Hamas taking hard line over peace negotiations


Attacks on settlers will continue unless the rulers of Gaza can be accommodated, writes MICHAEL JANSEN

BY RESPONDING with violence to the resumption of Fatah-Israeli negotiations, Hamas, ruler of Gaza, is demonstrating that there can be no peace between the Palestinians and Israel unless Hamas is involved.

Hamas’s military wing has so far staged two drive-by shootings in the West Bank, killing four settlers near the contested city of Hebron and wounding two near the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority’s administrative centre of Ramallah.

Mahmoud Zahar, a leading Hamas figure in Gaza, said attacks and targeting of settlers would continue in the West Bank.

The fact that he is the most senior Hamas leader to speak for the movement at this point reveals that the Gaza leadership, which is normally more moderate than the Damascus-based politburo, is taking a hard line. In recent months it has followed the more flexible Gaza stance but the resumption of negotiations could reverse the politburo’s position.

Hamas believes it has no option but violence. The movement, which won a majority of seats in the Palestinian legislature in the 2006 election, has been ostracised and sidelined by Fatah, the US and Israel. Fatah has refused to accept Hamas’s victory while the US and Israel reject dealings with Hamas unless it agrees to formal recognition of Israel, an end to armed struggle, and previous deals reached by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel.

Hamas has said repeatedly it would accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, indirectly recognising the existence of Israel, agree to a long-term ceasefire and respect past agreements.

But the movement’s proposal has been dismissed.

Nevertheless, Hamas is determined to show it is a player and can act the part of spoiler by attacking Israelis. However, Gaza economist Omar Shebab said that since the attacks were not mounted in Israel itself, Hamas is limiting operations to the occupied territories, thereby demonstrating its recognition of Israel within 1967 borders.

It may also be significant that the two operations took place in locations controlled by Israel rather than those administered by the Fatah- dominated Palestinian Authority (PA), which rounded up and detained more than 300 Hamas supporters following the attacks.

The organisation appears to be pointing out that armed resistance to the Israeli occupation is likely to resume if negotiations fail, as most Palestinians, Israelis and informed foreign analysts predict.

Hamas, which does not belong to the PLO, is positioning itself for failure. The movement, which has demonstrated it remains a force outside Gaza, seeks to succeed Fatah in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Fatah, which assumed control of the PLO in 1968, is already collapsing into squabbling splinter groups and could disintegrate if the negotiations do not produce a Palestinian state in nearly all the territory occupied by Israel in June 1967.

Under the presidency of Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah, the PLO and the PA have put all Palestinian eggs in the negotiations basket. Mr Abbas’s predecessor, Yasser Arafat, proffered gun and olive branch, keeping armed action as a threat if negotiations failed.

Fatah is also sharply criticised for failing to develop peaceful options other than negotiations, such as mass protests and civil disobedience taken up by activists in a handful of villages and towns across the West Bank.

Although Fatah is supposed to be administering West Bank Palestinian enclaves, the PA government is headed by Salam Fayyad, an independent, and 10 of 21 cabinet members are technocrats, including the key ministers of finance, interior and foreign affairs. Fatah, regarded by many Palestinians as corrupt, has been clamouring for a reshuffle. Mr Abbas has not obliged.

Fatah did not dare hold municipal elections this summer because its candidates could have been defeated. It has sacrificed whatever popular credibility it retained by going into direct negotiations without a halt to Israeli settlement construction, agreement to begin where talks were suspended in 2008, and a plan for tackling final status issues. Also positioning themselves for disaster, former Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan has predicted failure and 700 prominent West Bank figures from the nine other PLO factions opposed to talks signed a petition calling on Mr Abbas to pull out.