Washington — In foreign relations, it is a longtime maxim that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” But despite its recent shift against the regime in Syria, that rule has done nothing, so far, for Hamas with the American government.
The abrupt smashing of a decades-long bond between Hamas, which is designated by the United States as a terrorist organization, and Syria, a family-led dictatorship, is unlikely to facilitate Hamas’s rehabilitation, experts say, despite current efforts by the U.S. to assemble a wide coalition against the Syrian regime.
Hamas’s decision to turn its back on embattled Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and side openly with those seeking to overthrow him may, for the first time ever, give the group a common goal with the United States and the West. But American officials have made it clear that as long as Hamas fails to disavow terrorism and refuses to recognize Israel, it is not a welcome partner in the international effort to replace the Assad regime.
Long headquartered in Damascus, Syria’s capital, Hamas, an Islamist group that controls Palestinian-populated Gaza, is now seeking a new haven for its external leadership. As this search goes on, some within Hamas are calling for a more moderate approach toward Israel and toward the Palestinian Authority, led by the more secular-oriented Fatah faction. But others believe that changes brought on by the Arab Spring should embolden the group against outside pressure to moderate.
“Hamas feels that the region is coming their way,” said Robert Danin, a senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He noted that revolutions in the Arab world had brought to power parties affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s parent movement. “They feel they are on the right side of history,” Danin added.
While Hamas has controlled the governing apparatus in Gaza since ousting Fatah in a 2007 coup there, Hamas’s external leadership has been based in Damascus since 1999. The Assad regime in Syria offered its top political leaders, Khaled Mashaal and his deputy, Moussa Abu Marzouk, freedom of action in their violent struggle against Israel after Jordan expelled the group in 1999.
But as Assad’s crackdown on opposition demonstrations has grown more violent in recent months, Hamas began quietly reducing its presence in Damascus. In late February, Mashaal moved to Qatar and Abu Marzouk settled in Cairo. ”Practically, we are no longer in Syria because we couldn’t practice our duties there,” Abu Marzouk said in a February 26 interview with The Associated Press. He added: “We are not with the regime in its security solution, and we respect the will of the people.”