WJC ANALYSIS – Between Haniyeh and Mashal: A fractured Hamas

WJC ANALYSIS – Between Haniyeh and Mashal: A fractured Hamas

06 February 2012

By Pinhas Inbari

Lately, Hamas’ leadership has been busily touring the capital cities of the Middle East. However, the visits have been split between those made by Hamas’ outside leadership – the Politburo – headed by Khaled Mashal, and its leadership in Gaza under Ismail Haniyeh. Mashal just concluded a high profile visit to Amman, where he met with King Abdullah II, while Haniyeh is currently on his second regional round in Iran and the Gulf states. The two leaders and their entourages do not mingle or meet, even when it is indicated by protocol. This was most evident during the recent reconciliation talks in Cairo, where members of the Politburo participated in the official photo opportunities while Gaza’s representatives preferred to stay out of frame.

What are the fault lines inside Hamas?

There are indications that the military commander of Hamas in Gaza, Ahmad Ja’bari, supports Khaled Mashal as head of Hamas’ Politburo, a fact that hints at his support of Iran.

The leadership in Gaza, however, never accepted the dominance of the external Politburo; relations between Meshaal and both Mahmoud al-Zahhar and Haniyeh have always been strained.  Nevertheless, Gaza’s dependence on funds supplied by Iran and Qatar and Ja’bari’s command of the al-Qassam Brigades  – directly connected to Tehran – limited Gaza’s leadership’s options to act independently of Damascus and Tehran.

Meshaal’s trouble to find a reliable new home in an Arab state finally gave the local leadership in Gaza the added advantage to tilt the scale in its favor. This shift comes at a time when Iran is unlikely to divest from its grip on and investment in Gaza, in view of the world’s growing intolerance of its nuclear program.

Haniyeh will undoubtedly be asked to contribute to a potential war effort, which may cause such destruction in Gaza as to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood’s, i.e. Hamas’, first stab at governing in the Arab world.What can Haniyeh offer the Ayatollahs instead? Recently, Haniyeh was heard talking more and more about the idea of liberating Jerusalem, stating that the real target of the Arab Spring is the al-Aqsa Mosque. In practical terms, he lays the burden of a popular Intifada at the doorstep of the West Bank and Jordan, as the main marches towards Jerusalem would be launched from those two locations.

Supposedly, Iran would benefit from this move for it would distract Israel from its war efforts against Iran toward containing an intifada in its capital. It unlikely, however, that the Iranians will be impressed by skirmishes at the Qalandia checkpoint or along the border with Jordan, when it has supplied Hamas with a large quantity of missiles to use against Israel.

Furthermore, it is even less likely that the Kingdom of Jordan will be persuaded to allow Mashal to launch Palestinian marches toward the Israeli border or a popular Intifada on its soil. The Jordanians are happy that their massive Palestinian populace has thus far not taken to the streets or engages in general unrest, and they prefer that the status quo not change.

Mashal’s audience with King Abdullah did nothing to change this reality.

Mashal’s deputy, Musa Abu Marzuq, reportedly stated in Amman that Hamas would not be able to cut ties with Iran without getting a reliable substitute in the Arab world, hinting that the Arab nations are conditioning giving Hamas a new home on its forgoing the muqawama principle, including the popular intifada. Accordingly, as long as the Arab states continue to demand that Hamas lay down its arms, it will choose to ally with Iran.

The Gazan leadership and the Politburo are not ideologically divided, but share the same set of belligerent principles.Their dogmatic disagreements are a thin disguise of the real source of the conflict – the fight for power and dominance.

Khaled Mashal was ready to compromise in order to resettle in an Arab capital, but Ismail Haniyeh and his Gaza colleagues were unwilling to accept his dominance any longer.

Thus, when Mashal put the idea of an Intifada on the table, it was rejected by the Gazan leadership on the spot. However, it is most likely that Gaza’s leaders will attempt to offer the Politburo’s idea of a popular intifada to Iran themselves, with a particular focus on Jerusalem, thereby underscoring their own allegiance to Tehran.