Despite reconciliation deal, Hamas reaffirms good ties with Iran and maintains armed wing
London- Hamas has reacted to pressure from Israel and the United States to disarm with gestures of defiance but some of the responses from the Islamist movement might anger Egypt, which brokered the reconciliation deal between rival Palestinian factions.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement signed a reconciliation deal with Hamas in Cairo aimed at ending a bitter 10- year split. Under the deal, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority is to resume control of the Gaza Strip by December 1.
Talks are expected on forming a unity government but US President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, said an emerging Palestinian unity government must recognise Israel and disarm Hamas.
“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognise the state of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties — including to disarm terrorists — and commit to peaceful negotiations. If Hamas is to play any role in a Palestinian government, it must accept these basic requirements,” Greenblatt said in a statement.
In response, Hamas said it rejected “the extortion and American bias” in favour of Israel. “Hamas will go ahead in the reconciliation and will not pay attention to any attempt to sabotage or block this track,” it said in a statement.
Diplomats said it would be possible to form a unity government they could deal with that does not officially include Hamas. An attempted unity government in 2014 was made up of technocrats deemed acceptable by the international community but it fell apart.
The US statement echoed a response by the Israeli government, which vowed not to negotiate with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas unless the group recognises Israel, renounces violence, returns the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza and ends relations with Iran.
In an apparent bid to show defiance to the Israeli demand to cut ties with Tehran, Hamas sent a delegation to Iran.
Hamas deputy leader Saleh al- Arouri, who led the delegation, said in a statement, quoted by Iran’s Fars news agency, that “the visit to Tehran is a rejection of the Zionist entity’s conditions to cut ties with (Iran).”
Hamas reiterated that it would not be forced to give up its 25,000-person armed wing.
“Undoubtedly, the Palestinian resistance forces will never give up… their arms,” the semi-official news agency Mehr quoted Arouri as saying at a meeting with Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani in Tehran.
In August, a Hamas leader said Iran was again its biggest provider of money and arms after years of tension over the civil war in Syria. Hamas had angered Tehran by refusing to support its ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, in the war.
Hamas’s boast of rapprochement with the Iranians, however, may ire the Egyptians even though the message of defiance was directed at the Israelis.
“With full knowledge of the existing tensions between Cairo and Tehran, Hamas nonetheless chose to publicise its trip to Iran, underlining that it feels it can still operate independently of Egypt,” wrote Dov Lieber in the Times of Israel.
Egyptian officials, backed by Saudi Arabia, have been trying to get Hamas to distance itself from its Muslim Brotherhood roots, Iran and Qatar. Hamas reiterated that it maintains good ties with Qatar, dismissing reports that there has been a rift between the group and Doha.
In a thinly veiled attempt at wooing Palestinian leaders, Qatar announced it would fund new headquarters for the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, saying it seeks to support the reconciliation deal between rivals Hamas and Fatah.
“Qatar has agreed to build the headquarters of the presidency and the headquarters of the Palestinian government in Gaza after the consensus government assumes its duties fully,” Qatar’s envoy to Gaza Mohammed al-Amadi announced.
He said Abbas asked for the funding from Doha. Qatar has long been a supporter of Hamas and has paid for much of the reconstruction of the strip after the war with Israel in 2014.
Previous attempts at Palestinian reconciliation failed and analysts treated the latest bid with caution, waiting to see if it would change anything on the ground.
In a briefing to the UN Security Council, UN Assistant Secretary- General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenca welcomed the reconciliation deal and spoke of the urgency of addressing the “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza.