Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood push for Palestinian unity

The New York Times reports: As it prepares to take power in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is overhauling its relations with the two main Palestinian factions in an effort to put new pressure on Israel for an independent Palestinian state.

Officials of the Brotherhood, Egypt’s dominant Islamist movement, are pressing its militant Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, which controls Gaza, to make new compromises with Fatah, the Western-backed Palestinian leadership that has committed to peace with Israel and runs the West Bank.

The intervention in the Palestinian issue is the clearest indication yet that as it moves into a position of authority, the Brotherhood, the largest vote getter in Egypt’s parliamentary elections, intends to both moderate its positions on foreign policy and reconfigure Egypt’s.

Brotherhood officials say that they are pulling back from their previous embrace of Hamas and its commitment to armed struggle against Israel in order to open new channels of communications with Fatah, which the Brotherhood had previously denounced for collaborating with Israel and accused of selling out the Palestinian cause. Brotherhood leaders argue that if they persuade the Palestinians to work together with a newly assertive Egypt, they will have far more success forcing Israel to bargain in earnest over the terms of statehood.

“Now we have to deal with the Palestinian parties as an umbrella for both of them, and we have to stand at an equal distance from each,” said Reda Fahmy, a Brotherhood leader who oversees its Palestinian relations and is now chairman of the Arab affairs committee in Egypt’s upper house of Parliament. “Any movement of the size of the Muslim Brotherhood, when it is in the opposition it is one thing and then when it comes to power it is something completely different.”

The shift in the Brotherhood’s stance toward neutrality between Hamas and Fatah — acknowledged by officials of both groups — may relieve United States policy makers, who have long worried about the Brotherhood’s relationship with the more militant Hamas. The United States considers the Palestinian group to be a terrorist organization. But the shift in Egypt’s policies may unnerve Israel, because it is a move away from former President Hosni Mubarak’s exclusive support for the Western-backed Fatah movement and its commitment to the peace process. Israeli officials have said they will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.

But Mr. Fahmy said the Brotherhood believed that Palestinian unity could break the deadlock in talks with Israel. “A Palestinian negotiator will go the table and know that all the Palestinian people are supporting his project,” Mr. Fahmy said. “This will be a huge change and very important to both sides.” Jailed at times by the Mubarak government for his role in the Brotherhood, Mr. Fahmy spoke this month from an ornate hall of Parliament.

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