A DIFFERENT SAUDI POLICY
“Ever since he came to power in Saudi Arabia, King Salman bin ‘Abdulaziz has adopted a policy that is clearly different from that of his predecessor King ‘Abdullah,” writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
This has emerged clearly from the manner in which Saudi Arabia is dealing with what is happening in the region. The kingdom’s policy has focused on giving priority to confronting what it refers to as ‘the Iranian threat’ over any other issue, so much so that Riyadh’s rulers have changed their attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood, whom they had previously viewed as an imminent and no less dangerous threat than Iran ever since the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ and their role in the region began to rise.
Saudi Arabia found it could not fight on more than one front simultaneously – against Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood and the growing threat of terrorism, especially after ISIS’s successes in Syria and Iraq. It consequently chose to concentrate on one front, namely, the Iranian front. And it has tried to mend its relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, with whom it was already cooperating in Syria. It has also begun cooperating with the movement in Yemen – allegedly as a result of mediation by Hamas.
What has encouraged Riyadh to adopt this new policy is that the Muslim Brotherhood, including Hamas, has distanced itself from Iran and backed legitimacy [the Hadi government] in Yemen, in a clear message of support for the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm. In fact, the Saudi/Hamas rapprochement would not have been possible had it not been for the Hamas/Iranian disagreement over the Arab revolutions, specifically as regards Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Tehran’s important ally.
It is true that there has been a recent improvement in Hamas’s relations with Iran. But this has yet to reach the same level as before. Tehran has provided enormous political, military and financial aid, without which Hamas could not have stood its ground or confront three successive [2008/12/14] Israeli aggressions on the Gaza Strip.
These aggressions were meant to deliver a backbreaking blow to Hamas without necessarily toppling its regime, since the alternative remains uncertain and may be even worse. For this reason, Israeli policy towards Hamas is primarily intended to weaken it, and to deliver a serious blow to it without toppling it, thereby ensuring that the Palestinians would have two competing forces and two conflicting authorities [Fateh/Hamas/Gaza/PA], that would hemorrhage their strength in an internal feud. And Israel also wanted to ensure that Hamas would have sufficient power to be able to uphold the truce agreements it has concluded with Israel.
The entire story began when the Saudi monarch agreed to a proposal to host a Palestinian reconciliation meeting attended by Hamas Politburo head Khalid Mish’al during his meeting with former U.S. president Jimmy Carter last March. That was a sign of a change from total estrangement to a resumption of meetings and contacts. But all this has remained limited so far, because Riyadh’s insistence that both [Palestinian] parties should agree to its hosting a reconciliation meeting, that that meeting should have some prospect of success, and that Egypt’s role should not be threatened in any way, is tantamount to offering PA President Abu Mazin a veto; and he does not wish to achieve reconciliation unless it meets his preconditions that are not acceptable to Hamas.
In other words, as King Salman told Carter, hosting Abu Mazin and Khaled Mish’al and the remaining Palestinian factions in Saudi Arabia is conditional on Abu Mazin and Mish’al requesting such a meeting. In that case, it would be possible to seek a Mecca-2-type Fateh/Hamas agreement [along the lines of the 2007 agreement], provided that Egypt’s role – which has been sponsoring Palestinian reconciliation ever since the 2007 inter-Palestinian split – is not affected in any way.
Many parties with varying aims have exaggerated the significance and extent of the change in Riyadh’s attitude towards Hamas, and the extent to which this represented a breach in its stance regarding the movement. For the change has initially remained limited. The Saudi monarch could have issued an invitation to a meeting that would confront the various Palestinian parties with a fait accompli they could not ignore; nor would they be able to simply disregard the invitation.
But we then moved to another chapter when a Hamas delegation headed by Mish’al visited Saudi Arabia to carry out the umra [out of season haj] pilgrimage. Hamas portrayed this visit as breaking the ice and as the beginning of a new phase of relations. It spoke of meetings with Saudi officials, including the Saudi monarch, crown-prince and deputy-crown-prince. It also said that this meeting would be followed by another next month.
