24 September 2012
By Pinhas Inbari
The anger expressed by the Arab and Muslim world in response to a film that exposed the Prophet Muhammad in a negative light affected Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank in sharply different ways.
The Islamic world’s outburst has come at a sensitive time for Ramallah, when its leaders were preparing for the submission of the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations. The new crisis effectively marginalized the Palestinian problem in the eyes of fellow Arabs and Muslims. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his intention to raise the issue of the film at the forthcoming UN General Assembly session in order to arrive at an international accord forbidding any insult to monotheistic religions. As a result, the session that could have centered on Palestinian statehood has now been refocused to discuss Islamic honor.
Subsequently, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas convened a meeting with Fatah and PLO leadership to discuss a possible presidential election in the West Bank only, without Gaza’s participation, and reconsider a previous decision not to press for statehood prior to the American election in November.
To make Ramallah’s situation worse, in addition to the isolation that resulted from the reaction to the infamous film, PLO leadership has also suffered the loss of Egyptian support in the form of former President Mubarak and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
Hamas, however, immerged as the big winner of the revolution in Egypt and the resulting ouster of Mubarak. Yet, internal divisions inside Hamas are complicating its relations with Cairo.
The core problem inside Hamas is the dispute between the local leadership in Gaza and the diaspora leadership that settled in Qatar after leaving Syria. While the diaspora leadership, led by Khaled Mashal and Mussa Abu Marzuq, aligned with the Cairo-based Muslim Brotherhood, the local leadership in Gaza, led by Mahmud Zahhar and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, including the military wing led by the Qassam Brigades, have kept close relations with Iran.
Gaza coordinates its policies with Tehran rather than with Cairo. Accordingly, Egypt has been promoting the relationship with Hamas’ diaspora wing and downgrading its relationship with Gaza. Prime Minister Haniyeh’s visit to Cairo has been delayed twice, while Mash’al and Abu Marzuq were quickly welcomed in the capital and received by President Mursi in the presidential palace. Haniyeh, on the other hand, was received only by Prime Minister Qandil and denied a photo opportunity.
The division between Egypt and Gaza was also clearly seen in their divergent reactions to the film; while Cairo tried to put out the flames, Gaza followed Iran's line of adding fuel to the fire.
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