Alwaght- Hamas political office head Ismail Haniyeh visited Egypt on Monday and is planned to visit Moscow after Cairo. Due to the severe restrictions on the Hamas leaders’ travel, such a trip is of significance and could mark a new chapter of the Gaza-based Palestinian movement with the regional countries and a major foreign actor like Russia.
What are Hamas goals?
Over the past decade, along with the Israeli inhumane blockade on Gaza Strip, many actors like the US, EU, Australia, Canada, and even some Arab countries put heavy pressures on the Palestinian movement. Some of them added to their terror blacklist its military branch, some even put it on the list. The pressures came as simultaneously the Palestinian Authority and Fatah movement, Hamas’s rival, were pushed to a military confrontation with the movement that controls Gaza.
In early October, Haniyeh said he supported a national reconciliation proposal raised by eight Palestinian groups. Addressing the proposal, he said: “We are at a sensitive juncture. The huge experiences and common views of the Palestinian groups considered, this plan can work as a factor uniting the Palestinians.”
Beside these reconciliatory steps at home, Hamas wants to garner international support. The Palestinian movement embarked on this strategy since the US administration and the Israel started its efforts to implement the “deal of the century”, which is meant to recognize the Israeli occupation and strip the Palestinian refugees of their right to return home. The cohesion of the Palestinian voice– Palestinian Authority included– in categorically rejecting the American-cultivated deal, brings the Palestinian Authority and Hamas under an umbrella of united stances which call for confronting the scheme and the “treason” of some Arab countries that already showed a green light to it in their foreign policy.
Haniyeh trip plan was first publicized in October last year. The Israeli pressures and other issues forced Hamas to postpone the visits. The hosts and Hamas did not halt their contacts to arrange a time for the visits. In early October, Musa Abu Marzook, Haniyeh’s aide, met with Russia’s special envoy to West Asia and North Africa Mikhail Bogdanov during a trip of the two to Doha, Qatar.
Hamas chases three important goals behind establishing contacts with Russia:
1. As part of the deal of the century’s details indicate, the US in its initiative does not support a Palestinian state. Hamas is trying to help strengthen the role of Russia as a patron of Palestinian state formation. Russia supports the two-state solution which eyes Israeli and Palestinian states co-existing on the Palestinian soil. During a meeting with China’s leader Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted that he intends to back a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 territory with Eastern Al-Quds (Jerusalem) as its capital.
2. The second goal is the improvement of the living conditions in the Gaza Strip, under a tight Israeli siege since 2007. In mid-July, a Palestinian delegation led by Abu Marzook traveled to Moscow and discussed with the Russians the present Palestinian conditions and the Egyptian mediation in peace efforts. The same goal is also chased in Hamas ties with Egypt. Contacts with Moscow are the sequel to contacts with Cairo.
3. The third goal is linked to a push against the Israeli and American pressure to disarm Hamas. Hamas disarmament remains a dream for Washington and Tel Aviv. The Palestinian movement wants to win Russian backing, instead of the Arab states moving in line with the American agenda, to prevent an international pro-disarmament consensus.
Russian policy towards Hamas and Palestine
Russia takes into consideration all of the conditions in taking a stable stance towards Hamas and Palestine. Part of the Russian policies towards Palestine is fixed while a major part is subject to change under regional conditions influence. Soviet Russia was the second country to recognize Israeli regime after the US.
When Putin assumed the power two decades ago, Moscow’s foreign policy towards the Palestine cause showed some distinction from the past. Russia is seizing an opportunity to shore up its mediatory role as on the one hand the Palestinian groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad are distrustful of the US and on the other hand are disregarded by Washington and the EU in the so-called peace negotiations. The Russians decided on the position towards Hamas by considering these two issues.
Russia launched its mediatory efforts in 2013, the year it hosted a peace meeting for the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. It is the only Security Council country having good ties with Hamas. First Hamas delegation visited Russia in 2006, headed by Khalid Mashal, then head of Hamas political office. In 2015, Mashal met Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of Russia in Qatar, discussing with the Russian diplomacy czar ways leading to reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.
When in 2017 Hamas published its new policy document and picked Haniyeh as the new head of its political office replacing Mashal, Moscow welcomed the steps.
But Russia occasionally fine-tunes its policy towards Palestine mainly because it has large number of its Jewish nationals living in the Israeli regime and there are Jewish lobbies in Russia swaying Kremlin’s posture. It for example called “terrorism” the Palestinian intifada of 2015.
Still, Russia sees a role for itself in the Palestinian cause as under Trump the US credibility shrunk in the eyes of the Palestinian groups and such Arab countries as Saudi Arabia and Egypt find themselves unreliable actors in the eyes of the Palestinians. The lines of diplomacy Hamas and Kremlin followed over the past year are expected to make Putin-Haniyeh meeting come out with positive results.
Russia is interested to play a role more effective than before in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. In 2012, Putin visited the occupied Palestinian territories and has plans for a similar visit in early 2020. Putin, thus, looks at the meeting with Haniyeh as a prelude to the success of his upcoming trip that is expected to bring him a toehold compared to the declining US role. Putin will try to play as a mediator in Hamas relations with Egypt and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority.