Most of the Arabs who are now condemning Israel for its military strikes against the Iran-backed Hamas terrorist group in the Gaza Strip have never uttered a word against Hamas's rocket attacks on Israel. These Arabs, who are now weeping over the plight of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, chose to turn a blind eye to Hamas's repressive measures against the residents of the Gaza Strip. They also chose to look the other way as Hamas accumulated an arsenal of weapons and built dozens of offensive tunnels along the border with Israel. Incredibly, most of these Arabs still have not denounced Hamas for initiating the war on October 7, when hundreds of its heavily armed members crossed into Israel and massacred more than 1,200 Israelis, wounded thousands more, and abducted more than 200 hostages who were taken to Gaza.
Notably, some of the Arab and Muslim states and their leaders who are pointing the finger of blame at Israel have not hesitated to take punitive measures against Hamas when they themselves felt threatened or were unhappy with the actions and rhetoric of the group. In the eyes of these rulers, it is fine for Arabs to punish Hamas, but it is not fine for Israel to respond to the worst atrocity ever committed against its citizens.
The Palestinian Authority (PA), whose leaders have been condemning Israel since the beginning of the war, appears to have forgotten about the violent and bloody coup Hamas carried out in the summer of 2007. Then, Hamas killed and injured hundreds of PA loyalists, some of whom were tossed from rooftops of buildings throughout the Gaza Strip. Other Palestinians were dragged into to the street and brutally lynched by Hamas members. In response, PA President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree outlawing the armed groups of Hamas and said that its members would be prosecuted. Abbas said that he decided to "consider the [Hamas] Executive Unit and the militias of the Hamas movement illegal, due to their military coup against the Palestinian legitimacy and its institutions, and anyone who is involved in any of these groups will be punished in accordance with the law and regulations of the state of emergency."
In 2018, Abbas directly accused Hamas of carrying out a bomb attack targeting former PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in the Gaza Strip. A roadside bomb exploded as Hamdallah's convoy entered Gaza. Hamdallah was unhurt, while six of his bodyguards were lightly wounded. At a meeting of the Palestinian Authority leadership shortly after the assassination attempt, Abbas said:
"We do not want them [Hamas] to investigate, we do not want information from them, we do not want anything from them because we know exactly that they, the Hamas movement, were the ones who committed this incident."
The same year, Abbas, in an effort to undermine Hamas, implemented a number of punitive measures against the Gaza Strip. They included withholding salaries to thousands of civil servants and refusing to pay for the electricity Israel supplied to the Gaza Strip. Abbas later went as far as accusing Hamas of being a "spy" for Israel after the terror group arrested dozens of his supporters in Gaza.
This is the same Abbas who is now afraid, or unwilling, to hold Hamas responsible for the outbreak of the war. On October 15, the PA's official news agency, Wafa, published comments by Abbas that criticized Hamas for its assault on Israel. The agency, however, later removed references to the terror group without providing an explanation. The original Wafa report included the line: "The president [Abbas] also stressed that Hamas's policies and actions do not represent the Palestinian people, and the policies." Several hours later, the phrase was adjusted to exclude Hamas.
The new version reads:
"President Abbas also stressed that the policies, programs and decisions of the PLO are what represent the Palestinian people as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and not the policies of any other organization."
Abbas has good reason to avoid overt criticism of Hamas. He is aware of the pro-Hamas demonstrations in the West Bank, including the de facto capital of the Palestinians, Ramallah, where demonstrators chanted slogans calling for toppling the Palestinian Authority leadership.
The Egyptians, Jordanians and Syrians, who are now condemning Israel for targeting Hamas, have not hesitated to confront Hamas when it threatened their national security.
In 2014, an Egyptian court declared Hamas, an off-shoot of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood organization, a "terrorist organization." Egyptian prosecutors told Cairo's Court of Urgent Matters:
"Hamas is a terrorist organization whose involvement in terrorist attacks killing Egyptian soldiers and officers from the armed forces and interior ministry has been proven."
