Hamas and the post-Arafat Era
Last month, the US State Department widened the scope of its campaign to seize terrorist assets by including organizations that target Israel. In furtherance of that policy, $13M in assets of the Holy Land Foundation were seized in Richardson, Texas and throughout the country. Subsequent investigations will detail the extent to which American charities are used to finance overseas terrorist operations. The decision to add Hamas to the list of terrorist organizations (along with Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front of the Liberation of Palestine) and the seizure of its assets, now places this organization on par with the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden.
The true tragedy for the average impoverished Palestinian is that Hamas has so intertwined its terrorist philosophy of hate with its humanitarian efforts on behalf of the Palestinians, that it has undermined itself and betrayed those whom it seeks to assist. In doing so, ironically, it has presented the Palestinian Authority with an opportunity that can only be seized by pursuing an Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.
Sari Nusseibah, the Jerusalem-based moderate Palestinian leader noted after the August 9th suicide bomb attack on Sbarroâ€™s restaurant in Jerusalem that left 17 dead and over 40 injured: â€œWeâ€™re telling the Israelis that we want to kick you out: itâ€™s not that we want liberation, freedom and independence in the West Bank and Gaza, we want to kick you out of your home. And in order to make sure that the Israelis get the message, people go out to a disco or restaurant and blow themselves up. The whole thing is just crazy, ugly and totally counterproductive. The secret is to get Israelis to side with you. We have lost our allies.â€
Nusseibahâ€™s anger, and the future of the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a credible governing body for a future Palestinian State are both rooted in a frustration born of an organization (Hamas) that, if not dismantled and superceded, will undermine any possibility of such a State.
Hamas, the Arabic acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement, like al Qaeda, is waging a Holy War against the â€œinfidelâ€ Israel. As such, it doe not merely represent a threat to Israel; it represents a threat to Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation.
The means used by Hamas to increase its influence over the Palestinians are the mosques and schools of Gaza and the West Bank. Within the walls of these institutions, Hamas recruits members for its military apparatus and preaches violence and terror in order to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic State. Palestinian children are trained in special summer camps and youth groups to become â€œholy warriorsâ€ and to use firearms in the â€œJihad.â€ Surviving families enjoy the moral and economic backing of the preachers in the mosques, the directors of Hamas-affiliated institutions, and Hamasâ€™s many charity committees.
In addition, Palestinian educational television glorifies the murder of Jews, praises child Jihad martyrdom, teaches nursery rhymes of hate and revenge, and calls upon children to â€œthrow down their toys and take up arms.â€ Extensive coverage is given to rallies and protests in which mock-up Israeli school buses or villages are destroyed, and the religious authorities extol the virtues of self-immolation and suicide bombings in the name of Allah. Through systematic indoctrination, social pressure and the promise of Paradise, Hamas religious and military leaders recruit young undereducated, unemployed men from poor Palestinian families for suicide missions and other attacks culminating with the deadly suicide bombings of December 1st.
However, unlike the more shadowy Islamic Jihad, Hamas has a well-entrenched, all encompassing presence in the daily lives of West Bank and Gaza residents as it administers mosques, schools, clinics, youth groups, athletic clubs and day care centers. Capitalizing on depleted PLO coffers after the PLOâ€™s ill-fated support of Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War, Hamas augmented its social service infrastructure by providing Palestinians with essential human services that the PLO can no longer furnish. In fact, 85% of Hamasâ€™s budget is believed to finance its social service activities. Many Palestinians are drawn primarily or solely to Hamasâ€™s humanitarian service rather than its political and military doctrines. However, the boundaries between Hamasâ€™s humanitarian, political, social and military activities are blurred particularly since Hamas leaders use mosques, kindergartens and youth clubs as forums for disseminating hatred and mobilizing support for violence against Israel. With an estimated 20-40 percent support in the West Bank, and 60-80 percent support in Gaza, Hamas has become a force with which the PA must now reckon if it is to survive and to remain credible.
If the Palestinians wish statehood, they must learn both from the failures and from the successes of Hamas.
The PA, under a new, credible and moderate leadership, must move against the terrorists in its midst and accept accountability for terrorist activities emanating from within its jurisdiction. Failing that, there will be no Palestinian State. Israel will give no quarter to terrorists nor will it give quarter to those who support terrorism (regardless of what these suicide bombers may call themselves). To the Israelis, Yasser Arafat has no credibility. His failure to confiscate illegal arms; his failure to disarm and disband terrorist organizations even though their names and addresses are known; his failure to arrest and detain known terrorists for trial (as opposed to his â€œrevolving door policyâ€ of releasing them after international media attention wanes); his incitement of violence against Israel in the Palestinian media and school textbooks; his failure to satisfactorily change the PLO Covenant so that it unequivocally recognizes Israelâ€™s right to exist without dispute; and the recruiting of terrorist for the Palestinian police collectively place his credibility at issue.
The fact remains that Arafat was offered a Palestinian State on 95% of the West Bank and Gaza, the uprooting of 95% of the settlements, and a part of Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital three years ago under then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, yet he chose terror over negotiation leading to the fall of the Barak government. For the Palestinians, Arafat has delivered nothing but hollow promises, abject poverty and death. As a former Israeli Ambassador to the US once notedâ€¦â€the Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.â€
To succeed in achieving statehood, the PA must institute serious educational reforms through the enactment of new guidelines, regulations and curricula for its public school system; monitor the media and Palestinian educational television to ensure that children are not exposed to propaganda glorifying murder, martyrdom, hate and revenge; closely regulate Palestinian educational and religious institutions by removing those who preach religious fundamentalism, violence, hatred and suicide in the name of Allah, and/or close the institution itself or eliminate its sources of funding; establish and maintain an electoral process that reflects the will of the Palestinian people as expressed through the democratic process (as opposed to terrorism and intimidation) and agree to negotiate differences rather than to resort to violence.
The PA, under a more enlightened leadership, has now been presented with an opportunity to undermine Hamas by substituting itself for Hamas in the humanitarian causes that has Hamas perverted â€“ administering mosques, schools, clinics, youth groups, athletic clubs, day care centers and in the social and human services sectors.
To achieve these results, however, will require a level of international aid that only peace with Israel can bring.
Sadat delivered the Sinai to the Egyptians without violence and suicide bombings. It remains to be seen who can deliver a Palestinian State.
The only certainty is that Arafat cannot.