One of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's dominant characteristics is that he is capable of saying different things to different audiences, and still maintains that he is a man of principle. For example, in Tehran on Sunday, he said that he will never recognize the State of Israel and that Iran constitutes "strategic depth" for the Palestinians.
A few days earlier, however, he had made clear in a televised interview that Israel must pull back to the 1967 lines. This statement came as a follow-up to the statements of Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Meshal, who warned that the group would renew hostilities against Israel if it did not pull back to the 1967 lines, did not accept the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and blocked the establishment of a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem. Meshal talked of a six-month "warning" period, but Haniyeh was more pragmatic and said that there was no specific predetermined period of time.
So, does Hamas recognize the 1967 borders, or not? And if so, how different are the group's views from those of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who offers precisely the same formula for a solution to the conflict?
A few days before Haniyeh described Iran as "strategic depth" for the Palestinians, he thanked the ruler of Qatar from the bottom of his heart, when the emir offered to pay the wages of the teachers in the Palestinian Authority. Moreover, it was Egypt, not Iran, that managed to bridge the clashing positions of Hamas and Israel and achieve a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. Meshal's compliments on the role Egypt is playing, made during a meeting with Mubarak's chief of intelligence, Omar Suleiman, should also not be forgotten.
The suggested link between Haniyeh, whose Hamas represents Sunni Islam, and Iran's Shi'ite Islam, has led to a few raised eyebrows. Does this imply that Hamas is turning its back on its ideological source, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and moving to a Shi'ite doctrine? Could it be that Haniyeh, who made no clear statement about Islam during his year in office, is now planning to import into the PA the lifestyle demanded by the Iranian theocracy, or is he merely expressing his gratitude for the transfer of $120 million?
The truth is that the history of Hamas-Iran relations has known both ups and downs.
It is therefore possible to say that in the matter of Iran, Haniyeh did not make a new strategic decision, certainly not one that differs from those of previous Hamas leaders. As such, Hamas needs close ties with those who can ensure that its headquarters continue to be based in Syria, but at the same time it adheres to the cease-fire with Israel and would like to broaden it. On the face of it, there's a contradiction. In practice, it's politics.
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