The Egyptian military, in addition, claims that over the past decade it has destroyed most of the tunnels that had been used to smuggle weapons from Egypt to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Tamer al-Refai, an Egyptian military spokesman, announced in 2020 that Egypt had destroyed more than 3,000 tunnels leading into the Gaza Strip since 2015. The tunnels were as long as three kilometers; some ran as deep as 30 meters into the ground, al-Refaid said.
In 2015, Egypt's state-run newspaper Al-Ahram accused Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood of conspiring to overthrow the Egyptian regime within the next few years. The newspaper quoted "informed sources" who accused Hamas's military wing of coordinating plans with the Muslim Brotherhood to hit Egyptian military targets and vital installations and distribute footage of the attacks to undermine national morale.
The same year, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to life in prison over charges of collaborating with Hamas and Iran's Lebanon-based proxy, Hezbollah. It is worth noting that Hamas leaders have since been permitted to visit Egypt without any restrictions. True, there is no love affair between Egypt and Hamas, but once you invite the leaders of the terror group to regular meetings with senior government officials in Cairo, you are giving legitimacy to Hamas and signaling to other countries that there is no reason why they too should not do so.
In 1999, Jordan, whose leaders have also refrained from denouncing Hamas's October 7 massacre of Israelis, expelled the terror group's political leaders from the country. Jordan's King Abdullah, apparently fearing that the activities of Hamas and its local allies would jeopardize peace negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, accused Hamas of engaging in illegitimate activities within Jordan. Earlier, Jordanian authorities had arrested several Hamas leaders, including Khaled Mashaal and Ibrahim Ghosheh, upon their return from a visit to Iran, and charged them with membership in an illegal organization, storing weapons, conducting military exercises and using Jordan as a training base.
In 2006, the Jordanians have also accused Hamas members of smuggling missiles and other weapons into the country. A Jordanian official told Associated Press at that time that "missiles, explosives and automatic weapons were seized in the last couple of days." Hamas activists had managed to smuggle "such dangerous weapons into the country" and store them, the official revealed. Despite a crackdown, Jordan's King Abdullah received a senior Hamas delegation in Amman in 2012. Such meetings benefit Hamas and legitimize it in the eyes of Arabs and Muslims.
Syrian, for its part, has also targeted Hamas. In 2012, Syria's state-run media unleashed a scathing attack on Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, accusing him of turning his back on Syrian President Bashar Assad and describing Mashaal as ungrateful and traitorous. Earlier, Syrian authorities closed Hamas's offices in Damascus after the terror group failed to support Assad at the beginning of the Syrian civil war in Syria. Last year, however, Assad, like Jordan's King Abdullah and the Egyptians, lifted the ban and met with a senior Hamas delegation in Damascus.
These rulers now find it awkward to come out against the same terrorists with whom they have been meeting.
In the past decade, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has also been seeking rapprochement with Hamas. He has repeatedly met with Hamas leaders and discussed with them ways of achieving national unity. The last meeting was held in late July in Ankara, where Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh were jointly received by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Despite their disputes with Hamas, the rulers of the PA, Egypt, Jordan and Syria have been working to improve their relations with the terror group. By doing so, they have strengthened Hamas and turned it into a significant player in the Middle East.
None of these rulers has ever taken a single step to help the Palestinians get relief from Hamas's human rights violations against the people living under their brutal rule in the Gaza Strip. Those violations have included the arrest and murder of political rivals and crackdowns on journalists and human rights advocates. None of these rulers has ever called out Hamas for transforming the Gaza Strip into a terror base for Iran. When these rulers were unhappy with Hamas, they expelled its leaders, shut their offices and outlawed its armed wing.
Now that Hamas has brought down hell on two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, perhaps these Arab and Muslim rulers will finally decide whose side are they on. Will they continue to embrace the very Hamas they have targeted for threatening them and their regimes, or will stand with those who -- on their behalf as well -- are defending themselves against Iran and its proxies?
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem.