At first glance, it seems that the title given to this week’s weekly Friday confrontation in Gaza, “World Jerusalem Day,” is little different from the various banner titles given to the 60 confrontations that preceded it since their inauguration over a year ago.
Yet the banner “World Jerusalem Day,” which Hamas and, of course, Islamic Jihad, endorsed, sends a clear message to the Arab audience – from the kings and presidents of Arab states to the lowliest follower of Arab media.
In the Arab world, it is public knowledge that World Jerusalem Day – in Farsi, Ruz Jihani Quds – was one of the first commemoration days Ayatollah Khomeini created and placed on the official calendar of the newly created Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, and that most demonstrations and rallies since then have taken place in Iran or in the Shi’ite areas of Lebanon under Hezbollah’s auspices.
Inevitably, the events include the customary chants “Down with the big Satan, the United States and the small Satan, the Zionist entity” and the burning of American and Israeli flags and effigies of their leaders, the photos of which are then disseminated by the official Iranian media sites in Farsi, English, Arabic and Turkish.
World Jerusalem Day’s identification with Iran and its proxies can also be seen in the speeches of the leaders honoring the event. Year after year, Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, and at times its president address the Islamic world to champion the Palestinian cause and denigrate Israel.
Another speaker who addresses the crowd from his bunker in Beirut annually on World Jerusalem Day is Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah.
While the Iranian leaders and their proxies are shrill that day, the Sunni Arab leaders never mention it, let alone give a speech in its honor. This even includes the Qatari emir, who maintains close ties with the Iranian leaders as a bulwark against Saudi Arabia and its allies, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain (the latter might better be viewed as a Saudi client).
The Palestinian Authority is also clearly in the Sunni Arab state consensus on ignoring World Jerusalem Day.
So linked has World Jerusalem Day been with Iran and its proxies that even Hamas, a Sunni organization with traditionally strong ties with Iran, refrained from commemorating the day up until now.
Why has Hamas changed course, not only naming its major staging event to commemorate this event, but also convening a conference featuring Hamas’s leaders under that name?
YAHYA SINWAR, the head of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, gave a clear answer at the conference. He focused on US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” which he views as an attempt to end the conflict in the area, integrate Israel into the Arab and Islamic region and change the mind-set of the Arab nation that turns enemies into friends and friends into enemies.
Two points he makes leave no doubt as to who in the region is behind this destructive confusion, from his point of view. He thanks Iran for aiding “the resistance,” without whose help Hamas could never have developed the military capabilities it demonstrated in the last round of hostilities.
Hamas, he added, cannot be castigated for thanking Iran, in obvious reference to the Arab Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia.
This is followed by the hardly veiled accusation: “It is our duty to thank all those who offer aid and succor to achieve the objectives of our people and nation.... Those who support the resistance and Jerusalem are friends, and those who wager on selling Jerusalem are the enemies.”
Sinwar, addressing the Arab leaders, claimed that they face a historical juncture at which the positions they take “will be either commemorated or disparaged” and urged them “to adopt the choices of the nation, the Palestinian people and Jerusalem.”
FOR ALL of Sinwar’s brashness – in his speech he also warns Israel that in the next war, Hamas will hit Tel Aviv hard – the speech and, even more so, Hamas’s decision to honor Iran with the commemoration of World Jerusalem Day also reflect weakness.
Both the decision and the speech reflect Hamas’s worry over the Trump peace plan successfully wooing the Arab states behind it.
Hamas must also realize that placing World Jerusalem Day on the “resistance” calendar deepens the Palestinian divide existing since its takeover of Gaza 12 years ago. The fact that the Hamas media highlighted both the speech and the commemoration, in contrast to the complete disregard of both the PA and Fatah sites, reflected this divide.
Wooing Iran also bears negatively on relations with Egypt, Gaza’s gateway to the Arab world and beyond.
The Egyptian deep state, since the Iranian Revolution, evince hostility and fear of the Iranian Republic not only for the way it meddles in the affairs of Arab states, but for the connection between the ayatollahs and the Fatimid revolution in the 10th century in Egypt, which established through subversion a Shi’ite dynasty that ruled Egypt for 200 years.
Convinced that Iran is intent on trying to repeat that historical event, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as did his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, suppresses any sign of Shi’ite Islam in the country.
Egypt is weary enough of Hamas for being a Muslim Brotherhood organization. Close relations with Iran serve only to increase Egypt’s basic hostility to the organization.
The fallout from championing Iran may explain why Sinwar, closer to the military wing of the organization, took the lead on World Jerusalem Day, rather than a leader like Ismail Haniyeh, who is more attuned to Hamas’s public, which desperately needs Egypt’s gateway in Rafah to the outside world and is afraid of the Egyptian retribution such a position could elicit on free movement from and to Gaza.
Assessing the benefits against the debits of holding World Jerusalem Day is just one more reflection of the lessons Hamas is learning since its takeover of Gaza in 2007.
Many in Israel – including, most probably, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – are banking on these lessons to lead to a “tamer” Hamas in the long run. Avigdor Liberman thinks that only force will change the behavior of the organization.
Liberman is probably right. After all, Sinwar decided to antagonize most of the Arab states, including Egypt, demonstrating his refusal that Hamas be “tamed.”
The writer is a professor in the departments of political studies and Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
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