Nothing stopped Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, from making Ahmadinejad-style declarations that Israel’s days are numbered and calling for the establishment of an Arab Jihad army for Palestine’s liberation. Yet behind the pretentious slogans lies a grim reality for Hamas that can no longer be hidden.
First, Hamas’ alliance with Iran has come to an end. This pact was unnatural to begin with, given that we saw a Sunni organization endorsing a non-Arab Shiite state. Yet when Hamas refused Iran’s orders to support the fading Bashar Assad, Tehran shut its door to the group. What’s worse, the flow of money used by Hamas to pay some 50,000 officials and troops in Gaza has ended.
So where will Hamas get money? This is why the organization is engaged in bitter disputes with the Palestinian Authority and Arab League over funds supposedly owed to the group.
Hamas was also forced to leave the capital of its external leadership in Damascus. Where will it go now? There were hopes that Jordan will take in Hamas’ headquarters, until the group’s leadership was stunned last week to hear that Jordan is imposing limitations. Jordan’s prime minister made it clear that the country will host senior group figures and their families as “individuals,” banning them from any political activity. Hence, the Jordan option is no longer viable in furious Hamas’ view.
The Egypt option remains, yet with the Muslim Brotherhood aiming to portray itself as pragmatic and realistic in the eyes of the world, moving the headquarters of a terror group to Cairo would be an embarrassment. Haniyeh himself visited Egypt and spoke at length about Israel’s demise, yet Brotherhood representatives kept silent, and this silence should worry him.
The Muslim Brotherhood now needs to care not for 50,000 people, but rather, for 88 million. After all, the burden of running the state has been imposed on the Islamic movement, and should it fail to show an improvement in Egypt’s economic status, the streets’ fury will soon turn against the Brotherhood.
Meanwhile, moving Hamas’ headquarters to Gaza is out of the question, as the group’s senior figures believe that Israel could target them there.
Until recently it appeared that the so-called “Arab Spring” and its Islamic parties would embrace Hamas. We certainly saw lip service, but establishing a Jihad army against Israel? Every Arab state is currently contending with deep domestic problems; this existential trouble dwarfs Hamas’ problems.
The inner balance of power within Hamas is also changing. The domestic Hamas, that is, the Gaza government, is gaining strength at the expense of the external leadership, that is, Khaled Mashaal. In the past, Mashaal was Hamas’ familiar face, yet now Haniyeh comes and goes at Arab capitals and is perceived as more authentic.
Against this backdrop, one can understand Mashaal’s frustration and his declared intention to quit the organization and possibly establish a rival group as a Muslim Brotherhood branch. This means a return to the Islamic track at the expense of Palestinian national identity.
What remains is the orphaned reconciliation with Fatah, a move that Haniyeh and his associates oppose. There is no possibility of holding elections, there is no possibility of rapprochement, and the double-headed Palestinian politics has now become tripled-headed: The domestic Hamas, external Hamas and Abbas. Each leadership has its own political agenda and its own senior figures.
On a final note, Hamas won momentary global glory as result of the so-called blockade on Gaza. Yet now, when the siege is no longer in place with the border crossing to Egypt open to people and goods, how will the organization survive on the public relations front? This may be the worst problem faced by a group that lives off anti-Israel slogans and now finds itself crashing against the rocks of reality.