ALL is not well in the camp of Hamas, the Palestinians’ Islamist faction that rules the Gaza Strip. No sooner had its leader in exile, Khaled Meshal (pictured), declared his readiness for Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Palestinians’ more moderate Fatah faction, to relaunch negotiations with Israel, than one of Hamas’s leaders in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, said Mr Abbas did not speak for the Palestinians: “Our programme is against negotiations in this way because they are a waste of time.”This has been a simmering issue in the Arabic media for over a week now.
Formally Mr Meshal, who is based in Syria’s capital, Damascus, speaks for Hamas. But with turmoil there and uncertainty over the policy of Egypt towards the Palestinians—it has said it will open its border crossing to Gaza—Mr Meshal and his exiled coterie have looked homeless and weak. And Hamas leaders in Gaza say they are keen to see the movement’s centre of gravity shift back home. “The main headquarters of the Hamas movement is in the occupied lands,” says Mr Zahar. “Its real weight is there.”
Rival visions have worsened the row. Whereas Mr Meshal relies on diplomatic and foreign ties for his influence, Hamas leaders in Gaza depend more on their own resources. Mr Meshal looks to reconciliation with Mr Abbas’s Fatah movement as a means to regain a national role, and has long sought a place in the Palestinians’ umbrella body, the Palestine Liberation Organisation. But Hamas leaders in Gaza think they already have a big enough platform.
Depending more on friends outside Palestine, Mr Meshal faces pressure from Islamist movements elsewhere in the Arab world to show a more conciliatory face. Hamas’s harsh de facto one-party state in Gaza clashes with the idea of an enlightened democratic movement that sister Islamist groups seek to portray.
Today, Mahmoud Zahar refused to go to Damascus to participate in a meeting of Hamas' political movement, even though he is a member of that body.
(The Economist article fails badly in trying to portray Meshal as some sort of a liberal reformer. The fact that he embraces a short-term tactical rapprochement with Fatah to further his goal of destroying Israel hardly makes him the peaceful maverick that the Economist tries to turn him into.)
The "unity" farce continues....