Abbas-Meshal Summit / Calls for Brotherhood

"Palestinian blood is holier in the eyes of Allah than the holy Kaaba [in Mecca]" declared the head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Sheikh Mohammed Mahdi Akef. He issued this unusual statement last week as part of his call to Fatah and Hamas to close ranks, "respect the institution of the presidency [of Mahmoud Abbas], the parliament and the prime minister [Ismail Haniyeh]." Most of all, Akef is urging the two sides to form a government of national unity to prevent further spilling of blood and to concentrate their efforts on defeating the Zionist enemy.

The importance of Akef's declaration cannot be overstated, because it includes recognition for the institution of Palestinian presidency, which was created on the basis of the Oslo accords. Furthermore, Hamas is an offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt, which is considered the source of theological and ideological authority for the Palestinian organization.

Normally, the Brotherhood avoids interfering in political matters in the territories, out of recognition that the special conditions in the territories require that Hamas have the freedom to take decisions independently without external interference.

However, in this case, in view of the threat of civil war, the leader of the Brotherhood did not stop at a declaration. On Saturday, Akef called Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Meshal, the Hamas political bureau chief and exiled strongman, and asked them to come to an agreement.

Akef also offered his services for a meeting between the two Palestinian leaders, when Abbas visits Damascus, sometime in the middle of next week.

The involvement of the Muslim Brotherhood in the internal Palestinian conflict and the call for a national unity government places them, unusually, in line with the views of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who fears the outcome of early elections in the Palestinian Authority. According to Egyptian sources, it is possible that Mubarak asked the Brotherhood leader to exercise his "good services" in order to convince Meshal to reach a compromise with Fatah. All this is happening while a power struggle in Egypt between Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood looms in the background.

What is really interesting is that it is the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt and not the Syrian branch of the movement, that is becoming involved in Palestinian politics. The reason for this is that the leadership of the Brotherhood in Syria considers the Assad clan and the Syrian regime its enemy, even though it has made efforts to reach an accommodation - attempts that failed. As such, the Hamas leadership based in Damascus, which considers Assad among its friends, cannot be considered an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. Thus, in spite of the shared ideological framework, the political differences, especially the political linkages, are creating divisions between the movements.

It is now expected that following the request of the leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Abbas and Meshal will meet - and the one who benefits politically from the meeting will be Bashar Assad. The Syrian leader considers himself to be a no less interested party than the Brotherhood: He has been hosting the senior leadership of Fatah for the past two weeks in his capital, and they have held talks with Meshal as a preamble to the meeting with Abbas.