THE EMERGING HAMAS ROLE -
A Most Uncertain Future
MER - Washington - 10 October, 1997:
The Middle East today is so unstable that practically anything is possible. A regional war, probably limited but with major political ramifications expected to emerge from it, is possible -- and indeed onall sides considerable effort and money are being spent to arm and prepare for such an eventuality. The demise of the Arafat "PA" and the deceptive "Oslo Peace Process" is certainly possible -- especiallyshould Arafat pass from the scene and/or the Israeli attempts to foment a Palestinian civil war be successful. Or possibly even a ceasefire with Hamas and Hizbollah could result if the regional situationotherwise threatens to destabilize further -- clearly this is why King Hussein of Jordan is so nervous, so active, and so desperate to keep Hamas and the Islamacists in check. An attempt to somehow co-optHamas in one way or another does seem to be underway from the Israeli/U.S./client-regimes side; and Hamas has its own reasons it seems for not keeping the door shut and locked.
Normally American reporting and wire service reports are not the stuff of MER. But the extraordinary events of the past few weeks have resulted in some unusually insightful reporting, and these two Associated Press articles from the past week are worth pondering.
Even so, a very skeptical eye is needed now more than ever these days. The "establishment" media misses and misreports so much; plus fails so often in both perspective and analysis.
For instance, nearly all of the Palestinians "released" by Israel were scheduled for release in coming months anyway. And with Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the Israelis have been extremely nervous about the possibility he could die in their prisons, and had been looking for some time for a way to get rid of him even at substantial short-term political cost.
by crafting the "deal" as they did, "in return" for "releasing" those the
Israelis were planning to let go in one way or another anyway, the King
of Jordan had the excuse he needed to return the Mossad assassins to his
"peace partner" across the river -- something he also desperately wanted
to do in view of his long-time collusion with both the Israelis and the
Americans spanning so many decades. Just
imagine what might come out in a trial the whole world would be watching!
PLAYING LARGE ROLE IN MIDEAST
By LAURA KING
As a result of an extraordinary convergence of fate andpolitics, Hamas now has more power, more prestige - and the cloutto demand a greater role in Palestinian policy making.
The wild cheers echoing through a Gaza City soccer stadium onMonday reflected a keen appreciation of this reversal of fortunefor Hamas, a virulent opponent of peace with Israel. More than10,000 people turned out to pay fervent tribute to the group'sfounder and spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, freed after eightyears in an Israeli jail.
Followers waving Palestinian flags waited hours in the sweltering sun to catch a glimpse of the 61-year-old Yassin andhear a few brief comments relayed by an aide.
The homecoming could not have been sweeter - especially since itcoincided with the spectacle of Israel's prime minister squirmingover a botched attempt to assassinate another Hamas leader, Khalid Mashaal, in Jordan.
In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insistedthe attack was justified, but agreed to launch a probe of whatcritics have ridiculed as an intelligence operation out of thepages of pulp fiction.
That Mashaal escaped nearly unscathed was just icing on the cakefor Hamas. After the Sept. 25 attack, he spent a week in aJordanian hospital, recovering from a dose of poison administeredby two assailants who jumped him on a street in Amman - andpainting himself as the victim of terrorism.
Yassin's freedom was only part of the price Israel paid for thatbungled hit. As part of a widely reported swap for the two Israeliagents involved in the assassination attempt, the Netanyahu government also freed 20 Palestinian and Jordanian prisoners who returned home Monday.
Both Israeli and Jordanian officials said more prisoners wouldbe freed in the next two weeks. As if this wasn't bonanza enough for Hamas, the freeing of these activists badly undermines Netanyahu's demands that Yasser Arafat'sPalestinian Authority crack down on Hamas by jailing its members.
The assassination attempt on Jordanian soil also hurt KingHussein, perhaps eroding his efforts to contain an increasinglypowerful Islamic fundamentalist movement at home. To counter anynotion that he had condoned the attack, the monarch made sureYassin got red-carpet treatment after Israel flew him to Jordanafter his release from prison last week.
Not only Netanyahu and King Hussein find themselves in difficult straits - so does Hamas' chief rival, Arafat.
The outpouring of support for Yassin forced Arafat to pay publicobeisance to the returning sheik. He flew to Jordan to shower theHamas leader with kisses and good wishes.
Arafat and his advisers have tried to put the best possible faceon Yassin's return, stressing that he had spoken in the past ofhalting attacks against Israel. Hamas has carried out more than adozen suicide bombings since 1994.
Senior Palestinian sources also argued that Yassin's presencewould shift the center of authority in Hamas back to Gaza - andaway from its more radical leaders abroad.
But Arafat, perhaps reluctant to stand by as Hamas leadersdelivered fiery anti-Israel speeches, was conspicuously absent fromYassin's emotional homecoming in Gaza on Monday.
However, Yassin made conciliatory gestures toward Arafat today,calling him ``my president.''
``I say to the Palestinian Authority that we are not fightingthem and we will not fight them,'' he told reporters after arrivingin Gaza City. ``We will not allow for there to be a struggle between us and our brothers in the Palestinian Authority. We areone against the enemy.''
Later, speaking to hundreds of Islamic University students,Yassin asked them to stop chanting ``We are all Hamas.''
``Such slogans only create hatred,'' he said. ``This is something I do not want from you.''
Israeli observers took gloomy note of Hamas' public-relationsgains.
