CAIRO (Reuters) – All the Arab governments around Israel will deal directly with a Palestinian cabinet dominated by the militant Islamist group Hamas, ignoring U.S. and European attempts to isolate the group, analysts said on Monday.
The Egyptian and Syrian governments already have good working relationships with Hamas, although some of their main domestic opponents are Islamists, and would accept a possible role as intermediaries between Hamas and the West, they added.
Egypt may press Hamas to make concessions to demands that it recognise Israel and abandon armed struggle but it will also use Hamas’s surprise election victory to argue for changes in U.S. and European policy in the Middle East, they said.
Hamas won a big majority in the Palestinian parliament last week, based on popular frustration with the Fatah movement which has dominated Palestinian politics since the late 1960s.
Arab countries have made few official comments since Hamas’s defeat of Fatah, founded by Yasser Arafat and traditionally seen in the Arab world as representing the Palestinian cause.
However, Fatah had gained a reputation for corruption and incompetence and failed to persuade Israel and the United States to deliver on promises of Palestinian statehood.
The analysts said it was Syria, the most aggressively secular government in the region, that had most to gain from the shift in Palestinian politics, because Hamas’s success strengthens an embryonic front opposed to U.S. policies.
The front includes Hamas, Syria, Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which inspired Hamas and itself made strong electoral gains in elections last year.
Islamists also dominate the Iraqi government, in uneasy alliance with the U.S. military on whom they depend.
“One link in the siege against Syria has been broken… Hamas’s victory is good news for Syria,” said Mohammad Habash, a prominent Islamist lawmaker in Syria.
Syria has been on the ropes internationally for the past year after the successful campaign to make it withdraw troops from Lebanon and the U.N. inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
“The Syrian regime is glad (that Hamas won) because this strengthens the alliance of resistance to the Israeli and American scheme. It gives them a little boost,” said Hassan Nafaa, professor of political science at Cairo University and a prominent political commentator.
“Syria is going to be very much encouraged. It will see it as a way of enhancing its own position,” added Walid Kazziha, political scientist at the American University in Cairo.
King Abdullah of Jordan, on the other hand, is the major loser in the region, because he has burned many of his bridges with Hamas and faces a domestic Islamist opposition closely linked to the Palestinian movement, the analysts said.
“Jordan is a candidate for change, and I think they are next,” said Kazziha, referring to the possibility of Islamists making strong gains in the next Jordanian elections.
The Egyptian government, which traditionally favoured Fatah and its late leader Yasser Arafat, can adapt to Hamas more easily because the Egyptian state is so strong and the level of contact between ordinary Egyptians and Palestinians is lower.
Abdel Raouf el-Reedy, chairman of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Relations, said: “Egypt is a different story… I don’t see the same thing happening in Egypt as in Palestine.”
In Egypt’s first public reaction to the Hamas victory, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif told Newsweek that Hamas should “work within the framework” of the Oslo agreement of 1993, the peace plan known as the road map and a two-state solution.
Reedy, who was Egyptian ambassador to the United States, said he expected Cairo to work for a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, as well as helping persuade Hamas to change its rhetoric on recognition of Israel.
“They (Hamas) will have to move in that direction and Egypt will help with that,” he told Reuters.
But other analysts said Hamas would not buy the argument unless Israel made significant concessions towards a territorial compromise acceptable to a majority of Palestinians.
The Palestinians have learnt from Fatah’s negotiating experience over the past 10 years not to take U.S. and Israeli promises very seriously, they added.
“Egypt has to tell the Israelis and the Americans … it is about time to say exactly where you want to go, what kind of Palestinian state you want to establish,” Nafaa said.