Dictatorships in the Arab region have historically worked to eliminate their internal crises and shrinking international legitimacy at the expense of the Palestinian cause. They have done so through identifying with American and European ideas which are based on looking at Israel as an advanced Western base that guarantees their interests in the Middle East; they make acceptance of Israel the only way for such dictatorships to secure introductions in Western capitals.
Designating legitimate resistance to Israel’s military occupation as “terrorism” is one of the most frequently-used labels for the US, Europe and Israel to liquidate the Palestinian cause. They aim to delegitimise armed resistance and dismantle its intellectual, ideological and military structure by assimilating it with a “peaceful” response to the state terrorism of the Israeli occupation forces.
Arab opinions about solving the Palestinian issue have been on a downward spiral, from liberation efforts to normalisation, demonstrating a series of internal, regional and international crises in the process. This decline has reached the point of complying fully with US and European views, which are identical to Israel’s vision of the conflict.
Since the end of the Cold War and the emergence of “Islamic terrorism”, the Arab world has tended towards the trade-off of Palestine and its people. After the Gulf War, the 1991 Madrid peace conference began. After the September 2001 events, the Arab Peace Initiative came along the following year; it was an initiative of Saudi Arabia. Until that date, the Saudi government had recognised Hamas as a resistance movement, and had always objected to Western efforts to isolate the group.
Following the rise of Daesh and the growing talk about its Wahhabi ideology and Saudi influence in promoting violent extremism, the government in Riyadh embarked on a process of revising its relationship with the Wahhabi Salafis and has since widened its perception of terrorism. In order to legitimise its efforts in the fight against terrorism, it identified with the American, European and Israeli views on the Palestinian issue and the definitions of that scourge. Labelling resistance movements as terrorist groups has become a requirement of all statements by the Saudi Foreign Minister in forums across the US and Europe. For example, Adel Al-Jubeir told the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee in Brussels on 22 February that the suspension of Qatar’s funding for Hamas allowed the Palestinian government to control the Gaza Strip; he described the Islamic Resistance Movement as “extremist”, after having recently described it as a “terrorist” group.
There is no doubt that labelling Hamas as a terrorist organisation is at the heart of the US-Israel “Deal of the Century”. This has become clearer since US President Donald Trump announced his recognition of occupied Jerusalem as the capital of the Zionist state and his decision to transfer the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This will fulfil the principles of the US national security document, which stipulates the essence of the deal and its pretexts: “For decades, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the main obstacle to achieving peace in the region. Today, however, Islamic terrorist extremism from Iran has led us to realise that Israel is not the source of conflict in the Middle East, and there are countries that showed possibilities for joint efforts with Israel to face the Iranian threats.” The US strategy to understand the nature of dangers in the Middle East suggests that Washington sees two threats in the region: terrorism and Iran.
The acceptance of US terrorist designations is part of the Deal of the Century and calls for the integration of Israel into the Arab region by establishing an alliance between American imperialism, Arab dictatorships and the Israeli occupation, under the pretext of confronting the common threat of terrorism and Iran. The priorities of Trump’s administration are to limit the influence of Iran as a sponsor of terrorism, and to confront the violent organisations emanating from the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Jubeir’s statement that Hamas is a terrorist organisation was made in the context of accelerated US action to achieve the Deal of the Century, liquidating the Palestinian issue and the integration of Israel into the fabric of the Arab-Muslim region. On 31 January, the US State Department added Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to its terrorist list. Last July, the European Court of Justice decided to keep the Islamic Resistance Movement — Hamas — on the EU’s list of terrorist groups.
Following the military coup against the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood President in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE welcomed with obscene haste the exclusion of the movement and Mohamed Morsi’s removal. The coup against the Brotherhood in Egypt was not limited to isolating it politically from power and authority; it evolved into a concerted campaign to delegitimise the group, which was classified as a terrorist organisation on 25 December, 2013. The delegitimisation of the movement did not stop in Egypt, but spread to several Arab countries in general and Gulf States in particular, where Saudi Arabia designated the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation on 7 March 2014, followed by the UAE on 15 November 2014.
