP
May 25, 2013

BEIRUT — The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah warned Saturday that the fall of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime would give rise to extremists and plunge the Middle East into a “dark period,” and vowed his Shiite militant group will not stand idly by while its chief ally in Damascus is under attack.

In a televised address, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said Hezbollah members are fighting in Syria against Islamic extremists who pose a danger to Lebanon, and pledged that his group will not allow Syrian militants to control areas that border Lebanon.

Nasrallah’s comments marked the first time he has publically confirmed his men were fighting in Syria, and were his first remarks since Hezbollah fighters have become deeply involved in the battle for the strategic Syrian town of Qusair near the Lebanese frontier.

Hezbollah has come under harsh criticism at home and abroad for sending fighters to Syria to fight along Assad’s forces. In his speech, Nasrallah sought to defend the group’s deepening involvement, and frame its fight next door as part of a broader battle against Israel.

He also portrayed the fight in Syria as an “existential war” for anti-Israel groups including Hezbollah.
“Syria is the back of the resistance, and the resistance cannot stand, arms folded while its back is broken,” Nasrallah told thousands of supporters from a secret location though a video link.

“If Syria falls into the hand of America, Israel and takfiris, the resistance (Hezbollah) will be besieged and Israel will enter Lebanon and impose its will,” Nasrallah said. Takfiri Islamists refers to an ideology that urges Sunni Muslims to kill anyone they consider an infidel.

“If Syria falls in the hands of America, Israel and the takfiris, the people of our region will go into a dark period,” he said in a speech to mark the anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000. “If Syria falls, Palestine will be lost.”

Syria, along with Iran, has been the main backer of Hezbollah and much of the group’s arsenal consisting tens of thousands of rockets is believed to have come through or from Syria.

More than 70,000 people have been killed and several million displaced since the uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011 and escalated into a civil war. The Syrian government and Hezbollah deny there is an uprising in Syria, portraying the war as a foreign-backed conspiracy driven by Israel, the U.S. and its gulf Arab allies.



Hezbollah, a product of Arab media propaganda

By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, Al Arabiya
May 26, 2013

The crimes committed during battles in Syria’s central town of Qusayr have increased Arab anger and hatred towards Hezbollah. The Lebanese Shiite’s chief Hassan Nasrallah had to make an appearance yesterday to defend his reputation which is stained with the blood of children, women and thousands of slain people.

In order to gain the sympathy of his adverse audience, he resorted to his old rhetoric style, which was once directed towards Sunni Arabs. And so, he spoke of a united front against Israel and the West. He spoke of how he fought for the sake of the Palestinians although there are no Shiites among them and how his party fought in Bosnia in the 90s although the Muslims there are Sunnis.

Has Nasrallah convinced millions of Syrians and 200 million Arabs of his claim that he is fighting in Syria alongside Assad’s forces for the sake of Palestine and Jerusalem? I think it is unlikely that he convinced anyone because news of massacres and sectarian murders in Syria have reached an extent where speeches on a mutual forged history can no longer conceal this.

Hezbollah’s 30 years
Truth is, Hezbollah has not changed. Most Arabs who later realized the truth are the ones who’ve changed. Hezbollah was born in 1982 for the aims of carrying out today’s goals and schemes. Arabs who are willing to kiss the forehead of anyone who raises Palestine’s flag threw their support behind this Iranian organization which was planned in Qom and established in Lebanon as a tool for the region’s struggles.

During the same year, forces belonging to Israeli slaughterer Ariel Sharon entered Lebanon surprising everyone by heading towards the capital, Beirut, besieging it and destroying it. These forces eventually destroyed the only Palestinian power, Fatah, which fought 88 difficult days. Fatah finally gave up, and its leader Yasser Arafat left to Cyprus in defeat and then to his final exile in Tunisia. Hezbollah was born as an alternative to the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The Iranians had already decided to use to the Palestinian cause to enter the Arab world and respond to the propaganda of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein who doubted Iran’s intentions and fought it on the borders.

