August 13, 2015 Absent proactive international pushback and constructive, energetic PA outreach to foreign partners, Hamas might continue to score small but cumulatively significant diplomatic achievements.
Recent weeks have witnessed a marked increase in diplomatic activities by Hamas officials. In June, the group’s leader, Khaled Mashal, met with outgoing Quartet peace envoy Tony Blair; the two have reportedly met again since then. In July, a Hamas delegation led by Mashal conducted a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, during which they were received by King Salman and a host of other senior Saudi officials. On August 3, Mashal met with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who invited him to visit Moscow in the future. And on August 12, Mashal met with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Hamas is also claiming that a delegation led by Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Gaza-based official with strong ties to the organization’s military wing, will soon visit Tehran.
Substantively, there is no common thread between these meetings, as each dealt with different issues. The meetings with Blair focused on Gaza reconstruction and consolidation of the ceasefire that ended last year’s clashes with Israel. The Saudi visit was widely interpreted in the context of the kingdom’s efforts to create a Sunni front to counter Iran’s increasing regional influence, particularly in the wake of the nuclear deal; as for why Hamas officials would risk being associated with such an agenda, the trip may reflect internal divisions within the group, as discussed below. The meeting with Lavrov, which took place on the margins of his visit to Qatar, was simply a continuation of Russian relations with Hamas. And Turkey is a longstanding Hamas supporter that routinely welcomes the group’s top officials as guests and residents.
Nor do these activities necessarily reflect a united Hamas front or, as the group is trying to portray, an unequivocal improvement in its international relations. For one thing, Blair’s initiatives have repeatedly come up against strong Egyptian opposition to anything that would benefit Hamas given the organization’s ongoing interference in Cairo’s affairs. They have also faced internal resistance due to strong differences within Hamas regarding many aspects of Gaza reconstruction, including the role of the Palestinian Authority and the extent of limitations that would be imposed on Hamas during the process.
Second, the delegation to Saudi Arabia notably did not include any members close to Hamas’s highly influential military wing in Gaza, and was not without its fair share of detractors from that camp. Additionally, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir downplayed the visit’s significance.”
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