|Written by Rachelle Kliger
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud ‘Abbas has blamed Iran for impeding reconciliation between his Fatah faction and its archrival Hamas.
“Iran doesn’t want Hamas to sign the Cairo reconciliation document,” ‘Abbas said during a visit to Tunisia on Friday. ‘Abbas said Hamas objected to signing an Egyptian-brokered deal with Fatah because of opposition from Tehran, and argued that the Palestinians should be “free from Iranian tutelage.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast denied the accusations on Saturday, claiming Iran’s position regarding the Palestinian issue involved “unity and solidarity of Palestinian factions in face of the Zionist regime.”
“Both Fatah and Hamas are unable, for whatever reasons, to reconcile at the moment,” Dr. Samir Awwad, a professor of international relations at Birzeit University told The Media Line. “President ‘Abbas would want to come up with reasons to justify why the national reconciliation has failed after so many months of disagreement. He’s pointing to possible involvement of regional powers, and this time he’s naming Iran.”
‘Abbas’ statements come in the run-up to the Arab League summit in Libya starting March 27. Analysts have suggested the accusations might be an attempt by ‘Abbas to garner more support from Arab countries against Iran and Hamas.
Sunni Arab countries are anxious over the prospect of Iran becoming a regional nuclear power in the Middle East as Tehran continues to defy international demands to abandon its nuclear program. Regional powers, including Egypt, are concerned Iran is gaining political clout, which might tip the local balance of power.
“Iran is trying to create a coalition with Hizbullah, Syria and Hamas and that’s how [‘Abbas] interprets many of Hamas’ positions,” Awwad said. “There is regional support for Hamas from that coalition.” Awwad said that despite coalition attempts, he does not believe Iran carries much weight in internal Palestinian politics, rather that Hamas itself wants to hamper the talks in order to defer a reconciliation deal and buy time before setting a date for elections, at a time when opinion polls suggest Hamas’ popularity is waning.
But Israeli intelligence sources claim there are close ties between Iran and Hamas, and supporters of ‘Abbas’ position say Iran has an interest in involving itself in local Palestinian issues in order to show Egypt that it is a dominant power in the region.
Egypt’s recent efforts to bring about an agreement between the Palestinian factions have so far failed, despite going on for more than a year.
“Political hegemony in the region is the prime goal of Iran, not the liberation of Palestine,” Naji Shurab, a political science professor at the Gaza-based Al-Azhar University told The Media Line. “Iran is not ready to engage in a war for Jerusalem or for Palestine or Hamas.”
“Iran realizes that the U.S. and Europe are calling for sanctions on Iran,” he said. “For this reason Iran wants to signal to the U.S. that it’s the only regional power in the area capable of settling the issues. Iran is seeking to play the sole regional actor in the area and it wants the U.S. to recognize this role.”
Iran and Egypt cut diplomatic relations in 1979, following both the Islamic Revolution in Iran and Egypt’s signing of a peace agreement with Israel.
Tensions between political rivals Fatah and Hamas heightened after Hamas won the legislative election in the Palestinian Authority in January 2006, but the situation worsened after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in a violent coup in June 2007.
The coup caused a de facto split between the West Bank – currently governed by ‘Abbas’ U.S.-backed government, and the Gaza Strip, governed by an ousted Hamas government, which lacks international support and is largely isolated, politically and economically.
The reconciliation efforts collapsed last year when Fatah signed a proposal, which was later rejected by Hamas. ‘Abbas said Hamas was looking for excuses to avoid signing the deal after its leaders initially approved it.