Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and delegates visited the Qatari capital of Doha, to pick up on the stalled national reconciliation talks with Hamas. While news reports focus on day-to-day politics, there are very few media that focus on the context — that is regional rivalries and geopolitics.
Abbas arrived in Doha on Wednesday, after talks with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman, the same day. Qatar’s Culture Minister greeted Abbas welcome at Doha airport. Abbas, who is a member of the Al-Fateh dominated Palestinian Authority, met with representatives of Hamas including Hamas chief Khaled Mashal, to pick up on the stalled national reconciliation talks that aimed at creating a unity government.
Hamas has criticized the Palestinian Authority of deliberately stalling the talks by arresting some 200 Hamas members, in Palestine’s West Bank. Hamas and Al-Fatah have been at loggerheads after Hamas, in 2007, won elections. Election disputes led to armed clashes between Al-Fatah, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas. The PA established a virtual monopoly for Al-Fatah via the PA in the West Bank. Hamas for its part, established control over the Gaza Strip.
It is noteworthy that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is the only organization that can legally represent Palestine in international affairs. Hamas is not a member of the PLO. However, other PLO members, including the second-largest PLO constituent, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other PLO constituents and non-members largely concur in their criticism of Al-Fateh and the Palestinian Authority.
Opposing factions consistently denounced the Palestinian Authority and Al-Fateh of continuing its security cooperation with the occupying power of Israel, and of using this security cooperation for cracking down on the opposition and dissenting NGOs and activists. The PLO members, PFLP, DFLP and others accuse Al-Fateh and the Palestinian Authority of having usurped many of the most important functions of the PLO.
The PFLP, for example, recently denounced the PA’s talks about resuming talks with Israel, without as much as informing the appropriate structures within the PLO first. The PFLP stressed that this was particularly alarming because the PA would negotiate about waiving the internationally guaranteed right of return of Palestinian refugees and large parts the Palestinian diaspora.
The meeting between Al-Fateh / PA and Hamas representatives, in Doha, came about one week after the arrival of representatives of various factions in Cairo, Egypt. The meeting had been arranged by Egyptian intelligence and the administration of Egyptian President Abdel Fateh Al-Sisi.
Al-Sisi noted that he and his administration would help facilitate dialog and reconciliation between the Palestinian factions. A well-informed source and member of Egypt’s intelligence community told this author that Cairo favors Al-Fateh because of the lack of better options.
It is noteworthy that both Egypt and Qatar are competing for influence in Palestine and in the region. Qatar functions as the political and power base of numerous Muslim Brotherhood affiliated or associated organizations, including Hamas, Afghanistan’s Taliban, among many others. Relations between Egypt and Qatar became tense after the popular and military backed ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood associated Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, in 2013.
Egypt has repeatedly accused Qatar of supporting insurgents in Egypt, especially in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, Muslim Brotherhood affiliated and other militants in Libya, Syria, among others. The Egyptian government repeatedly accused Hamas of involvement in terrorism in Egypt. The latest case that has come before a court deals with the assassination of Egyptian Attorney General Hisham Barakat in June 2015. The attack took place in the Heliopolis district of the capital Cairo.
Following the assassination, Egypt’s Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar claimed that members of Hamas oversaw the attack and played a major role in it. Ghaffar noted that the Muslim Brotherhood was leading a “huge conspiracy” to destabilize the country. The group is designated as a terrorist organization in Egypt. Its Gaza-based offshoot Hamas was listed as a terrorist organization. Cairo has since then downgraded the terrorism designation of Hamas to facilitate dialog. Egypt has limited itself to designating certain elements of Hamas as terrorist organizations or cells.
Following the onset of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011 Hamas became increasingly split. The situation in Syria led one faction within Hamas to distance itself from Iran and turn against the Syrian government, while others attempted to maintain good and close relations with Tehran. There have been links between Hamas and the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIL) in Syria and Hamas played a major role at importing the war into Palestinian refugee camps in Syria.
Following the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, Hamas became increasingly involved in terrorism in Egypt, especially in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula. The development would prompt senior Hamas legislator Yahia Mousa to warn that Hamas will pay a bitter price for interfering in Egypt’s internal affairs. Hamas has also been linked to Egypt’s Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM). The insurgency would later rebrand itself as Wilayat Sinai and pledge allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, a.k.a. ISIS, ISIL or Daesh.
Adding to the complexity is the fact that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas repeatedly noted that the PA would welcome NATO troops to guarantee Palestine’s security. Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi, for his part, noted at least twice that Egypt would consider deploying Egyptian troops to “a future Palestinian State” and along the Palestinian – Jordanian border to guarantee its security.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that neither Qatar nor Hamas, would be glad about Egyptian troops in Palestine as long as the Muslim Brotherhood is outlawed in Egypt. Considering historic precedence, Cairo is justifiably cautious about the possible presence of troops from NATO member States in Palestine. Hamas would not be content with NATO troops in Palestine either, although Qatar is a stern NATO ally and involved in irregular warfare operations in Libya, Syria, and in part in Egypt.
Progressive, traditionally more Russia – oriented Palestinian factions like the PFLP, DFLP and or more Syria – oriented factions like the PFLP-GC, would consider the presence of NATO troops as an extension of western imperialism. That is, despite the fact that former Soviet and the present Russian government have been equally opportunistic (Russians prefer the euphemism “pragmatic”) with regard to relations between Tel Aviv and Moscow as well as Russian – Palestinian affairs.
Considering that Palestinian politicians, according to some analysts, this author included, hold the world record in shooting themselves and their people in the feet, it appears more likely that Israel would succeed at annexing the entire West Bank and the Syrian Golan than that Palestinian factions stop acting as the ball in a geopolitical pinball machine, establish a united front against the occupation, and form a functional, representative government and parliament.
CH/L – nsnbc 17.06.2016
Also of interest: 02/25/16 Why It’s Dangerous to Conflate Hamas and ISIS