A New Home for Hamas? Could the hard-line Palestinian group abandon Damascus for Qatar and lay a foundation for new ME deal?
Could a change in scenery mean a change in attitude? With Hamas leaving Damascus for the Gulf state of Qatar a lot of people are hoping that might very well be the case.
Conventional wisdom might indicate that to be a pipe dream but the shrewd money is betting on a real change. Why? Assad may be toppled but even if he isn’t he will be severely weakened. A weakened Assad might sell Hamas out if it serves the regime’s interests. Iran is being increasingly isolated and they too would happily sacrifice Hamas to buy more wiggle room. Further, with each passing day the connection between Iran, Hamas and Hizbollah is becoming increasingly evident. That connection will not be well tolerated in the region. From Egypt to Saudi Arabia, leaders understand that Hamas would usurp them at a moment’s notice. Hamas support for Assad and Nasrallah in Lebanon made that very clear. In addition, while Qatar is removed from Israeli milkitqry threats, Hamas would no longer be a frontline player.
The time for real change in the region may have come. It won’t be easy, it won’t come quickly but the conditions may be right.
We live in interesting times.
The shifting allegiances in this tumultuous era of Arab politics have come to resemble a game of musical chairs. According to an unnamed Hamas official quoted in the Wall Street Journal, the hard-line Palestinian group is seeking to move its political headquarters from Damascus as early as this week. Its reliance on the tottering regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria has left it significantly weakened and in search of a new base for political operations, and Egypt and Qatar have both materialized as possible new bases, according to the official. In the case of the Qatari capital of Doha, that may not necessarily be a bad thing.
It’s still unclear if Hamas will actually make the move. Speaking to the Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar, another Hamas official was quick to dismiss the Wall Street Journal story, claiming that only administrative staff will leave Damascus while the top political figures will stay. But whatever Hamas’s current plans, it’s clear that Assad’s violent crackdown — and the negative reaction from Arab powers — have pressured the group into exploring its options.
The fall of traditional regional power brokers like former Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak and the likely fall of Assad have helped to burnish Qatar’s diplomatic and strategic influence. Qatar took the lead in persuading the Arab League to impose sanctions on the Assad regime, and was also the first Arab country to back international intervention in Libya — even sending its own special forces to support the anti-Qaddafi rebels.
For the countries that could be potential new bases, Hamas’s weakness presents an opportunity to turn the group away from extremism, isolate it from Iranian influence, and potentially lay the groundwork for renewed negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
The Wall Street Journal article contended that Hamas is being encouraged to make a hurried exit out of Syria by Qatar and Turkey. According to the Hamas official quoted in that piece, the two countries have castigated the group for its continued relationship with the murderous Assad regime, allegedly telling Hamas, in the words of the official, “Have you no shame? It’s enough. You have to get out.” On the verge of becoming embroiled in a Syrian civil war, Hamas is “looking to re-establish themselves somewhere with stability” according to one Palestinian official quoted in the Times of London last week, but also where it will be “protected, diplomatically and militarily, from Israel.”