Such a designation is not only surprising but also fairly nonsensical, as the Muslim Brotherhood is a peaceful movement which has embraced democracy and is not on the US or EU terrorist lists. Even stranger is the designation of Hamas by the Arab states because it is a resistance movement against the Israeli occupation which has never conducted any military action beyond the borders of occupied Palestine. This simple fact seems to have confused some countries hesitant to place Hamas on the terrorist list, in part due to the complexity of the Palestinian situation. Following a Cairo court’s decision in February 2015 to place the movement on the list of terrorist organisations, the judgement was overturned by Egypt’s Court of Expedited Affairs on the grounds of a lack of jurisdiction. The list of terrorist organisations issued by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on 8 June last year included 59 individuals and 12 entities that were linked to Qatar, but did not include Hamas.
It is clear that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE are aware of the complexities of putting Hamas on the terrorist list. They have worked to conduct dialogue and reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, but at the same time they are keen to identify with American, European and Israeli designations and they try to present themselves as partners in the “war against terrorism”. In May 2017, Donald Trump was clear about describing Hamas as a terrorist organisation during the Arab Islamic Summit, which was attended by some 55 leaders, presidents and officials in Riyadh. In his speech, Trump compared Hamas to Daesh and Al-Qaeda, and claimed that it represents a terrorist threat to the region. He even called on Arab and Islamic countries to expel Hamas from their territories. Saudi Arabia, which was the host, did not respond to this. The United States is working to pass the Deal of the Century by having pressure put on Hamas.
Saudi Arabia’s persistence over classifying Hamas as a terrorist group can only be understood in the context of a trade off on the Deal of the Century and an intervention to liquidate the Palestinian cause, to overcome the questions of legitimacy of local dictatorships, to abandon demands for democratic transformations and to disregard the human rights situation. The trade-off appeared in Trump’s speech in Riyadh, where he took a position on Hamas gradually. Al-Jubeir’s statements in Brussels about Hamas were not really surprising; he made similar comments in Paris in June last year. Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of Israeli government activities in the Palestinian territories, commented on Al-Jubeir’s Brussels remarks via his Twitter account: “If this is also the definition of Hamas by the Saudis, then we agree with them.”
The Islamic Resistance Movement itself issued a statement on 24 February condemning Al-Jubeir’s “extremist” statements at the European Parliament. The movement denounced what it called the Saudi Foreign Minister’s continued incitement, regarding it as misleading and a distortion of the legitimate resistance of the Palestinian people, which does not reflect the position of the Saudi people and does not comply with Saudi Arabia’s stated positions in support of the Palestinian cause. Hamas warned that Al-Jubeir’s statements would encourage the Israelis to commit more crimes and violations against the Palestinians and their symbols. Despite all of that, Hamas is aware of the nature of Saudi’s changes of position, and where Riyadh stands on the Deal of the Century.
In conclusion, successive statements by Adel Al-Jubeir about the terrorist nature of Hamas reflect the changes of the Saudi position on the Palestinian issue and the arrangements of Trump’s Deal of the Century. The deal goes beyond the liquidation of the Palestinian issue and integrating Israel within the region through the gates of the “war on terrorism”; it tries to reproduce the history of the postcolonial dictatorial regimes in the region, whose national narratives are close to the edge of the abyss, and which are trying to renew their legitimacy internationally by identifying with US and European terrorism positions related to the Palestinian issue. It is doing so through establishing a regional narrative that stipulates the creation of a lasting friendship with Israel and the creation of new local and regional enmities marked by terrorism; reducing those enmities to movements and states that support the Palestinian cause, particularly the Islamic Republic of Iran and the groups linked to the Muslim Brotherhood; in particular, this means the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas.
This article first appeared in Arabic on 4 March 2018 on Arabi21
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.