Adnan Abu Amer
Middle East Monitor / October 20, 2020
There has been a series of contacts and meetings between Hamas and Russia this year to discuss developments in the Palestinian issue. These included the US deal of the century, Israel’s annexation plan and the dangers of normalisation between Arab countries and the occupation state.
In March, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh visited Moscow to brief Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his officials about reconciliation with Fatah and ending the division by holding presidential and legislative elections, as well as for the Palestinian National Council. The Hamas delegation expressed the movement’s willingness to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the other factions under Russian auspices.
In June, Haniyeh, Mousa Abu Marzouk and former Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal discussed with Lavrov’s deputy, Mikhail Bogdanov, the Israeli plan to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank. This was followed in early October by a delegation from Hamas going to Russia headed by Abu Marzouk, the movement’s International Relations head. The Hamas group assured Bogdanov and a number of his senior aides that the visit was an extension of the relationship that binds the movement with Russia as an important country, and the desire to provide Moscow with details of the talks with Fatah.
It is clear that Hamas is keen to establish strong relations with Russia as part of the efforts to confront the challenge of the deal of the century. The movement views Russian influence in the Middle East as a benefit for the Palestinians to put pressure on Israel. It is possible that the presence of Hamas in the axis of countries close to Russia, such as Iran, Turkey and Qatar, will increase its interaction with Moscow, which understands the movement’s importance and the difficulties of trying to sidestep it.
While Israel does not want to see Hamas make such moves because it fears the international community’s openness to the movement, it hopes that its relationship with Russia will influence Moscow to soften its stances on the Zionist state.
The relationship between Hamas and Russia is actually nothing new, having started immediately after the movement’s 2006 election victory. It was strengthened later, because Hamas looks at Moscow as a major capital due to being a permanent member of the UN Security Council with broad diplomatic influence. The movement is keen to intensify its contacts with it to strengthen its position in the conflict with Israel. Hamas also wants to use Moscow’s diplomatic capabilities to thwart the deal of the century, using its veto against any US attempt to impose alternatives to international resolutions.
In its meetings with the Russians, the movement is trying to clarify that Trump’s deal threatens not only the Palestinians, but also the whole international order, with Washington imposing its unilateral vision to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It seems as if Hamas is trying to prompt Moscow into finding a foothold on the issue that competes with the US monopoly.
There are many roles that Russia can play in the Palestinian arena, such as reconciliation with Fatah and Hamas, an agreement with Israel, a ceasefire in Gaza and a prisoner exchange deal.
In its justification for communicating with Hamas, Russia has declared consistently that it is not a “terrorist” movement, but rather a part of Palestinian society, represented in the Palestinian Legislative Council and participating in government. As such, their meetings are important for Hamas’s foreign relations, although some suggest that their importance should not be exaggerated. This means that the movement should not raise their expectations too high. The US and Israel, of course, want to keep Hamas isolated.
What are the motives for this intense communication between Hamas and Russia, given that Moscow hosts an office for the movement, albeit unofficially? This is all consistent with the positions adopted by the likes of Turkey, Qatar and Iran, and Hamas’s desire to be part of this axis. It has good relations with all three, and they have good links with Russia. Thus, any ties that it has with the latter, a superpower, will only be of benefit, not least because Moscow maintains ties with Israel, the PA and Egypt.
Hamas also has common denominators with the Russians in not only rejecting the deal of the century, but also being happy that America seems to be pulling out of the region. The movement is happy to see Russia in Syria, with which it could mediate to allow Hamas to get back to Damascus.
In the short term, Hamas would like to see its representative presence in Moscow announced officially, giving it political support and taking its views closer to the international community. Russia may develop its relationship with Hamas, starting with providing guidance and advice, and expanding its own alliances in the Middle East by including Hamas in the “axis of resistance” with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.
President Vladimir Putin wants to restore his country’s influence in the region and believes that the movement is one of the gateways for this. The rapprochement with Hamas is, therefore, linked to Moscow’s ambitions in the Middle East.
Adnan Abu Amer is the head of the Political Science Department at the University of the Ummah in Gaza