US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in London May 14 — their first meeting since the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down last month.
Kerry was signaling that he has not given up on his quest to bring the parties around to signing a final-status accord, or pushing both to make concessions for peace – notwithstanding the rapid progress made by Abbas’ Fatah and the radical Hamas in mending their fences and sharing power.
Moussa Abu Marzouk, the head of Hamas’ negotiating team, predicted the current round of Palestinian negotiations would be wound up next week and be followed by the announcement of a unity government.
Thursday, May 15, the Palestinian Authority, for the first time in seven years, permitted Hamas activists to march with their green flags in the Naqba Day events conducted on the West Bank to mark the founding of the state of Israel 66 years ago as the day of the Palestinians’ national catastrophe.
As in most years, the demonstrations turned violent and ended in clashes with Israel soldiers and two Palestinians killed.
Hamas marches in West Bank Naqba demos for the first time
Behind this show of brotherly amity, DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence and Gulf-based sources report Hamas is forging a separate path of its own.
Shortly before Abbas met Secretary Kerry, the Hamas main policy-making body, the Shura Council, reached three landmark resolutions:
1. To cut ties with Qatar’s ruling family, the House of Thani in order to pave the way for reestablishing itself in Tehran’s good graces. Their relations soured when Hamas withdrew its support from the embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad in mid-civil war.
2. Politburo chief Khaled Meshaal was given permission to travel to Tehran to seek a revived pact between Gaza and Iran and hash out its military and financial provisions with Iranian leaders.
3. An alliance with Tehran should not interfere with the Palestinian unity moves between the West Bank and Gaza and their ruling factions, Fatah and Hamas.
Our sources report that Hamas and Tehran began discussing burying the hatchet last month on a parallel track to the Palestinian unity talks.
Meshaal and other Hamas leaders advised sending a low-level delegation to Tehran so as not to jeopardize their reconciliation with Mahmoud Abbas. But the Iranians refused to receive any emissary junior in rank to Meshaal.
Hamas bids for Iranian aid and influence
The Shura council eventually approved his Tehran mission, provided it took place after the outcome of the Kerry-Abbas London meeting was known.
So Meshal will set off for Iran only after the Shura Council is apprised of the meeting’s results and has time to determine the makeup of the Palestinian unity government, which both partners agreed should be composed of non-partisan technocrats.
Military sources tell DEBKA Weekly that Hamas has more than one reason for its eagerness to seek the revival of its ties with Iran.
The rulers of Gaza are in desperate need of the quarter billion dollars of annual aid which Tehran cut off last year. Hamas fears it will lose this income as well as its preeminence in the territory in view of Tehran’s massive investment in the Islamic Jihad movement in Gaza and Lebanon. Iran is in the middle of a project to transform the Islamic Jihad’s Gaza wing into a modern army larger than Hamas’ own military wing, the Izz e-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
To this end, Tehran has pumped hundreds of specially trained Islamic Jihad operatives into Gaza in recent months. Some were instructed in the arts of army-building by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Others were given courses as military engineers and technicians, specializing in the latest weapons’ systems which Tehran is purchasing from Libya and smuggling into Gaza via Egypt.
El-Sisi as Egyptian president will continue to persecute Hamas
Before Kerry met Abbas, he was contacted by emissaries of the Egyptian presidential front-runner Abdel–Fattah el-Sisi. They passed on the message that Cairo’s policy toward Israel and the Palestinians would remain unchanged after the June 3 presidential election.
Hamas would continue to be treated as a terrorist arm of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The radical Palestinian faction would receive even shorter shrift from Cairo if it opened the door of Gaza to Iranian influence.