Hamas directly threatened Fatah that it will take over the West Bank. Senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar declared on December 10, “Just as we liberated Gaza, just as we established a real national government in it … we will make the same effort in the West Bank as we prepare to extend our presence to all of Palestine.”
Is there a connection between the numerous arrests of Muslim Brotherhood members in Jordan and the wave of arrests of Hamas operatives in the West Bank that Palestinian security forces are now carrying out? Yes.
Gaza-based Hamas is indeed in a tight bind. Hamas has decided to export its crisis from Gaza to the West Bank. From Jordan’s perspective, Hamas’ ambition to take control of the West Bank appears to be part of a much larger process involving a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Jordan itself.
The connecting link between Hamas’ intentions regarding the West Bank and the Muslim Brotherhood’s plans for Jordan is Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, who resides in Qatar.
The failure of the reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas has given rise to a new phenomenon, not seen in the past: Hamas directly threatening Fatah that it will take over the West Bank.
After the death of senior Fatah official Ziad Abu Ein on December 10, 2014 in a confrontation with the IDF, senior Gaza-based Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar declared, “Hamas is prepared to activate the muqawama [resistance] in the West Bank cities in tandem with the other Palestinian organizations.”1
He put it even more clearly in a speech at the rally for the twenty-seventh anniversary of Hamas’s founding, saying, “Just as we liberated Gaza, just as we established a real national government in it, just as we established a victorious army in it, just as we established a protective police force in it, just as we established security mechanisms against the enemy in it, we will make the same effort in the West Bank as we prepare to extend our presence to all of Palestine.”2
Indeed, Mahmoud Abbas himself said that the information Israel had given him about Hamas’s aim to carry out a putsch in the West Bank was credible.3
Mahmoud al Zahar
Hamas never made such a clear declaration of intentions about the West Bank after the failures of previous rounds of reconciliation talks. In those cases it seemed Hamas had settled for ruling Gaza and did not have plans to expand to the West Bank as well. Why, this time, did Hamas decide that Gaza is not enough and that it also wants the West Bank?
To answer this question, one must note a corresponding phenomenon: Jordan is now making numerous arrests among cadres of the Muslim Brotherhood,4 including its senior leadership. This, too, constitutes a change in Jordan’s policy toward the Brotherhood who, until now, was thought of as a tacit ally of the Hashemites, as the regime avoided harsh measures against it and did not, like the deposed President Mubarak, seek a confrontation with the Brotherhood. This is no longer the case today.
The question is whether a connection exists between the numerous arrests of Muslim Brotherhood members in Jordan and Israel’s thwarting of Hamas’ putsch in the West Bank, along with the wave of arrests of Hamas operatives in the West Bank that Palestinian security forces are now carrying out?5
The answer is yes. This link must be understood in the light of Hamas’ current dire straits and its efforts to overcome them. That, in turn, is occurring against the backdrop of the struggles in the Arab world in general between the Muslim Brotherhood and its Sunni enemies, and particularly the ongoing crisis in relations between Qatar, a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Gulf states and Egypt.6
Gaza-based Hamas is indeed in a tight bind. Egypt is systematically destroying the tunnels from Sinai into Gaza and is planning to build a moat that will flood the tunnels along with a fence around Egyptian Rafiah that will isolate it from Sinai and finally seal off Gaza from Egypt.7
This poses a problematic situation from three standpoints. Economically, Gaza has lost its oxygen supply from Sinai – taxable consumer goods and contraband. Ideologically, Hamas’ link with the “Arab and Islamic depth” is one of the movement’s basic tenets;8 Hamas wants to be part of the developments in the Arab world so that it can help achieve the Muslim Brotherhood’s goal of an Islamic caliphate. And militarily, with weapons-supply routes to Gaza cut off, Hamas needs to search for alternative routes.
At present, Hamas has decided to export its crisis from Gaza to the West Bank. And with Egypt having finally decided to detach itself from Gaza, Hamas seeks to replace the little window to the Arab world that Sinai provided and is now closed, with another window – in the direction of Jordan.
