Why Did Hamas Cancel Participation in Iran's Non-Aligned Movement Summit?

Palestinian unity was a factor, but the bloodshed in Syria is really straining the relations between Gaza and Iran.

A fierce storm briefly raged in the Palestinian political arena over the weekend. A few hours after the Hamas government spokesman announced in Gaza on Saturday that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had invited Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to attend the Non-Aligned Movement conference and that Haniyeh intended to go, officials close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that if Haniyeh goes to Tehran, Abbas would not.

Officials close to Abbas charged that Iran was trying to widen the wedge within the Palestinian nation and perpetuate the split between Gaza and the West Bank. A few hours later, Hamas responded that Haniyeh would not be going to the summit to avoid “worsening the split.” At the same time, the conference organizers in Iran announced that Hamas representatives had never been invited to the summit. The storm quieted down, and Abbas said he would attend the conference.

But now more details are surfacing that could destabilize the already unsound relations between Gaza and Teheran. Hamas, according to senior officials in the organization, did consider the issue of the Palestinian split and the danger of being seen as responsible for perpetuating it, but the most decisive factor in the decision was the fact that Hamas wanted to avoid giving the perception that they are supporting Iran, especially in light of the support Tehran is giving to Bashar Assad in Syria.

Hamas was concerned that their arrival in Iran would be seen by the Palestinian and Arab public as their rejoining the “Shiite axis” and supporting Assad’s regime. Hamas officials held intensive meetings in the hours following the report of the Iranian invitation, ultimately concluding that going to Iran would cause more political harm than good.

This move exemplifies the extent of the rift between Iran and Hamas, despite Hamas’ attempts to mask the differences between them. Hamas takes a negative view of Iran’s support for Assad’s regime, which is massacring the people of Syria – some of whom are Palestinians or members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The organization avoided publicly criticizing Tehran out of concern that the funding and assistance that Iran provides Hamas would dry up. For the time being, Hamas is presenting a united front with Iran regarding Israel to ensure that the cash keeps right on flowing.