``Mounting public sympathy for the leader of the Hamas movement,which is in the forefront of the opposition to Arafat and hisgovernment, can only come at Arafat's expense and so reduce hisability to fight Hamas,'' said the Ha'aretz newspaper.
Hamas, for its part, has put the Palestinian Authority on noticethat it expects to no longer be treated like a spurned outsider.
``It's time to promote Palestinian unity and establish afruitful Palestinian dialogue,'' Hamas spokesman Abdel Aziz Rantisisaid in Gaza, hours after Yassin's homecoming. He coupled that witha demand that Hamas organizations closed in the last two weeks aspart of a tentative Arafat crackdown be reopened.
At the soccer stadium, it seemed to some in the sweltering crowdof Hamas followers that more than Yassin's day had come.
``We waited and waited for this,'' said engineer Issa Nashal.``Now our time is finally here.''
HAMAS LEADER HINTS AT CEASE FIRE
By IBRAHIM BARZAK
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - A day after his triumphant homecoming, Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin today held out the possibility of a cease-fire with Israel that would end suicidebombings.
The offer, although accompanied by demands for a full Israeliwithdrawal from occupied lands and other conditions, indicated theIslamic militant group was willing to negotiate rather than destroythe peace process. Hamas leaders previously have spoken only of a``holy war'' to establish an Islamic state in all of what is nowIsrael.
Meanwhile, an Israeli official confirmed reports that Israel hadreceived an earlier cease-fire proposal from Hamas - conveyed viaKing Hussein of Jordan - two days before Israel's botched assassinationattempt on another Hamas leader in Jordan.
But the proposal was handed to low-level officials and did notreach Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu until the day afterthe assassination attempt, and then only as an intelligence report,said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
David Bar-Illan, a senior Netanyahu aide, said the latest Hamaspeace feeler was ``a positive change'' despite the ``unacceptableconditions.''
``We would like to hope that it means that he will preach peacerather than violence,'' Bar-Illan said today. ``There is noquestion he has a following and charisma.'' However, he said Israelwould not pursue a cease-fire agreement until Hamas formally abandonsits policy of attacking Israelis and destroying the Jewish state.
Speaking at his home in Gaza City, Yassin said he told Israeliofficials Hamas would stop targeting civilians if Israel would dothe same and also halt the confiscation of Palestinian land forJewish settlements.
``Israel is confiscating and killing,'' said Yassin. ``If Israelstops its attacks against our civilians, we will not do anythingagainst civilians.''
Yassin also made conciliatory gestures toward Palestinian leaderYasser Arafat, who has been under pressure from Israel and theUnited States to crack down on Hamas.
The sheik said there was no competition between Hamas andArafat's Palestinian Authority.
``I say to the Palestinian Authority that we are not fightingthem and we will not fighting them,'' Yassin said. ``We will notallow for there to be a struggle between us and our brothers ... Weare one against the enemy.''
``My president is the president of the Palestinian state and thepresident of the Palestinian people, whom I am one of,'' he added.
Speaking to hundreds of Islamic University students near hishome, Yassin asked them to stop chanting, ``We are all Hamas.''
``Such slogans only create hatred,'' the sheik told the students. ``This is something I do not want from you.''
who served eight years of a life sentence for orderingkillings of Israelis
and Palestinian collaborators, returned to Gazaon Monday as part of a swap
worked out following the botched Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan
on Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal. Israelalso released 20 other Palestinian
and Jordanian prisoners, and inreturn two Israeli Mossad agents captured
in the bungled operation
In his first public comments on the operation Monday, Netanyahuindirectly accepted responsibility but insisted Israel had nochoice but to ``fight terrorism.''
``As prime minister, I have the highest responsibility to fightin every possible way against terror,'' he said. ``This is a war.There are no concessions in the war against terror.''
Under the auspices of U.S. mediator Dennis Ross, meanwhile,Israel and the Palestinians resumed negotiations today after aseven-month hiatus. Lower-level committees met to try to resolvedisagreements over unimplemented parts of past Israel-Palestnianaccords, such as a seaport and airport in Gaza and road linksbetween Gaza and the West Bank.
Ross also met separately today with Arafat and Netanyahu. Yassin and other Hamas leaders stopped short of endorsing theidea of a peace settlement to end the conflict with Israel, offeringonly a limited cease-fire that would temporarily stop the conflict.
``Look, in the Islamic religion, we can make a cease-fire withour enemy. But how should this cease-fire look? We should have commonterms. Until now, we didn't agree with our enemy, Israel, on suchconditions,'' Yassin said.
``We say only that the Islam religion gives us the right to havea limited cease-fire, and did not give the right to have acease-fire forever.''
In offering a cease-fire, Yassin used the word ``hudna,'' theterm used by the Prophet Mohammed in arranging a 10-year truce withthe Qraish, an ancient tribe that once ruled Mecca.
A senior Israeli security official said Israel was doubtful ofthe sincerity of the offer, saying Hamas leaders feel they have areligious justification to make temporary agreements that they donot intend to keep. He said the truce with the Qraish was broken,lasting only 18 months before the prophet's forces took Mecca.
Yassin also left unclear what Hamas' demands were.
``Could you imagine that anyone who was going to have a cease-fire would publish his conditions in the media before he sitsin front of his enemy? This is not logical,'' he said.
He then added demands that were rejected by Israel out of hand.
``If Israel would withdraw completely from the West Bank andGaza Strip and leave its settlements there and in Jerusalem, I willhave a cease-fire with Israel,'' he said. ``I am ready to sign acease-fire agreement with them.''