Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Damascus Deporting Mishal is a Good Step | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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I ask readers not to judge this commentary by its title, and hope they will read it to the last line.

In my view, Syria will not deport any of its affiliates unless there is a sound reason to do so. However, if it were to deport anyone of them, that would be a good step. But Syria is not yet certain if it will take such a step, and even if it takes such a step, it would not be new. Syrian and Jordanian doors were previously closed to Khalid Mishal. Qatar agreed at the time to host him, and he lived there for a time at a hotel in Doha before leaving for Sudan. Qatar’s and Sudan’s hospitability naturally solved a personal problem for the Hamas official, but in effect they kept him away from his cadres and from managing the organization’s operations for some time until Damascus gave him permission to return to Syria.

History may repeat itself, perhaps not today or this year. Mishal will most likely begin his tours next year, when Syrian- Israeli negotiations get moving. The initial diplomatic contacts [between Syria and Israel] prompted the British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, to publish a report that Damascus intends to deport the Palestinian factions from its territories. That news report irritated some Hamas leaders, not because it was untrue and embarrassing, but because it might happen. Syria will certainly not agree to give the Israelis an excuse to impede an opportunity to negotiate the recovery of the occupied Golan Heights, even if this would require closing down the Palestinian factions’ offices and requesting their leaders to leave Syria.

Damascus, the pragmatic, has previously taken a similar political step when it hurriedly deported Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdish liberation movement in Turkey, in 1998 to avert Turkish threats against Syria. Syria took similar steps when Israel threatened it against the background of bombings in Israeli cities carried out by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Damascus at the time declared that it closed down the Palestinian factions’ offices. In fact, it did not, but only requested the Palestinian leaders to vanish from sight and not to answer telephone calls. A few months later, when the storm abated, these leaders resumed their activities in public.

Anyway, the presence in Damascus of Hamas leaders is merely political, considering that Hamas has become a state and a force in Gaza. So deporting leaders like Mishal, Musa Abu-Marzuq, and Osama Hamdan would not affect Hamas operationally if it decides to resume its battles. In fact, Hamas has reduced its activities against Israel, and now appeals to and pursue the other Palestinian factions that dare to fire rockets into Israeli territories from Gaza. This stance seems to be part of the process of adjusting to the political consonance prevailing in the region in view of the evolving developments, notably the rise to power by a moderate US president, which coincides with the return of the infamous Binyamin Netanyahu to the post of prime minister.

The Hamas movement’s adherence to calm dovetails with the signals Syria is sending suggesting it is going to pursue a new pragmatic policy. This is because continuation of political and military battles would make President Obama an adversary of the Syrians, because he is asking them for time to test his political plan. Moreover, continuation of battles would serve Netanyahu, who wants to fight a battle to enhance his reputation and standing among the hawks in Israel, and to wreck the negotiations.

So if the British paper’s report that Syria intends to deport Khalid Mishal and his comrades is true, this would be a positive development, not for the deportees, but for the Palestinian issue, the Palestinian people, Syria, and for the Arab region as a whole. The issue is not Khalid Mishal, but the creation of a Palestinian state and the [recovery] of the occupied territories. As for Mishal and the rest of Hamas leaders, they are used to forced deportation, and they will find good hospitality in Jordan, Qatar, Tunisia, or Iran.