If we clear our heads and observe what Hezbollah has done in 30 years, we’d realize it has been operating as an Iranian battalion within Iran’s struggle with the region’s areas, including struggles against the Lebanese, the Arabs and the Israelis. It eliminated national Lebanese and Palestinian powers and became a fort protecting Israel except for few confrontations against it – confrontations in which Israel won. You may ask why Hezbollah always appeared victorious as a steadfast power against Israel. The reason behind this was Arab propaganda that was used to forge and twist facts.

Most of Hezbollah’s wars fell within Israel’s interests. In 1985, the war of the camps erupted. Syrian forces along with Hezbollah and Amal committed massacres against Palestinians, but Arab media stood by the criminals against the victim.

Israel also conducted operations against Hezbollah in 1993 and 1996. The battles were finalized with agreements in which Hezbollah made concessions and pledges to Israel. But Arab media claimed that Hezbollah is winning. Even when Israel decided to withdraw from South Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah was not part of this and it threatened that it will not allow its withdrawal.

Then, the party invented the issue of the Shebaa Farms to keep their arms, or as they call them, the “resistance” arms. These arms were and still are against the Lebanese. They are currently arms against the Syrians. The proof of this lies in later years, where all wars were against Lebanese national parties beginning with the assassination of Hariri and other leaders. The party’s actions thus fell within the interests of the Iranian scheme to dominate Lebanon.

I know that it is difficult for those who have swallowed lies for 30 years to understand what I am saying or believe it. But what is happening in Qusyar and the rest of Syria is nothing more than an additional chapter in Hezbollah’s bad history.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 26, 2013.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column.



Israel’s Three Gambles

Can Israel get away with its attacks on the Syrian regime?

By Daniel Byman, Natan Sachs,  Foreign Policy
May 7, 2013

Israel’s recent attacks against Syria are the latest, dramatic development in a conflict that is already spiraling out of control. In the past few days, Israeli aircraft reportedly targeted Iranian surface-to-surface missiles headed for Hezbollah, as well as Syrian missiles in a military base in the outskirts of Damascus. Israel’s strikes show, once again, its intelligence services’ ability to penetrate the Iran’s arms shipment route to Lebanon and its military’s skill in striking adversaries with seeming impunity. But Israel is also risking retaliation and further destabilization of its own neighborhood — in ways that may come back to haunt it.

With much of Syria outside the control of Bashar al-Assad’s forces, Israel is particularly wary of chemical weapons or advanced conventional weaponry falling into the wrong hands, whether it’s extremist Sunni opposition groups like Jabhat al-Nusra or, more immediately, Assad’s and Iran’s Lebanese ally, Hezbollah. The missiles Israel sought to hit in the first attack on Friday have a significantly larger payload, greater accuracy, and longer range than the bulk of the Lebanese Shiite group’s current arsenal. Contrary to the allegations of the Assad regime that claims Israel’s strikes prove it is backing the opposition, Israel is not throwing its weight against Assad. Indeed, Israel’s latest strikes represent the latest in a long-standing policy of denying the transfer of arms that could alter the balance of power between Israel and Hezbollah — weapons systems such as advanced Russian surface-to-air missiles; the Iranian-made Fateh 110 surface-to-surface missiles (reportedly targeted this weekend) that would significantly increase Hezbollah’s threat to northern Israeli cities; or additional surface-to-sea weaponry, such as the kind successfully used against an Israeli ship in July 2006.

More broadly, the Israeli strike is meant to disrupt the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah nexus. Iran has long provided Hezbollah with hundreds of millions of dollars (the exact amount is unknown and probably fluctuates considerably) and a wide range of weaponry, including anti-tank missiles and long-range rockets. Since Hezbollah’s birth in the early 1980s, Syria has served as intermediary, allowing Iranian forces to deploy within Lebanon and serving as a transit point for Iranian weapons — something Hezbollah’s Lebanese opponents have complained about, as well as Israel.

