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Hamas scrambles for relevance in post-normalization Middle East

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Jan 8, 2021

Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement which governs in Gaza, has agreed to reengage in a reconciliation course of with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and move towards elections within the West Bank and Gaza.

This could all sound acquainted. The events have began down this street earlier than, however this time it simply would possibly occur. Why? Well, for one, financial situations in Gaza are grim, as we wrote final month, and a current UN Conference on Trade and Development report warns that Gaza’s financial system is “near collapse.” There are almost zero prospects that there will likely be a change for the higher, absent a dramatic change in Gaza and the regional setting.

The bigger subject for Hamas is its isolation, which is elevated by the normalization settlement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan; US-brokered reconciliation among the many Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states; and a brand new push for an Israeli-Palestinian peace convention, led by Abbas and Egypt.

With a brand new US administration coming in, Iran, Hamas, Syria and Hezbollah discover themselves much more on the skin trying in with regard to regional developments. So Hamas is seeking to play as many playing cards as attainable, to remain related and engaged as occasions unfold.

Election curler coaster talks on observe …

Abbas needs to see a world convention on Palestine this 12 months. For that to occur, he wants the momentum, legitimacy and enhance that ought to come from long-overdue elections, and that requires the buy-in of Hamas. 

Daoud Kuttab has the news this week that Hamas lastly got here round, or so it seems, after Hamas agreed to a sequence that may begin with legislative elections, which might then be given a “national unity” pedigree, adopted by govt elections.

Hamas beforehand broke off discussions with the PA when Abbas resumed safety coordination with Israel after Joe Biden was elected president in November.

That intransigence eroded following current shifts within the regional setting. Hamas had counted on assist not solely from its chief benefactor, Iran, but additionally the diplomatic good workplaces of Egypt, Turkey and Qatar. Normalization makes that proposition extra tenuous, so Hamas agreed on elections after getting assurances from Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and Russia to supervise the election course of.

“The recent reconciliation between the Gulf countries and Turkey’s decision to send its ambassador back to Tel Aviv and the role that Egypt has played appears to have had a strong influence on Hamas and allowed it to overcome its initial hesitation and agree to the PLO’s terms despite the return of security coordination,” writes Kuttab.

… due to an Egyptian diplomatic surge

No shock that Egypt closed the deal between Hamas and the PLO. We wrote again in August 2019 that Egypt issues greater than ever. We may really write that column yearly, or each few months. Witness the occasions of the previous week.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was celebration to the reconciliation settlement with Qatar on the GCC summit Jan. 5. While Egypt-Qatar relations will take time to rebuild belief, as Mohamed Sabry explains, therapeutic the rift inside the Arab fold locations Egypt in a good stronger place on coping with Israeli-Palestinian and regional points, together with Libya, Syria and Yemen.

The subsequent day, on Jan. 6, Shoukry was on the telephone together with his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, and Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki, forward of a convention subsequent week in Cairo about efforts to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace course of, as Rina Bassist stories.

Whether intentional or not, Egypt’s diplomacy can be a sign to the incoming Biden administration about Cairo’s position within the area. Egypt could also be cautious of elevated strain from Washington on human rights and press freedoms. US President Donald Trump and his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, had working relationship, and Trump shielded Egypt, in addition to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, from human rights calls for and different pressures from Congress as a lot as attainable. That may change below Biden. Egypt’s diplomatic surge is a reminder of its many hyperlinks to important US nationwide safety pursuits within the Middle East, in addition to Africa and the jap Mediterranean.

… as Hamas retains choices open with Assad and Iran

The normalization agreements between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, in addition to reconciliation inside the GCC, not solely have implications for the Palestinian territories but additionally for the so-called rejectionist entrance of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. They face strain to shut ranks.

One alternative Hamas could exploit is a reestablishment of ties with Syria. Hamas cut up from Damascus after the uprisings in Syria in 2011, in solidarity with Islamist teams against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Hamas is now pursuing a rapprochement between Gaza and Damascus, due to the mediation of Iran and Hezbollah, as Ahmad Abu Amer stories.

Another signal of current Hamas diplomacy is its collaboration on a triangular prisoner trade with Yemen’s Houthi group, which is backed by Iran.

The Houthis have steered that two Saudi airman captured and held since February 2020 be exchanged for 60 Palestinian prisoners, together with Hamas members, held in Saudi Arabia, as Abu Amer stories.

Meanwhile, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and different smaller “resistance” factions in Gaza performed a joint navy drill in Gaza final week each to commemorate the killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander Qasem Soleiman by the United States on Jan. 3, 2020, and as a present of pressure in response to navy exchanges with Israeli forces final week, as we report right here.

… and demolishes Palestinian properties on border

Most tales on Palestinian home demolitions contain Israeli forces. Not this time. Residents of a 13-acre strip of land near Gaza’s Rafah border crossing with Israel woke as much as Hamas bulldozers and demolition crews to acceptable land that Hamas claimed was public property, a declare hotly disputed by residents, as Rasha Abou Jalal stories.

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