Iranian Summit Invite Highlights Ongoing Palestinian Division

Photo Courtesy of UN Photo/Marco Castro

A claimed invite to Hamas for an international conference in Tehran has created a new public rift between the two main Palestinian political groups, with Iran taking an unexpected side in the dispute. According to the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, Hamas is sticking to reports saying the Gaza leadership was invited to the Non-Aligned Movement’s (NAM) annual summit, which this year is in Iran.

Their political rival, the West Bank’s Fatah group, has blasted the claims as encouraging division among the Palestinian leadership, as Fatah leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was invited to the summit.

The Ramallah-based Fatah and Gaza-centered Hamas groups are technically both part of the Palestinian government. However, a bloody coup in which Hamas forced Fatah out of Gaza has led to a sharp division between the groups that has not yet been bridged despite claims of reconciliation made more than a year ago. So far the sides have failed in their numerous attempts to practically carry out their unity declarations.

Iran Shifts Sides?

In an unusual departure from their standard support of Gaza, Iran is denying they issued the invitation to Hamas, according to the Iranian Fars News Agency. Iran has long supported Hamas politically, financially and with weapons smuggling.

However, Hamas has been critical of the Syrian regime in that country’s conflict—to the point of removing their international headquarters from Damascus. Iran, on the other hand, has diligently supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, both politically and on at least a semi-military level. The NAM invite dispute could signal something of a political break by Tehran from Hamas over the Syrian issue.

The 16th annual NAM summit is set to bring Abbas, representatives from dozens of other nations and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Tehran this week until August 31, according to Fars. The NAM group is a powerful United Nations voting block formed during the Cold War that consists of Third World nations, Muslim states and more.

Palestinian Acrimony

According to the WAFA Palestinian news agency, the Palestinian Presidency issued a statement on Monday accusing Hamas of harming Palestinian unity by claiming that Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was invited as another Palestinian representative to the NAM summit.

The statement said the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)—a quasi-government group headed by Abbas which represents the Palestinians in international affairs—is the “only legal and legit representative of the Palestinian people.” The PLO does not currently include Hamas.

Hamas fired back on Tuesday. The Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reported that the Gaza group said in a statement of its own that Haniyeh had declined the official Iranian invite, proving “that he is more concerned about the Palestinian cause and does not want to contribute to Palestinian division.”

Reacting to Abbas’ office claims of the PLO’s sole legitimacy in such affairs, Hamas argued that Haniyeh position as prime minister came as a result of popular elections.

“Fatah leaders’ position about Haniyeh’s invitation does not show any desire to achieve reconciliation but promotes division. We confirm that the Ramallah’s government is the one which usurped legitimacy and it may not claim to represent the people,” Ma’an quoted the statement as saying.

(By Joshua Spurlock,, August 28, 2012)