The strikes are a gamble, however, for three main reasons. The first bet is that Syria will not respond. Israel has long been a whipping boy for Arab regimes short on domestic credibility: it’s not hard in this part of the world to paint any opponents as Zionist stooges. Bashar, like his father Hafez before him, backed Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist groups in the name of the “resistance,” hoping to win points at home and throughout the Arab world — while distracting attention from his tyranny and economic failures. Indeed, early in the Syrian uprising, the Assad regime tried to create a crisis by pushing Palestinian refugees living in Syria to return to Israel to divert attention from the crackdown. This failed, but the Israeli strike offers a chance to try again.

Israeli leaders, however, believe that this playbook is dated. When Israel hit the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, Assad and his cronies remained mum and did not retaliate. Today, Israeli strategists are gambling that Assad is too embattled to risk escalation. His military forces are weak and overstretched already, facing fierce domestic opposition with no effective airpower. Further losses to Israel and its air force would deprive the regime of desperately needed elite forces. Indeed, Israel seems rather sure of itself: as the smoke was still clearing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu projected business as usual, departing on a state visit to China.

Perhaps even more important, if Assad tries to use Israel as a foil he risks further losses, which would be politically humiliating and potentially extremely damaging for a regime that is already on a knife’s edge. The Israeli strikes show that it can violate Syrian sovereignty with impunity, and the Syrian opposition is now charging that Assad has repeatedly failed to protect Syrian soil from Israel. The Syrian Opposition Council, a leading opposition political grouping, is trying to play the Israel card itself, noting that it “holds the Assad regime fully responsible for weakening the Syrian army by exhausting its forces in a losing battle against the Syrian people.” Meanwhile, the remaining nationalists in the Syrian military resent this embarrassment, risking Assad further defections and desertions.

The Syrian president’s calculations may change, however, if his regime’s grip on power slips further. As Middle East expert Kenneth Pollack argues, Assad still thinks he can win this thing; but if he becomes desperate, he will be far more willing to lash out, using everything in his arsenal to prevent defeat. Attacking Israel would be a desperate move — but Assad is becoming a desperate man.

Israel’s second gamble is that Hezbollah will not retaliate. Since the bloody 2006 war, Israel’s border with Lebanon has largely been quiet — indeed, the quietest it has been for generations. After that destructive and indecisive conflict, Hezbollah silenced its guns, fearing that provoking Israel would lead to another bloody clash for which it would take the blame. Now, however, the Lebanese militant group is in a box. With Hezbollah forces fighting side-by-side with Assad, they have lost popularity in Lebanon and throughout the Arab world. Once lauded as heroes for standing up to Israel, now they are scorned for siding with a butcher against his own people.

Meanwhile, within Lebanon, the Syrian war is stoking sectarian tension, leading militant Sunnis to condemn Hezbollah and Shias in general, and diminishing Hezbollah’s claim that it is a champion of all Lebanese, not just Shias. But with Israel striking at Hezbollah’s crown jewels, its weapons supplies, a non-response damages its credibility. The temptation to restore its reputation — and create a distraction that turns Israel’s attentions from Damascus — may prove too great.

Israel’s third gamble is one shared by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and perhaps the United States — that increased meddling by neighbors will lead to the collapse of Syria. In Israeli eyes, the only thing worse than Assad’s regime in Syria would be chaos in Syria, with either Hezbollah gaining access to Syria’s arsenals or jihadist groups allied with al Qaeda (like Jabhat al-Nusra) assuming control of swathes of Syrian territory. In this scenario, Syria would then become an incubator of jihad on Israel’s border, much as Israel fears that Sinai, to its south, has already become. Hezbollah, at least, can be deterred, but the roving al Qaeda groups have no fixed address and care little about protecting ordinary Syrians from Israeli retaliation, making them far harder to deter. Jihadists might use Syria’s ballistic missile and chemical weapons arsenals against Israel, forcing an invasion in response, or at least repeated attacks. Israel’s Syrian border, so peaceful — through deterrence — for so long, would again be a war zone.

Israel is preparing for all of these possibilities by increasing its intelligence gathering operations (evidenced by the successful attacks this weekend) and bolstering its border defenses. Old guard posts on the Golan have been re-staffed and the Israeli northern command has recently drilled a whole reserve division in a mock-emergency call-up exercise. Israel also deployed Iron Dome anti-missile batteries and temporarily closed the civilian airspace in the north of the country. Such preparation may decrease the carnage any Syrian or Hezbollah response causes and give Israeli leaders some political breathing space — but they won’t solve the fundamental tensions caused by the chaos and uncertainty in Syria and Lebanon.

