Palestine and the Maghreb - what’s next for Hamas?

Palestine and the Maghreb - what’s next for Hamas?
Mark Seddon

Back in 1992, I was part of a delegation of British Parliamentarians, and as the only journalist, on a trip to Libya. With sanctions preventing international flights into Tripoli, our delegation had to take the road crossing in from Tunisia.

Arriving in Tunis however, part of our delegation was immediately ushered into a fleet of Mercedes Benz, with closed black curtains, driven around the city until we had all lost any sense of where we were, before arriving at suburban house, covered in luxurious bougainvillea and protected by gun toting guards. On arriving, a familiar figure emerged, in the shape of PLO President Yasser Arafat. From 1983 Arafat had based himself in Tunisia and had begun to shift his approach from open conflict with the Israelis to negotiation. In 1988, he acknowledged Israel's right to exist and sought a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. I proceeded to interview Arafat, sitting as he was between a large picture of the Al Aqsa Mosque and a poster of the Swiss Alps. Following the interview, he gave me a photograph of himself, which I keep to this day. Years later, after the PLO had relocated back to an old British fort in Ramallah in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, I met Arafat again. He cut a chastened, weakened figure. His health was failing, and the PLO leadership were active in trying to stop this news from spreading. 

Fast forward to today, and there has been a fair degree of speculation as to what may happen to the leaders of Hamas under any comprehensive peace settlement plan with Israel that would involve Arab States. In a confidential document sent to the Quai d'Orsay recently, Saudi Arabia proposed the deployment of an Arab peacekeeping force in Gaza and the evacuation of Hamas leaders to the Algerian capital, Algiers.  For some, this is reminiscent of the evacuation of large numbers of Palestinian fighters from Lebanon to Algeria in 1982, just as Arafat re-located to nearby Tunis. But this is where the similarities end. For the Saudi proposal was largely based on Algeria’s closer relationship with Qatar and Iran. The Algeria of today is not the Algeria of the 1980s. And Hamas, despite also accepting the right of Israel to exist alongside an independent Palestine, is not the PLO. And also it should be pointed out that the Saudis don’t appear to have consulted the Algerians. In fact, the Algerian authorities today appear to be as resolutely hostile to the Islamists of Hamas as is the Sisi Government of Egypt. There has, to date, been no diplomatic action by the Algerian Government to support Hamas vis-à-vis influential states. There has been no message of support for the Hamas leadership. The Algerian population has even been banned from publicly showing their support for the Palestinian cause. There is a pattern here of course, and the intense suffering of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis which has generated such an upsurge of support across the Arab World does not extend to individual Arab Governments accepting that Hamas is a legitimate representative. Far from it. Meanwhile, the official PLO/Fatah leadership, under Mahmoud Abbas, based in Ramallah, continues to look old, weak and ineffective. 


*Mark Seddon is a former Speechwriter to UN Secretary-General Ban ki moon & former Adviser to the Office of the President of the UN General Assembly

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