Scenes of jubilation, an acclaimed leader, a revolutionary tone: Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas' political bureau, was visiting Beirut. Since Sunday, the Palestinian leader had been sending strong messages to his popular base. But these images were not to everyone's taste; they also evoked the troubled history of the Palestinian presence in Lebanon: the parades, the gunmen, the memory of the war and, with him, the fear of the country being taken hostage in the service of a foreign cause.
But Haniyeh's visit was above all a non-event, unlikely to alter the balance of power. "Despite a general fear that this visit might have a political or security dimension, it was an inter-Palestinian visit of a general nature," said a Palestinian source close to the matter.
To begin with, Haniyeh's visit was in response to a call by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the leaders of Fateh, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other factions to hold a regional meeting. The event, which took place concomitantly in Ramallah and Beirut, was intend-ed to unify the Palestinian political landscape, which has been plagued by paralyzing divisions for several years. "Some participants, including Hamas, are no longer welcome in Damascus because of tensions with Bashar Assad's regime, hence the choice of Beirut," said the same source, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The meeting was marked by some absences, notably Ahmad Jibril of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, and Nayef Hawatmeh, head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, both currently residing in Syria. Among those present, some were content with strictly Palestinian meetings. This is the case of Islamic Jihad's secretary general, who did not request to meet with Lebanese officials.
Hamas was the only movement to organize a series of such meetings, transforming the visit to the point of overshadowing its original reason. The program of side meetings included Hezbollah's secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and the director general of Public Security, Major General Abbas Ibrahim. "The meetings were of a general nature, which did not portend specific alliances," the source told L'Orient-Le Jour.
A "Morphine Shot"
For many, it is the meeting with Nasrallah that sent the main political message in a tense geopolitical context, marked by the recent Israeli-UAE normalization agreement and increasing security incidents in Gaza as well as on the Lebanese border. "This is what they put forward: a common front against normalization, a revival of the anti-normalization axis," said Georges Haddad, a Lebanese researcher specialized in the Palestinian cause. "It was kind of a morphine shot administered to the population to continue to support the party [Hezbollah]."
Beyond the regional and national contexts, it is thus the political environment specific to Hamas and Hezbollah that makes it possible to grasp all the dimensions of the visit. The images of the meeting thus serve as a point of support to strengthen the axis of resistance at a time when both parties are facing criticism on their inner scenes. "Faced with the deterioration of their support, they both sent a clear message: despite the blockade and despite the political isolation, we still have the means to continue the struggle," Haddad said. Hamas transformed a regional summit into a "publicity operation," he added. The triumphant images of Haniyeh in Beirut were primarily intended to "raise the morale of the fighters and make them forget the misery here and there."
The aim is to restore the image of the movement among the Palestinians of Gaza, but also to gain political ground within the refugee camps, traditionally managed by Fateh, which itself is increasingly contested in Lebanon and the West Bank, criticized for its inertia and accused of corruption. "It is like a small breach in which Hamas rushes in to try to gain some power, with-out being able to gain the upper hand," Haddad said.
The Beirut escapade also made it possible to break the isolation of the movement, in particular its diplomatic banishment and its fragmentation, symbolized by the dispersion of its leadership, based in exile, and a single military compound in Gaza. "Ismail Haniyeh is technically unemployed," the source said ironically, affirming that the leader "is currently installed in Istanbul from where he can no longer return to Gaza, which he left about a month ago. "The other possibility is that the Lebanese visit was the beginning of a regional tour." It is possible that Hamas is trying, after years of discord with Bashar Assad's regime, to return to the Syrian scene," Haddad said.
However, the political and popular success of Haniyeh's visit should not be overestimated. "The streets of the camps are very narrow: a dozen people are enough to give the impression of a crowd," the researcher said. The political importance is primarily symbolic. "Nothing substantial has come out in terms of security cooperation; we will have to wait for the next few weeks or months to see if that changes," he noted. But big speeches and flamboyant images are un-likely to change anything in the lives of the people in Gaza, under the double military control of Israel and Hamas. "Schools are closed, hospitals do not work, there is almost no electricity..." Haddad said.
Scenes of jubilation, an acclaimed leader, a revolutionary tone: Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas' political bureau, was visiting Beirut. Since Sunday, the Palestinian leader had been sending strong messages to his popular base. But these images were not to everyone's taste; they also evoked the troubled history of the Palestinian presence in Lebanon: the parades, the gunmen, the memory of...