Perhaps the best Israel — or any of America’s regional allies — can do now is to try to protect its interests in Syria, while managing the unrest and violence that spills out of the country. Yet here the United States has an important role to play. In different ways, key U.S. allies — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey, and now Israel — are intervening in Syria. Ideally, the United States would make its own objectives and strategy clear to its allies and convince them to bolster America’s own policy. But for now the Obama administration does not seek overtly to lead the international response to the Syria crisis. That’s not quite good enough. At the very least, Washington needs to coordinate allied interventions so together they make it more likely that Bashar’s regime will fall and Syria will return to stability. At the very least, the administration must make sure they are not working at cross purposes and that the actions of one power do not harm the interests of another.

Daniel Byman is a professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University and the research director of the Saban Center at Brookings. He is also the author of A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism. Natan Sachs is a fellow at the Saban Center where he writes on Israeli politics and security. Follow them on Twitter @dbyman and @natansachs.



Michel Kilo, Christian and Marxist, arrested by Syrian police in 2006 when he reportedly signed the “Beirut-Damascus Declaration” of May 12, 2006, which called for the establishment of diplomatic relations between Lebanon and Syria based on respect for each country’s sovereignty. He was supported by PEN while in custody and released three years after his arrest. Photo by Khaled Al Hariri/Reuters

Syrian opposition split as peace moves forge ahead

By AFP/Ma’an news
May 27, 2013

DAMASCUS — International efforts to end the conflict in Syria accelerate on Monday with key talks in Brussels and Paris, amid a push for a new peace conference despite growing divisions within the Syrian opposition.

US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet his Russian and French counterparts in Paris to advance an initiative for an international conference on ending the more than two-year conflict.

However Syria’s main opposition group ended a fourth day of talks in Istanbul on Sunday with little sign of a joint approach to the attempt to bring all sides to the negotiating table.

The talks have been dubbed “Geneva 2″ after a conference last June that produced a peace roadmap which failed to win support, triggering the resignation of Kofi Annan as special Syria envoy.

Ahead of the Paris meeting, the 27 EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels, with the bloc deeply divided over whether to arm the rebels.

After months of bitter argument, the issue will come to a head as the ministers meet ahead of the expiry at midnight on Friday of far-reaching EU sanctions against President Bashar Assad’s regime including a weapons embargo.

Britain and France are leading the push to have the arms embargo maintained against Assad but relaxed against the Syrian opposition.

But British-based charity Oxfam has warned that allowing more weapons into Syria “could have devastating consequences” and “fan the flames of the conflict”.

The latest peace push comes as Syria’s leading opposition group was in total disarray at fractious talks in Istanbul, with discussions on their participation in the US-Russian peace initiative stalled.

There was squabbling over a vote early on Monday on expanding the opposition umbrella group, although the results formalised the entry into the Syrian National Coalition of veteran dissident and Marxist intellectual Michel Kilo.

Although the secular Kilo would bring in several women and members of Syria’s religious minorities, critics said his entry would curb the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence and force Saudi control on the coalition.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem upped the ante on Sunday, saying his government would attend a new Geneva conference, terming it a “good opportunity for a political solution”.

With the conflict spreading, Muallem said his government had agreed “in principle” to attend the conference.

The opposition’s long-standing position is that, after more than two years of devastation which activists say has killed more than 94,000 people, it will not negotiate until Assad quits.

Recognised by dozens of states and organisations as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, the opposition Coalition is marred by divisions that some members blame on regional bids for influence.

Forging a united position on Geneva is all the more urgent given rebel military setbacks on the ground, with regime forces reinforced by fighters from Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

Two rockets hit Hezbollah’s heartland in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Sunday as its fighters battled alongside Syrian regime forces for control of the strategic town of Qusayr just across the border in central Homs province.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon said he was “deeply concerned” by Hezbollah’s growing role in Syria and called for greater efforts to halt the spread of the conflict.

