Growing prospects for Meshaal visit to Riyadh
There is a sense in the ranks of the leadership of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) that the change at the helm in Saudi Arabia has helped reduce a lot of pressure that the group had been coming under for sometime.
Last week, sources in Hamas started positively answering questions about the possibility of Khaled Mashaal, head of the group's political bureau, visiting Saudi Arabia.
Hamas sources say the relationship with Riyadh has improved markedly after King Salman ascended the throne. A high-level Saudi official, these sources say, has formally notified Hamas's leadership that the new administration in the kingdom does not see Hamas as a terrorist organisation, and that Riyadh's designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terror group does not extend to Hamas, the latter being seen as a purely Palestinian group.
At the same time, there has been greater reluctance to discuss suggestions that Meshaal intends to visit Tehran. In this context, Hamas sources told al-Araby al-Jadeed the group was never unconditionally in Iranian "arms". The sources cite a number of examples in which they say Hamas had chosen its Arab depth over Iran.
|Riyadh's designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terror group does not extend to Hamas.|
One of the most prominent examples, sources say, happened ahead of the Annapolis peace conference in 2007. During negotiations, the Syrian authorities stopped Hamas from holding its own conference to reject the negotiations. Iran responded quickly with an offer to Hamas officials: send your passports to process your visas, and the conference could be held in Tehran. At the time, the sources say, Mashaal refused the offer, saying rejecting negotiations should come from an Arab capital.
Hamas sources cite this incident to stress that the group has always preferred Arab support. In this regard, during a visit by a Hamas delegation to Tehran in December 2014 [AR], discussions became heated especially over the situation in Syria.
The sources pointed out that the December visit to Tehran did not seriously pave the way for Mashaal to come to Iran, with the Iranians unwilling to set a date for a meeting with Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and also in light of the ambiguity surrounding the resumption of Iranian support for Gaza, which had stopped because of the dispute with Hamas over Syria.
The issue of Mashaal's visit to Tehran is complicated. There was Iranian pressure to arrange it before the most recent war on Gaza, but the visit never happened. Today, it appearsm, it has been all but cancelled.
As for Saudi relations, Mashaal did not meet the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef during the latter’s visit to Doha in mid-February. However, this does not mean that there were no contacts on different levels.
Hamas has sent its condolences for the late King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz at the highest level. Moreover, there also appears to be development in the case of a Hamas leader detained in Saudi Arabia. While the Hamas sources refused to name the man, they said his release is now imminent, especially after he was exonerated of charges related to terrorism.
The same Hamas sources said there is US interest in this leader in particular.
This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.