From Jordan’s perspective, then, Hamas’ ambition to take control of the West Bank appears to be part of a much larger process involving a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Jordan itself. Jordan’s security authorities would not have launched such a far-reaching campaign of arrests, which changes the rules of the game between Jordan and the Brotherhood, were they not convinced that the Brotherhood had undergone a strategic change in its attitude toward the Hashemite Kingdom.
The connecting link between Hamas’ intentions regarding the West Bank and the Muslim Brotherhood’s plans for Jordan is Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, who resides in Qatar and has the ear of Emir Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. To understand Khaled Mashal one must recall a far-reaching interview he gave to the Qatar-based Al Jazeera channel on May 1, 2013,9 which prompted numerous responses. In it, Mashal made two main statements: Hamas is a national liberation movement for the Palestinians focused on the Palestinian problem, and that Hamas is also involved in the events of the tumultuous Arab world out of sympathy for the insurrectionists. Without saying so explicitly, he also hinted at the collapse of the Sikes-Picot system that set Middle Eastern borders by remarking that the Arab countries have been “dissected.”10
Arab publicists took note of the contradiction in his words. How can Hamas, if defined as a movement focusing only on what happens in Palestine, be involved in the “Arab storm” that has already “dissected” the Arab countries? Writer Abu Muaz al-Ukav, for example, referred to Mashal’s claim, at the website The Islamic Caliphate, which appears to be pro-Saudi, that Hamas is a national liberation movement for the Palestinians as “deceit,”11 claiming instead that Hamas is a classic Muslim Brotherhood movement that is involved in the Middle East at large with the aim of establishing Islamic regimes in all parts of it.
Abu Muaz al-Ukav explained that the talk of focusing on the Palestinian issue is aimed at promoting Hamas’ foreign relations “with the European Union and the Western organizations, [toward which Hamas] presents itself as committed to international law, to international legitimacy, nonviolence, acceptance of the other, cooperation with other religions and cultures, and acceptance of the international solutions for the problem of Palestine.” But at the same time, he continued, “Hamas speaks of Assad’s shabicha thugs and uses defamatory words and radical revolutionary language that rejects all the international solutions and the concessions of the Palestinians and the Arabs aimed at finding a solution to the problem of Palestine.” The author of the article also quoted a senior official of Hamas and the Brotherhood in London, Azzam Tamimi: “The Brotherhood and Hamas engage in doubletalk: on the one hand, for purposes of ties with the [European] politicians, and on the other, to address the stupid ones [i.e., the Arabs].”
When Mashal called on Muslims to unite to salvage Jerusalem, the headquarters of a Salafi group in Syria, the Army of Islam, published an announcement that rejected his call and mockingly dubbed Mashal “emir of the believers”—that is, the caliph.12 The Salafi organizations in Syria indeed regard Mashal as someone who is involved in the struggle against them.
Syrian President Bashar Assad explained the Hamas deceit in a recent meeting with Palestinian sympathizers from the different PLO organizations who came to his palace to express their support for him.13 He told his Palestinian guests that he had hosted Hamas in Damascus on the basis that it was a national muqawama movement fighting the Israeli occupation, not as an Islamic movement. He gave them such recognition even though he knew Hamas was a branch of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. But they “deceived him,” and he realized that they had exploited their immunity to smuggle weapons to the rebels; he was then forced to arrest even relatives of Khaled Mashal himself. A Lebanese website stated that it was Mashal who set up cells of the Al-Nusra Front, which is the Muslim Brotherhood’s military wing in Syria. The first cells were created in the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, possibly even before the revolt erupted.14
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Assad’s condemnation of Hamas behavior in Syria – that it should be a national liberation movement, not a jihad movement – also pertains to Jordan’s relations with the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and to the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation talks.
The Jordanian government set rules for relations with the local Muslim Brotherhood. It is supposed to be a “Jordanian” movement involved only in Jordanian affairs and detached from the larger Brotherhood movement and notions of muqawama, and thus also clearly distinct from Hamas. The Palestinian Authority, too, based the reconciliation talks with Hamas on its being a national Palestinian movement,15 having no involvement in the Arab Storm, and not a religious organization tied to the worldwide Muslim Brotherhood. The failure of the reconciliation talks with Ramallah stems from Hamas’ insistence on being a Muslim Brotherhood movement and not a national Palestinian one. Abbas, for his part, said the talks failed because Mashal had deceived him.16
The current crisis in relations between Jordan and the Muslim Brotherhood stems from the same roots. To understand this one must first consider what precipitated this crisis.
