Hamas' Shifting Allegiance Reflects New Mideast Dynamics

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Hamas' Shifting Allegiance Reflects New Mideast Dynamics

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Hamas has been acting as a proxy for Iran, a Persian Shiite state, but being an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood it is Sunni Arab and identifies more with the Arab world.

Now Hamas is trying to take full advantage of the changes in Egypt and the rise of Islamists in the region. It is trying to present itself as a pragmatic and reconcilable political alternative to the Fatah party, which controls the West Bank. There is an ongoing struggle between the two for leadership of the recently formed Palestinian unity government.

Hamas is trying to be a resistance movement, reform agent and loyal opposition to Fatah all at the same time. It is working to bolster its relationships with Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

But there is still division in the ranks. For example, some leaders recently said that in the event of a war between Iran and Israel, Hamas would not back Tehran. But a few days later Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar refuted that statement, saying that Hamas would respond "with utmost power" to any "Zionist war on Iran."

Time magazine reports on changes underway in the organization: "[The Feb. 28] announcement that the Hamas leadership has officially relocated from [Iran-aligned] Damascus, and its public declarations of support for the Syrian rebels, suggest a dramatic political break with Iran—and with it the end of any illusion Tehran might have harbored of exerting influence in the new revolutionary Arab mainstream . . .

"Hamas' options and prospects have been altered by the revolutionary tide that has swept aside some key Arab autocracies and empowered Muslim Brotherhood organizations that remain Hamas' natural political kin. The Palestinian public is solidly behind the Syrian rebellion, in which the Muslim Brotherhood is a key element" ("Hamas Signals Break With Iran, but Is That Good for Israel?" Feb. 29, 2012).

George Washington University professor Nathan Brown, an expert on Arab politics, has a commentary at the website of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace with the title "Is Hamas Mellowing?" (Jan. 17, 2012).He writes:  

"Over the past few weeks, as Palestinian reconciliation efforts have inched forward, some of Hamas's leaders have provoked interest by apparently staking out new positions. They have not only agreed to enter the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), thus participating in a body that signed the Oslo Accords with Israel, a pact the group has long opposed [since it means ultimately recognizing the Jewish state], but also committed themselves to 'popular resistance,' an alternative to the armed activity through which the group gained international notoriety.

"But for every tentative step by one leader, there is a restatement of old positions—sometimes in very pugnacious form—by another. What is happening to the movement? Is Hamas mellowing? No. Or at least not yet."