The Reentry Of Regional Rivalries

Ghassan Khatib

One of the most prominent features of Palestinian politics after the election victory of Hamas is the return of the influence of regional forces on the internal Palestinian scene.
Such influence was one of the major problems in Palestinian politics until the departure of the PLO from Beirut and later its return to the Palestinian territories. Since then, regional influence waned in favor of growing influence of the Palestinian public on the politics of the different factions.

The election of Hamas with its regional and Islamic agenda opened the door to the influence of countries like Syria and Iran. In turn, this development is likely to bring other factions, especially Fateh, closer to rival countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and their ally, the US. In other words, competing Arab, regional and international forces have made their reentry into Palestinian politics.

The sharp increase not only in the rhetorical involvement of Iran in the Palestinian cause, but also its substantial financial support of Hamas and its government, is evidence of that new and dangerous development. Syria, which has been under growing American pressure, has in turn found in its relations and influence on Hamas yet another card to add to Iraq and Lebanon in maneuvering out from under this pressure.

The growing influence of the external Hamas leadership, which is based in Syria and financially supported by Iran, also complicated the internal Palestinian political scene and contributed to the deadlock in the internal dialogue. It is ironic and interesting that the main response to the initiative of President Mahmoud Abbas for early elections came from Damascus, where the opposition factions led by Hamas met. Only after that did Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh reject Abbas’ initiative. It is also interesting to note that the deputy prime minister presented a milder reaction to the initiative.

In general the regional agenda, which partially influences the political positions and behavior of Hamas, has contributed to the growing tensions and confrontations between Hamas and Fateh.

The unfortunate conclusion is that the Palestinian cause and Palestinian politics have been caught up in the regional and international polarization. This has been at the expense of a genuine Palestinian agenda and in contradiction to the desire and interest of the Palestinian public.

The idea of early elections, regardless of the motives behind it, might help bring back to the attention of Palestinian politicians and political parties — religious or nationalist — the priorities of the public and consequently reduce the influence of foreign, regional and international forces, in favor of the priorities of the people.

But there are also lessons for international powers. This new and complicated political situation is another example of the interaction of the different conflicts in the region. This realization is finally dawning in the centers of power in Washington and was articulated by US officials in the Baker-Hamilton report, which encouraged the US administration to deal more seriously with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in order to neutralize the radicalization process in the Arab world.

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