PA Elections / The Arab Brethren Support Hamas

The unofficial invitation of King Abdullah of Jordan to Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Abbas, inviting the two Palestinian leaders to Jordan to iron out their differences, reflects more than anything else the extent of the problem. The last thing Abdullah would like is for the violent rivalry between Fatah and Hamas to spill over from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, and from there to his capital, Amman. The king is not the only one adopting this view, which seems to be unifying a number of rivals.

This appears to also be the response of Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and even Iman al-Zuwahiri of Al-Qaida; they are all opposed to the early elections that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has called for, and are rallying around Hamas, each motivated by different reasons.

The Egyptian position is based on the lack of certainty in the results of early elections, and also the fear that prior to the elections there will be further deterioration in violence. In such a situation, Egypt will have to act once more as a mediator among the Palestinian factions, and not as a mediator between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Egypt aspires to set up a government of national unity in the Palestinian Authority, that will enable the lifting of the international embargo on the Palestinians. This would allow them to focus on moving forward on the diplomatic front. They are, therefore, angry with Abbas in Egypt for not consulting with them before declaring early elections.

For its part, Syria supports a Palestinian national unity government because such a government would leave a mode of pressure in the hands of Damascus - both on Hamas, through its leadership living in Syria, and also on Fatah leaders, with whom it has restored ties a year ago.

These Arab countries fear the possibility that Fatah may lose both control of the parliament, and of the presidency. This will create a situation in which there will be no acceptable Palestinian leader who can represent the Palestinian Authority vis-a-vis the international community on the diplomatic front.

The view of the Arab states, including Syria - which is traditionally wary of the unexpected, such as election results - is now boosting Hamas. Therefore, beyond the question of its success in the elections, which at least its spokesmen are sure they will win, Hamas relies on the assumption that the opposition of the Arab states to the elections will bring about an erosion of the sanctions imposed on the Palestinian Authority by the international community. This assumption lacks any factual basis, and has received no Arab or international commitments to that effect.

According to Hamas sources, this assumption is based on the fact that "the Arab brethren will not be able to look at the Palestinian suffering for long without breaking the siege." All the more true in light of the Iranian willingness to step in and support Hamas, and compete with the Arab states for influence over the Palestinians.

Another Hamas assumption is that the organization is holding on to two bargaining chips vis-a-vis Israel and Fatah. The one is the hudna (the cease-fire) which Hamas controls, and which it can break at any moment. The other is the prisoner exchange, which must include the abducted Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. In the latter case, Hamas and not Fatah is the sole decision maker. Both bargaining chips offer Hamas - in its view - the power to shape political developments in the territories.