Hezbollah’s chief Hassan Nasrallah said on Saturday it was in the militant anti-Israeli group’s own interest to defend Assad’s regime.

“I have always promised you a victory and now I pledge to you a new one” in Syria, he said.

Hours later, the two rockets slammed into Beirut, wounding four Syrians, in the first time the Lebanese capital’s mainly Shiite southern suburbs have been targeted during the Syria conflict.

During the past week, 31 people have also been killed in clashes in Lebanon’s northern port of Tripoli between Assad supporters and opponents.

Hezbollah’s intervention has given Assad the upper hand in Qusayr, a key town in central Syria for both the regime and the insurgents.

It is an important rebel supply line from Lebanon but also links Damascus to Assad’s Alawite coastal heartland.

Syrian forces mounted an offensive on Qusayr a week ago but are meeting fierce resistance.

On Sunday a source close to Hezbollah said regime forces had taken control of 80 percent of the town.



New Syrian opposition group formed

By Al Arabiya with agencies
May 14, 2013

A group of prominent Syrian activists who favor a civil, democratic state have formed a new opposition group, a member said Tuesday, in a further fragmentation of President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents.

The new grouping, called the Union of Syrian Democrats, includes heavyweight activists such as Michel Kilo, a Christian writer and human rights activist.

It appears to be an attempt to counterbalance the influence of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood inside the National Coalition, the country’s main opposition bloc.

The 250 “members of the group, who come from different political streams, are united on the principal of democracy,” one of its members, Kamal Labwani, told AFP.

He declined to say directly that the group intended to challenge the Brotherhood’s influence, but said it would focus on creating a civil state.

“If the Muslim Brotherhood are opposed to the construction of a civil state, this group is directed against them. If they support this project, they are our allies,” he said.

“Our problem with the Muslim Brotherhood is that they say one thing and do another… they say they want a civil state, but in practice, they don’t.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is the best organized of the groups arrayed in opposition to President Assad’s regime.
But it has been criticized by activists for trying to dominate the opposition, boosted by the support of Qatar.
The group rejects the accusations, but they have only grown since the election of Ghassan Hitto, reportedly the Brotherhood choice, to the post of rebel prime minister.

The Syrian Brotherhood has also been accused of being controlled by Islamist extremists.

“It is not true that extremists are in charge of liberated lands,” their leader Mohammad Riad Shakfa said at a press conference in Istanbul in April. “The land … belongs to a united front of the opposition.”

Speaking in Arabic, he added: “As far as I know, there is no extremism in Syria.”

The new opposition group, launched in Cairo, will hold a series of meetings in coming months to discuss their structure.



Hamas redefines itself after leaving Syria for new allies

By Dalia Hatuqa, The National
Oct 17, 2012

This month, Hamas’s political leader Khaled Meshaal took part in a conference hosted by Turkey’s ruling AKP party. A commentator on Syria’s state-run Al Dunya television channel compared Mr Meshaal to “an orphan” looking for shelter after being rebuffed by other countries, further admonishing the group’s leader for his seeming ingratitude to Syria.

The commentary displayed just how frayed relations have become between Mr Meshaal and the state that granted him sanctuary after Jordan expelled him in 1999. Syria had long provided Hamas with a safe haven in addition to economic and logistical support. Despite the stark differences between the Baathists’ secular mandate and Hamas’s religiosity, the two parties found common ground in their opposition to Israel.

In February, after months of standing on the sidelines of the uprisings gripping the Middle East, Hamas was forced to make a defining decision. The party declared it was closing up shop in Damascus, signalling a tectonic shift between Hamas and its Syrian hosts.

The implications of this shift for Hamas’s relationship with its other traditional patrons in Iran is open to question. Speaking to the Egyptian daily Al Masry Al Youm, Mousa Abu Marzouk, the deputy chief of Hamas’s political bureau, acknowledged a change in relations with Tehran as a consequence of events in Syria, but still took a distinctly diplomatic tack on related questions. Mr Meshaal and Khaled Ghadoumi, the chief of Hamas’s political bureau in Iran, recently affirmed the strategic relationship.

