Rami G Khouri writes: The decision last week by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas to abandon its external headquarters in Damascus and support Syrians demonstrating for the removal of Bashar Assad’s regime is noteworthy on several levels. All of them affirm the vulnerable and changing nature of strategic conditions across the Middle East.
The decision by Hamas to abandon Syria emphasizes at the most basic level the pragmatic and political nature of the movement, as opposed to its rigid ideological or theological foundations. When the kitchen gets too hot, rational people get out, and so do Arab Islamist resistance movements, it seems.
This is in line with Hamas’ gradual slide into a more pragmatic political posture over the past decade. During this time the movement has declared its willingness to accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and coexistence with Israel, if the principles of the 2002 Arab Peace Plan are adopted and the Palestine refugee issue is resolved equitably. Hamas has also signaled a willingness to abandon the armed struggle in favor of nonviolent resistance against Israel, and to agree to a long-term truce with Israel under certain conditions.
At another level, Hamas’ decision to leave Syria reflects ongoing internal divisions within the movement. Islamist organizations, in the final analysis, experience the same dynamics as any grouping of diverse people united by a common cause, but also divided over the many options they have to achieve their goals.
We can see this in the different tactical strands among Hamas officials vis-à-vis the reconciliation with Fatah. The implications of these various views over issues such as negotiations with or recognition of Israel, power-sharing with Fatah, relations with Iran, or support for Arab uprisings across the region – which range from hard-line absolutism to a more accommodating pragmatism – are that groups like Hamas operate according to a domestic political calculus of survival that ultimately overrides other forces.