Now Hamas leaders 'seek legitimacy'

Turkey and Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt pressure terror group to change direction


Senior Israeli analysts are convinced that some Hamas leaders genuinely want the terror group to become a legitimate political force.

Hamas has been under pressure in recent weeks from Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to renounce violence, and there are clear signs that a new direction is being considered.

One Israeli expert on Hamas said this week: "There is a true change of direction among Hamas's leaders, but there are, of course, internal arguments over this. The leaders of the Hamas military wing are naturally against such a move as it will take away their power."

The head of Hamas's political bureau agreed last month with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that, as part of the Fatah-Hamas agreement, the organisation would instruct its members to desist from violent attacks on Israelis in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Israeli security officials remain sceptical, however, that the understanding between the two Palestinian factions reflects a change of strategy for Hamas.

In rallies that took place in Gaza last month, the local Hamas leaders who were not party to the agreement with Fatah extolled the "armed struggle". At the same time, senior members of Hamas said that in the future they would concentrate on "Arab Spring"-style protests.

A senior Israeli official said: "The fact remains that Hamas still has thousands of missiles in concrete bunkers in Gaza, which they have no plans to get rid of and, meanwhile, other Palestinian organisations in the Strip are continuing their fight with Israel."

The Turkish government has been pushing Hamas towards non-violence. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh visited Turkey this week where he met Prime Minister Recep Tayyep Erdogan, who urged him to take part in the diplomatic process with Israel. Mr Erdogan said that the Palestinians need "a general organisation, with significant democratic representation for all the political forces".

Haniyeh also attended a rally in Istanbul on board the Mavi Marmara, the ferry on which nine Turkish activists were killed while violently resisting the Israeli Navy's attempt to commandeer the ship. He thanked the Turkish people, saying that "your blood broke the blockade of Gaza".

Turkey is one of the stops on Haniyeh's first major international tour since taking over Gaza in 2007, along with Egypt, Sudan, Qatar, Tunisia and Bahrain.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is also encouraging Hamas to turn to peaceful methods.

The Brotherhood's political party won more than 40 per cent of the vote in the first round of Egypt's parliamentary elections. According to a diplomatic source: "The fact that the Brotherhood is about to become a legitimate party of government in Egypt is also affecting Hamas. The Brotherhood are not talking to the Americans and they don't want Hamas to be seen as a terror organisation any longer."

The Brotherhood is not planning to call for the cancellation of the peace treaty with Israel, although the organisation itself will not officially recognise the Jewish state.

Western diplomats who have been in contact with senior Brotherhood members in recent weeks have received reassurances that, once they become a part of the new Egyptian government, they will not act to cancel the Camp David treaty.

Rashad Bayoumi, the Brotherhood's deputy chairman, said this week in an interview with Al-Hayat newspaper that the movement will respect Egypt's treaties but that the Egyptian electorate may have the opportunity to vote in a referendum on the treaty.

Despite this, Bayoumi said: "Israel is an occupying entity and we will not allow any members to meet an Israeli."

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