The trigger was a comment by Zaki Bani Rsheid, deputy of the “Supreme Guide” of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, on his Facebook page. He slammed the United Arab Emirates for having published a list of 83 terror organizations that mostly belong to the Qatar-linked Muslim Brotherhood.17 He was arrested immediately and charged with insulting a foreign country – namely, the UAE.
The UAE published the list of these organizations on the background of the talks between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which were aimed at detaching Qatar from the Brotherhood and enabling the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Doha to be held without fracturing the Gulf states’ common framework. Although a formula was apparently found that facilitated the summit, the UAE published the list as a sign of lack of confidence in Qatar and in the Brotherhood in general. The Facebook comment by Bani Rsheid indicated that the Jordanian Brotherhood supports Qatar against Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and does not consider the Brotherhood to be a terror organization. Jordan’s support for the UAE list of 83 signifies that it, too, views the Brotherhood as a terror organization, and has abrogated its longstanding policy of avoiding this definition.
That also seems clear from the fact that Jordan’s security authorities did not settle for just arresting the deputy leader of the movement. As noted, Jordan is now carrying out a large wave of arrests, as if it had information on preparations for a takeover of the country corresponding to Hamas’ preparations for a takeover of the West Bank.
On December 15, Palestinian sources in Ramallah reported to this author that 17 senior figures as well as cadres of the Brotherhood in Jordan had already been arrested. Monitoring of the Jordanian Brotherhood’s website shows that since then the numbers have only grown18 and that arrests of Brotherhood members are occurring daily in Jordan, mirroring the Palestinian Authority’s arrests of Hamas operatives in the West Bank.
To this one must add Hamas’ renewed contacts with Iran.19 Before Ziad Abu Ein’s death, PA sources in Ramallah informed this author that according to the PA’s suspicions, a Hamas delegation in Tehran is seeking Iran’s help for carrying out a takeover of the West Bank.
In light of all this, the calls in Ramallah to halt the PA’s security cooperation with Israel are markedly unrealistic. Halting cooperation would not only entail endangering Fatah’s rule in the West Bank and Israel itself. It would also mean exposing Jordan to joint activity between a Hamas regime on the West Bank and the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood with the aim of replacing the Jordanian government as well.
Pinhas Inbari is a veteran Arab affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper, and currently serves as an analyst for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. See more of his writings here.
4 See below.
5 Hamas sites routinely report on arrests of its operatives by Palestinian security forces – for example, this information on arrests in Jenin: https://www.palinfo.com/site/PIC/newsdetails.aspx?itemid=168504
6 On the crisis in relations between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors and Egypt, see an Al Jazeera report: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgVbU8OMSC8
8 As Haniyeh put it: “Hamas is about the land of Palestine, it fights for Palestine, it is a jihad movement with a Palestinian face, with an Islamic depth, and its goal is liberation.” http://www.alhurra.com/content/muslim-brotherhood-trail-jordan/263445.html Khaled Mashal as well, in an interview to Al Jazeera, characterized preserving the “Islamic depth” as one of the main objectives of Hamas; see note 9.
10 “I say to the Arabs behind closed doors – I thank you for your hospitality to the Palestinians – but you are a dissected geography and the whole [Arab space] is a precious homeland to us.”
15 As Fatah spokesman Ahmad Asaf asserted: “There will be no unity until Hamas is a national movement.” http://elwadynews.com/taxonomyterm494/2014/12/15/60474
18 For example, a Muslim Brotherhood proclamation in Ajilon against the wave of arrests in the district: http://www.ikhwan-jor.com/Portals/Content/?info=YVdROU5UVTJPU1p6YjNWeVkyVTlVM1ZpY0dGblpTWjBlWEJsUFRFbSt1.ikhwan