Analysis: The anti-Hamas alliance gathers in Sharm

The four leaders who met at the Red Sea resort on Monday all have one common enemy: Hamas.

olmert 88 (photo credit: )
olmert 88
(photo credit: )
The four leaders who met at this Red Sea resort on Monday all have one common enemy: Hamas. The summit was called to discuss the repercussions of Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip and ways of boosting Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction. But it was also seen by many here as an attempt to establish a new alliance against the Iranian-backed Islamic movement. However, Hamas managed to steal the show by releasing the audiotape of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit shortly before the four leaders arrived. "This was not a coincidence," said a member of the Palestinian delegation. "This is a ploy by Hamas to divert attention from the summit and embarrass the leaders, especially President Abbas." The dozens of journalists who flocked to Sharm e-Sheikh to cover the summit were clearly more interested in the Schalit tape than anything else. Abbas, according to another delegation member, is still worried that Hamas will try to undermine his power in the West Bank. "That's why we need money and weapons," the Palestinian official said. "If we don't receive enough backing, we will lose the West Bank." According to the official, Hamas has been trying over the past few months to establish a security force in the West Bank similar to its paramilitary "Executive Force" that played a major role in toppling the Fatah regime in the Gaza Strip. He said the PA security forces in the West Bank have detained more than 100 Hamas members who were involved in the attempt to create the new force. "We came to this summit to seek the backing of our Arab brothers in our efforts to crush Hamas," the official added. "What happened in the Gaza Strip could undermine the regimes of King Abdullah and President Hosni Mubarak. Hamas poses a problem not only to Fatah, but to the moderate Arab regimes." He said Israel was also required to make far-reaching measures and gestures to bolster Abbas and Fatah, such as releasing a large number of Fatah prisoners, removing IDF checkpoints and releasing frozen tax revenues. At the summit, Mubarak and Abdullah told Abbas that they considered the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip a "major threat" to their national security. The two leaders came to Sharm e-Sheikh to see what could be done to help Abbas prevent a similar "coup" in the West Bank, said an Egyptian government official. "Cairo and Amman are very worried about the recent developments in Palestine," he explained. "The Hamas victory could embolden radical Islamic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida, which have long been seeking to overthrow the governments in Egypt and Jordan." Egyptian and Jordanian journalists covering the summit said Mubarak and Abdullah were already under attack from the opposition in their countries for coming out against Hamas in such a strong manner. The opposition, one of them added, did not like the fact that Egypt and Jordan were openly backing Fatah. The journalists said that their governments were not afraid of Hamas as much as they were afraid of Iran, which had been accused by Fatah and intelligence officials in Egypt and Jordan of backing the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. "It's widely believed that the Iranians were behind the Hamas coup," said a Jordanian newspaper correspondent. "Iran has been playing a negative role in the region by supporting radical groups like Hamas, Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad. Our government is convinced that Iran is trying to overthrow pro-Western regimes in the Arab world." Similarly, the Egyptian authorities are worried by what they perceive as an Iranian scheme to "establish Islamic republics in the Middle East." An Egyptian journalist said Mubarak was "furious" when he heard that Hamas militiamen had received training in Iran and other Islamic countries. "The Iranians are playing a dangerous game," he cautioned. "This summit is clearly intended to find ways to thwart Iran's conspiracy." Abdel Bari Atwan, the Palestinian editor of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, said Monday's summit was part of an unprecedented effort to create an Israeli-Arab alliance against Hamas. He said the new alliance was the first step toward confronting the bigger threat: Iran and its major Arab ally, Syria. "Under the pretext of facing the Hamas coup, the summit is seeking to establish a new strategy based on supplying Abbas and his aides with money and weapons to turn the West Bank into a 'green zone,'" he said. "On the other hand, the leaders who met in Sharm e-Sheikh want to turn the Gaza Strip into another Fallujah or Inbar by starving its people and isolating them politically." Atwan described the Sharm e-Sheikh gathering as a "summit of leaders who are panicking after Hamas's bloody victory in the Gaza Strip and who are trying to salvage their seats." He said it would have been better for the Arabs had they held their own summit to discuss ways of resolving the Hamas-Fatah crisis. He also lashed out at Abbas for choosing to sit with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert instead of going to meet with the Hamas leaders to end the crisis. What remains to be seen is whether the new alliance will succeed in attracting new Arab parties.