Most of Hamas’s political leadership has moved to Egypt, however, following the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to the upper echelons of Cairo’s political establishment. Mr Meshaal has also strengthened ties with Doha, which through its Al Jazeera media and diplomatic channels has strongly supported Syrian rebels.

As the so-called “Arab Spring” saw the demise of many of the region’s autocrats and an emboldening of the Muslim Brotherhood, it was only natural for Hamas – which was started as an offshoot of the Brotherhood – to change its alignment. This pivot brought Hamas back into the fold of Sunni-led states and their oil money.

Qatar has exploited this window of opportunity and asserted itself as a powerbroker (although Doha plays down this new role). The country has thrust itself into many of the upheavals throughout the region over the past year and a half, from Libya to Egypt and now to Syria.

In Gaza, Doha is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into development projects, helping to rebuild the dilapidated coastal enclave still crippled by Israel’s 2008-2009 onslaught and continuing blockade. For the first time since Hamas won the 2007 elections, and the subsequent Battle of Gaza when it wrested complete control of the Strip from Fatah, an official Qatari representative’s office has been opened there.

The office oversees a substantial portfolio of aid programmes, including Sheikh Hamad City, a housing project costing about $500 million (Dh1.8 billion), named after Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Hamad Al Thani. This week, Gaza TV reported that Sheikh Hamad would visit the Strip, although Doha has not confirmed the trip.

As Hamas reorientates away from Damascus, there have been apparent fissures in its top ranks. Mr Meshaal has said he would step down as party chief, although the list of candidates in upcoming party elections is still unclear. Traditionally the group has been led by members in exile (partly because of security considerations), so Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza will probably not be chosen.

Mr Abu Marzouk, a long-time political bureau member and Mr Meshaal’s deputy, is considered a possibility. He is now living in an upscale suburb of Cairo, and maintains more cordial relations with the Gaza leadership than does Mr Meshaal. He is not believed to be Mr Meshaal’s first choice as a successor. Some sources say that is Saleh Al Arouri, Hamas’s head of West Bank political affairs who is seen as the engineer of the prisoner exchange with Israel last year.

Mr Meshaal’s departure from a leading role, held since 1996, is widely seen as a loss for the group, given his experience and relationships in the region. Many believe his decision was spurred by disagreements between the leadership in exile (which Mr Meshaal represents) and the Gaza-based leadership.

A move this month may indicate Mr Meshaal’s future in the movement – transitioning away from operations and towards a more consultative role. At the last minute, he was added to the programme of a conference in Doha on political Islam and democratic governance.

During his lecture on Hamas’s experiences in “administering governance under complicated circumstances”, Mr Meshaal talked about the challenges of his organisation’s dual role of resistance and governance. He reiterated that resistance came first, saying the end goal was national liberation.

The “complicated circumstances” include the chasm between Hamas and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, with which he has recently engaged. He even praised President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech at the United Nations last year. This has led some in Gaza, especially the more conservative arm of the group led by Foreign Minister Mahmoud Al Zahar, to criticise Mr Meshaal for a perceived deviation from Hamas’s political views and a far too conciliatory approach.

These internal dynamics, as well as tumultuous regional changes, have resulted in a shift of allegiances once believed to be iron-clad. Hamas, like many of its contemporaries, has struggled to find its footing, shedding old patrons and embracing new ones.

Whether a member of the old guard or the group’s new generation replaces the veteran Mr Meshaal, Hamas is beginning a new chapter that may redefine the movement.

Dalia Hatuqa is a journalist and TV producer based in the West Bank

Links
Big powers must now act on Middle East’s wars, collection of articles after Israel airstrike on Syria. May 6th, 2013
US fuels Mideast arms race to check Israel’s enemies, USA’s large arms package for three MidEast countries. April 24, 2013.
Letter from Michel Kilo to Pope Benedict XVl, September 2012
The overwhelming need for Syria’s opposition factions to unite  Al Monitor, January 2012

Print Friendly

Comments are closed.