Meanwhile, the official Saudi News Agency confined itself to mentioning that a delegation from Hamas has offered the Saudi monarch its greetings on the occasion of the [end of Ramadan feast] ‘Id al-Fitr, without mentioning any meetings. And the Saudi foreign minister issued a statement saying that the Hamas delegation visited Saudi Arabia only to carry out the ‘umra pilgrimage, which is their right like any other Muslims, and that the visit was not political in nature. He also stressed that Saudi Arabia’s attitude towards Hamas will not change, as well as its support for the PA and Egypt’s efforts to preserve its domestic security.
This is further proof that no breakthrough has occurred in the Hamas/Saudi relations; in fact, the opposite may have occurred, in the sense that the visit failed to achieve its aims. This is because Riyadh wants Hamas to unequivocally take its side in confronting the Iranian threat. Otherwise, why would the Saudi media ignore the visit when they showed much interest and offered a warm welcome to a visit by [Maronite Lebanese Forces Party leader] Samir Geagea, whom Saudi Arabia is encouraging to stand up to Hizbollah and its allies in Lebanon?
Mish’al and many other leading Hamas figures’ statements after the visit have voiced their interest in maintaining good relations with Tehran, Riyadh, and all parties. This is because the Palestinian cause unites all, and because Hamas does not wish to intervene in domestic or inter-Arab conflicts, or enter the circle of regional and international polarization. As a result, Hamas has strongly denied reports circulated by the Iranian Fars News Agency that it has agreed to send 700 of its fighters to help Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen. After all, Hamas has paid a heavy price for its attitude towards the events in Syria, and does not wish to repeat that same mistake.
Hamas knows well that to replace its alliance with Tehran with an alliance with Riyadh would mean that it could not maintain its option of armed resistance, which is the great lever that has brought it to its current status. An alliance with Riyadh may bring it financial support; but it would no longer be a resistance faction. This is because Riyadh, Doha and Ankara want to tame Hamas so as to make it acceptable internationally for the U.S. and Israel. They do not wish to supply it with arms to fight Israel, at a time when Saudi Arabia feels that it shares a common position with Tel Aviv that gives priority to the Iranian threat, especially after the nuclear agreement that both Riyadh and Tel Aviv have opposed, and that may enhance Iran’s power after it has been accepted as a nuclear state and after its frozen monies have been returned and the sanctions imposed on it lifted.
Yes, Hamas’s relations with Riyadh’s rulers have improved. But this will not reach the point of a breakthrough unless Hamas moves totally out of the [Iran/Syria/Hizbollah] resistance and opposition camp, and joins the Operation Decisive Storm camp and adopts a clear stance against Iran and the Shiite threat.
There is no doubt that various tendencies and currents will influence Hamas’s decision, with some opposing and others supporting the need to adapt to the new Arab and regional conditions, even if this comes at the expense of Hamas being part of the Palestinian national liberation movement. That would only consolidate the fact that Hamas is no more than the Palestinian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.
We have heard voices within Hamas praising Iran’s support and calling for an alliance with it as a matter of priority. And we have heard other voices calling for a new Arab/Islamist project under Saudi leadership and requesting Riyadh’s mediation in the inter-Palestinian dispute, even if this comes at Egypt’s expense. And we have also heard a moderate and balanced voice that understands that the Palestinian cause is a just cause that unites everyone and that needs their support, and that it would be fatal to side with one party against another.
In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that Hamas’s fate and future now depend upon how this debate between these various tendencies and currents will be resolved.
Neither Hamas nor Fateh nor any other Palestinian faction can preserve an effective and independent role that serves the national interest and seeks to restore the Palestinian cause to the forefront unless the Palestinians themselves are ready to unite. For their division renders them easy prey, akin to a ball being kicked about by players, each of whom wants to use the Palestinian card and factions in their interest.
And the Palestinians can only avoid this fate, which would only entail their greater fragmentation and the loss of their cause, by means of a patriotic and democratic unity founded on common grounds, and a political partnership that gives each and every side what it deserves.
“For unity is the shortest route – indeed, the sole route – to salvation,” concludes Masri.