Hamas is making a tactical appeal to the grassroots | Tareq Baconi

Instead of declaring itself Iran’s proxy, the movement is aligning with the democratic rise of ‘moderate’ Islamic politics

Hamas officials have said that in the event of a war between Iran and Israel, they will not become involved on Tehran’s side. While this is not surprising, other officials within the movement were quick to deny such reports.

Historically, Hamas has always gone to great lengths to assert its independence from any foreign influence. It is widely recognised that it receives support from powers such as Syria (until recently) and Iran. Yet this has never been worn as a badge of honour by the movement.

Rather, its leadership has consistently asserted that the movement cannot be influenced or directed by any external power. It has insisted that it charts its course based on the will of the people – in stark contrast to Fatah and its leadership, who have frequently been portrayed as the pawns of western powers and Israel.

Hamas, which governs Gaza, is also territorialised, limiting its resistance to historic Palestine. Unlike the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and perhaps because of lessons learned from it, Hamas has rarely if ever meddled in regional or global affairs, either rhetorically or through acts of resistance.

Even its sporadic bouts of tension with Jordan were more due to the regime’s discomfort at having an active Islamic party in its backyard and less about Hamas carrying out resistance activities from the kingdom.

Being territorialised also meant that Hamas limited its war to a well-defined battle: that of liberating Palestine from “Zionist occupation”.

Siding with Iran in the much-hyped potential conflict with Israel would act against all these long-standing principles. It would flagrantly present the movement as an entity which is being influenced by an external player. More importantly however, it would demonstrate that the movement is fighting a tangential battle rather than what it sees as its historic one.

On the other hand, it could be argued that Hamas’s cause is aligned with that of Iran, especially since it has long acted as the movement’s benefactor. But using this to justify extending Hamas’s support to Iran would be one step removed from Hamas’s raison d’etre. Hamas firing rockets into Israel would really not be fighting the Palestinian battle any more; it would be fighting Iran’s battle on a Palestinian playground.

Rather than asking why Hamas would decide not to actively side with Iran, though, a more interesting question is why Hamas would feel the need to say so now.

If anything, this move comes on the heels of several recent manoeuvrings aimed at better aligning Hamas with regional changes. The recent tour of the region by Ismail Haniyeh climaxed with explicit support for the people of Syria against a brutal regime. Also, Khaled Meshaal recently declared his intention to form a Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, suggesting a desire to capitalise on the democratic rise of “moderate” Islamic parties in regional politics.

Significant differences clearly exist among Hamas’s leadership but they do not conceal its collective recent push to secure a formalised political role in the Palestinian establishment. The differences appear to be mostly about the means to achieve this goal.

Siding with Iran in what would be a high-profile and explosive conflict would ruin such efforts. Hamas would immediately incur the ire of the international community and risk being isolated once more – all to salvage a relationship with Iran that has already been severely weakened. If anything, Hamas has already clarified its choices when its leadership moved out of Syria, much to the chagrin of both Syria and Iran.

Rather than positioning itself as Iran’s proxy, parts of the movement are trying to pre-emptively distance Hamas from the Islamic Republic and sticking to its principle of fighting solely for Palestinian liberation.

At a time when people at the grassroots are calling the shots across the region, Hamas is prudently differentiating itself from other regimes and parties by visibly siding with the people.

This is not a new concept for Hamas, since it has always derived its legitimacy and popularity from Palestinians. Hamas feels – probably rightly – that it can capitalise on the changes sweeping the region. This will almost certainly be more rewarding than defending Iran for a potential, but improbable, return to financial support.

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from Tareq Baconi

via http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/mar/08/hamas-tactical-appeal-grassroots

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