The Hamas-Tehran alliance: At what price for the Palestinians?
Despite strong criticism from Arab leaders and senior Palestinian figures, Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Al Zahar on Saturday visited Tehran in a bid to garner support for the Palestinian people. Criticism of the trip centered on the fact that despite repeated promises, Iran has so far failed to make good on its pledges to help the Palestinians cope with a crippling international economic siege against them. Fatah figures claim that from the start, it was a "mistake to give the Palestinian people the illusion that aid would arrive from Iran."
Earlier this year, Iran pledged $50 million to help fund the Palestinian Authority after the withdrawal of aid from the West. The pledge followed a visit from top Hamas official Khaled Meshaal, in which Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki stated that his country was determined to help the Palestinians. Weeks later, however, Palestinians are still awaiting the Iranian funds.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, a staunch ally of the Palestinians, has reportedly criticized Hamas for its bet on Iran. According to Al Arabiya TV, during his recent meeting with Al Zahar the Yemeni leader stated: "The Iranians never gave you the millions in aid they promised."
Saleh maintained that the Iranians have always made excuses to escape pledges. This time, he added, they claim they can't transfer the funds because of US sanctions. "If they tell you they can't transfer the money, tell them there is a Yemeni bank that is ready to do so," Saleh told Al Zahar. "You will then see that they will be ready to give you nothing but talk".
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has also expressed doubts as to whether or not funds pledged by Iran would reach the Palestinians as a result of global checks on cash flow.
Asked about the Iranian funds, Abbas said during a recent interview with Al Jazeera: "How will it enter the Palestinian territories?" "We are fully aware that the movement of finance is now globally subject to many inspections. I don't think the world can allow the entry of this type of money".
Last month, PA Transport Minister Ziad Al Zaza announced that "necessary measures" were put in place to receive 300 Iranian vehicles donated by Tehran to the Palestinian government. This Iranian pledge is also considered unfeasible, as such a donation would require Israeli government approval along with unrealistic arrangements to prepare for their crossing through the Gaza Strip’s Rafah terminal and Jordanian border crossing. The pledge is nearly impossible to fulfill.
Palestinian sources insist that the Iranians introduced several conditions for the Hamas-led government in return for the release of the much awaited funds. These sources claim that "if these conditions are publicly disclosed, the Palestinian public will understand that they contradict their national interests."
A sure result of the alliance with Iran will be the further isolation of Hamas and the Palestinians from the West. Moreover, its alliance with Iran will cost Hamas the support of its Sunni hinterland: Saudi Arabia has already delayed $92 million it promised the PA, releasing only $20 million at the personal request of President Abbas, while other GCC states are ready to follow in the Saudi’s footsteps. Former Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath recently expressed his concern and that of others over the matter, saying that it would be a mistake to form an axis with Iran, as Hamas' only "gain" from such an alliance would be greater isolation for the Palestinians in the Arab and international arenas.