Thursday, May 5, 2011

Hamas's Pact Shows 'Arab Spring' Strains (Wall Street Journal, 5 May 2011)

Courtesy: "Wall Street Journal", 5 May 2011

Hamas's Pact Shows 'Arab Spring' Strains

Israel hammered a Palestinian reunification deal as a "victory for terrorism" because it would admit Hamas to a recognized government. But polls and some analysts suggest the accord signals less of a triumph for Hamas than the group's vulnerability to the "Arab Spring."
As the main Fatah and Hamas factions signed the deal Wednesday, crowds gathered in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to wave flags, honk horns and shoot off fireworks to celebrate what they hope will strengthen their hand against Israel.

"Our real battle is with Israel, not the Palestinian people," said Hamas leader Khaled Meshal, in a speech during the signing ceremony in Cairo.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the more moderate Fatah movement, also took aim at Israel's government.
"Israel said [I] must choose between Hamas and peace. We said Hamas are our brothers.…You, [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, have to choose between settlement activity and peace," he said.
There is no guarantee the Palestinian reconciliation will succeed, with major differences remaining between Hamas and Fatah over security and other issues. Israel, which like the U.S. and the European Union, deems Hamas a terrorist group, has fought bitterly against the deal.
"What happened today in Cairo was a tremendous blow to peace and a great victory for terrorism,'' Mr. Netanyahu said Wednesday.
Yet Hamas appears to have been pushed into agreeing to a deal it has rejected for years. Changes triggered by this year's Arab uprisings have undermined its support at home and shaken up its backing in the region.
Until earlier this year, Fatah was considered politically the weaker of the two factions. But the Arab uprisings seem to have put Hamas's harsher, Islamist regime under pressure.
Hamas appeared taken by surprise in mid-March, when a homegrown youth movement in Gaza went into the streets to demand it reconcile with Fatah and allow more personal freedoms. Hamas responded violently, beating and arresting male and female protesters.
An opinion poll taken days after the March 15 Gaza protests found that 50% of respondents in the Gaza Strip said they were ready to protest for regime change, compared with 24% in the West Bank, and that Fatah would win an election. Hamas won the prior election in 2006.
The poll, by the West Bank-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, found that only 17% of respondents thought building an Islamic society was their top priority, compared with 45% who said it was to end Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
Contrary to expectations, the report concluded that the Arab Spring was proving more of a threat to Hamas than Fatah.
Hamas members "have practiced exactly what is happening in the Arab world: suppression of civil society, preventing people from having freedom of speech and to have freedom to gather," said Munther Dajani, a political-science professor at Jerusalem's Al Quds University. "They saw what these policies led to in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya and it's important for them to change gears."
The turmoil in Syria—where top Hamas leaders live in exile— also has weakened Hamas's position, analysts say. Hamas mentors in the Syrian government have gunned down hundreds of unarmed protesters supported by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. That has put Hamas—an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood—in an awkward position, analysts say.
The Syrian uprising also has contributed to rumors, denied by Hamas, that the group's exiled leadership under Mr. Meshal is planning to move from Damascus to Qatar, sponsor of the al-Jazeera TV channel that has played a central role in the Arab Spring.
But the arrival of a new regime in Egypt was the main game-changer, analysts say. Wednesday's agreement was signed in the Cairo headquarters of the Egyptian intelligence service, witnessed by mainly Arab ambassadors and brokered by an Egyptian regime no longer seen by Palestinians as pro-Israeli.
"We would never have gotten here without Egypt," said Mr. Abbas, in his remarks.
Abu Yazan, a 24-year-old student was an organizer of Gaza's own attempt at an Arab uprising, which on March 15 took to the streets to call for the reconciliation deal. "All the Arab leaderships are trying now to respond to their people, and Arab people support the Palestinian cause," he said, identifying himself by his nickname, explaining the new Egyptian government's decision to push the deal. "This is going to be very good for us."

—Ahmed Abuhamda in Gaza contributed to this article.

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