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MIDEAST > Arab Spring breeze swaying Hamas too

Cihan Çelik / News Analysis ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News

Recent efforts by Hamas to engage with the region have proven that the group, which could soon set up in Turkey, is not ‘immune’ to the Arab Spring

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AFP photo

AFP photo

Seeking a new host for the politburo of his Islamist Palestinian resistance movement, Hamas’ supremo has made a Qatar-mediated rare visit to Israel’s key ally Jordan, where he survived an assassination attempt in 1997 and was banished in 1999, amid mounting speculation hinting that his group wants to relocate its base from unrest-hit Syria’s capital to elsewhere in the region. 

Along with Qatar and Jordan, Turkey is also among would-be hosts with Turkish President Abdullah Gül neither denying nor confirming that his country would soon welcome Hamas on its soil as Turkey’s relations with its once-ally Israel hit historically low levels. 

The recent regional efforts of Khaled Mashaal, the leader of Hamas-in-exile, have signaled a historic breakthrough for the militant group, proving that it was also not “immune” to the so-called “Arab Spring” in the near neighborhood. 

Unfazed over its worsening ties with Israel, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government seems more defiant in its intention of having closer ties with Hamas since the Islamist-led movements in thepro Middle East and North Africa are gaining more ground in local politics thanks to the ongoing “wind of change” in the region. 

Just five years ago, the senior officials of the AKP government were reluctant to appear with Mashaal during his official Ankara visit, which actually put the initial chill into the Turkish-Israeli relationship that reached its peak when the latter killed nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists in a 2010 Gaza-bound flotilla raid. 

However, appearing bolder day by day in its ties with Hamas, the AKP government’s gamble of using not only Hamas but the entire Palestinian cause as “a proxy war actor” in its physiological war against Israel may bear far different results than it imagined. 

Still refusing to recognize Israel and bid farewell to arms, Hamas, which took over the Gaza Strip violently in 2007, has recently taken silent but significant steps toward a more “moderate stance” after seeing its “same-minded but milder” allies’ success of driving the waves of popular unrest against the long-time rulers in its near region. 

The so-called “Arab Spring” had a double-barrel effect on Hamas, which on the one hand became more legitimate to those who have been afraid of the rising Islamist threat and, on the other, set sail for more modest waters. 

Having to become a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) after decades on the agenda as part of the reconciliation talks with its rival Fatah or mulling the transfer of its headquarters from a country which is under fire to a more Western-friendly country signaled that the Islamist organization is now seeking to move toward a more tolerant stance. 

However, for Turkey, Qatar or Jordan – indeed, for whoever becomes the new host – it is crystal clear that it will assume a Herculean task since the longstanding negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis have been jeopardized and the reunification talks between Hamas and Fatah are still struggling on. 

Israel, which have been criticizing its “peace partner” Fatah and its leader Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, for both pursuing a unilateral declaration of the Palestinian state and his reconciliation efforts with Hamas, just declared that the hopes for a solution “are looking poor” after the initial talks to spark the negations ended in deadlock. Should Turkey become the new host of the Hamas headquarters, the prospects for even rekindling talks will become dimmer due to the obvious reasons in the former’s relationship with Israel. 

A possible decision to leave Syria will also spell more trouble for Hamas if the Damascus regime sees the departure as another message to the Western world that its days are numbered. Losing the support of Syria may seem “an affordable loss” for Hamas today, but in the long term, it may end up losing its main supporter, the powerful regime in Iran, a staunch ally of Damascus amid the looming catastrophe of a sectarian-fueled regional conflict.

January/30/2012

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