The Fatah-Hamas tussle over the future head of the prospective Palestinian unity government is more than just factional infighting. Assorted Arab and Muslim interests, among them Saudi Arabia are determined to keep Salam Fayyad, the incumbent Prime Minister of the Palestinian West Bank, out of the top post – or even the finance ministry – because they have labeled him an American stooge. Above all, they are bent on liquidating all US holdings in the Middle East, including Washington's role as Israeli-Palestinian peace broker.
A parallel move took place this week in Cairo with the arrest of the dual US-Israeli citizen Ilan Grapel as a suspected "Mossad spy."
This move aimed at discrediting the US and Israel and presenting them to the Egyptian people as responsible for Egypt's post-revolutionary woes.
Tuesday, June 14, when Fatah and Hamas delegations met in Cairo to hammer out the makeup of a Palestinian unity government, Hamas removed the gloves and pushed Ismail Haniyeh, its own prime minister in the Gaza Strip, for the top post. They reminded Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that they had agreed to appoint only non-political figures to the new government and insisted that Fayyad did not fit this provision because he was identified with US and Israeli policies.
Since the pact was signed, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources report, Hamas has steadily hardened its positions to squeeze Abbas into breaking his ties with Washington as a step toward freezing the Obama administration out of its sponsorship of Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking.
Hamas underlines Abbas' illegitimacy for representing the Palestinians
The radical Islamists hold the whip hand against Abbas if he means to go through with his initiative in September to gain UN recognition of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders with Jerusalem its capital and the right recognized of the Arab refugees of the 1948 and 1967 wars to return to their homes. The Palestinian leader intends this approval to lead to full membership of the world body.
But he needs Palestinian unity for this plan. Submitting the UN motion in the name of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority is not on; this body has no legal standing in Palestinian law and controls only the West Bank. And so he must bring Hamas and the Gaza Strip on board.
But the Islamists also won more than 50 percent of the vote in both territories in the only internationally approved Palestinian elections in early 2006, leaving Abbas' Fatah in the minority. Hamas is therefore entitled to question Abbas' mandate for going to the UN in September and may well oppose his initiative on the additional grounds that the 1967 borders fall far short of the majority Palestinian faction's claim to all of the territory of present-day sovereign Israel.
In terms of Middle East dynamics, September is a long way off. For now, Hamas is racing ahead with immediate plans to climb the ladder provided by the New Egypt for reaching greater heights:
Perks for Hamas in Muslim Brotherhood trade for backing for military junta
1. The willing tool of two masters – the Cairo-based world Muslim Brotherhood leadership (the Shura Council) and the Iranian regime in Tehran – Hamas is now in the position of offering both the wherewithal on the Palestinian scene for turning Abbas' UN initiative, US President Barack Obama's Middle East plans and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's diplomatic passivity against all three – without either master getting his feet wet.
2. The Muslim Brotherhood has extracted rewards for its Palestinian offshoot from the military junta as the price for shoring up the new rulers' shaky position in Cairo.
Neither Washington nor Jerusalem has publicly exposed the deal that the Egypt's military council has going with the Muslim Brotherhood so as not to rock the post-Mubarak boat. There has been no reporting therefore on this collaboration although, according to our sources, it has been going on quietly for three months and netted the radical Hamas big dividends.
Hamas was ordered by the Brotherhood's Shura Council to end its long feud with Fatah and sign a fence-mending pact in April and quickly began seizing the advantage.
And that was just the beginning.
A month later, following Brotherhood intervention, the military junta opened the Rafah crossing to Palestinian passage from Gaza to Egypt on May 28.
The US and Israel protested only mildly against this blatant violation of an international agreement signed by Egypt.
And then, two weeks later, on June 12, the Egyptian prosecution announced the arrest of the American-Israeli dual citizen Ilan Grapel on charges of spying for the Mossad and on assignment to foment sectarian violence between Egypt's Muslims and its Christian Copts.
The "Israeli spy" – both club and smokescreen
By harping on this charge, the military junta publicly acquitted the Muslim Brotherhood of the violence it staged last month against the Copts of Cairo, when its followers torched their church and killed at least 12 Christians. By this device, the Brotherhood has been publicly rehabilitated and cleared of undermining the Egyptian revolution by stirring up civil strife. Instead, Israel is put in the frame directly – and the US by implication.
Grapel has become the club for beating Israel and America over the head and discrediting both in the eyes of the Egyptian masses.
Thursday, June 16, Cairo announced there was enough evidence against Grapel to put him on trial next week. This was Egypt's response to US and Israeli efforts to obtain his release, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources, report, and a message that the military junta would brook no interference in its deals with the Muslim Brotherhood.
3. Blown up day by day by a constant deluge of fresh Egyptian charges against the alleged spy, the Grapel spy scandal also provided a smoke screen for the generals to break with long history and permit a Muslim Brotherhood to send its first delegation ever to visit the Gaza Strip Sunday, June 12, for talks with Hamas leaders.
The visit was the first step towards establishing a Brotherhood liaison office in Gaza.
Not a single US or Israeli publication covered this event, which in Middle Eastern terms would be comparable to opening a Hamas liaison office in Virginia, USA – although its broad connotations are momentous and disquieting.
Muslims head for power in three places – through the ballot box
4. In the first three months of the Egyptian revolution, therefore, rising Muslim Brotherhood clout in Cairo rubbed off on Hamas and diminished Mahmoud Abbas whose authority in Ramallah and bargaining position have correspondingly eroded.
The choice of prime minister for the future Palestinian unity administration will come up when Abbas meets Hamas' Politburo secretary Khaled Meshaal in Cairo next Tuesday and indicate which way the Palestinian wind is blowing.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the movement's world center, has come a long way in the short time since President Hosni Mubarak's overthrow in February. Its gains are noteworthy:
First, the Islamist organization has set the scene not just for controlling the Gaza Strip but also the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority ruling the West Bank. This territory is also important as the door to Jordan. There, unlike in Egypt, the Palestinian Hamas is the largest component of the Brotherhood movement.
Conscious of the unrest around him, King Abdullah II promised this week that future Jordanian governments would not be royal appointees but established by a parliamentary majority. He then qualified this statement by adding that implementation would take two or three years.
However, in the present climate in the region, the royal comment was enough to let the genie out of the bottle. In the Palestinian and Jordanian parliaments the Muslim Brotherhood and/or Hamas already hold a majority. In Egypt too, if elections take place on schedule in September, the Brotherhood may well emerge as the biggest party. Therefore, the way is opening up for an Islamic Republic to rise stretching from Jordan to the Mediterranean and the Nile.
A revolution radicalized
Second, success in scotching the Salam Fayyad candidacy for any office in the future Palestinian unity government would get "Washington's man" our of Palestinian ruling institutions.
Third, A Hamas-dominated Palestinian unity government would vindicate Hamas' ingrained refusal in principle to recognize Israeli rule and sovereignty in any part of Palestine. The Palestinians would try and shout down President Obama's principle endorsement of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people.
The Ilan Rapel spy plot crafted between Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and military junta caught the US and Israel in the jaws of an unforeseen trap: the "Mossad officer" has become a hostage they must fight for and for whom the ransom demanded is recognition of the heightened power of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Palestinian offspring Hamas.
The decision to put him on trial next week further raises the ante. In effect, the United States and Israel will stand beside him in the dock at great cost to their standing and image. The Muslim Brotherhood will continue to deepen its radicalizing influence on the Palestinians and the Egyptian revolution.