Quiet, Ahmad Yassin is speaking
The power of organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestinian society leans on two dominant attributes: faith and nationalism. They have turned themselves into the keepers of the national conscience and the purity of faith.
No state has a longer bloody score to settle with radical Islamic organizations than Algeria. More than 100,000 people were killed and murdered in the past ten years because of a struggle between the government and those organizations. Islamic terror continues to strike at Algeria, but the government managed to reach an understanding with the Islamic Salvation Front, the largest organization which had caused the most bloodshed. Last week it released the front's two leaders after 12 years in prison.
In Egypt too, a reconciliation process is developing between the government and radical Islamic groups. Their leaders have announced that they want to reach "peace" with the Egyptian government. No more terror and no more subversion against the authorities.
Partnerships between governments and organizations and religious movements are an inseparable part of politics in the Arab states, even more so in Muslim states like Iran and Pakistan. Palestine is not, and probably will not be, any different. The power of organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestinian society leans on two dominant attributes: faith and nationalism. They have turned themselves into the keepers of the national conscience and the purity of faith.
These organizations have no discourse with Israel. They leave this "act of treason" to those who have already sinned anyway. But if Abu Mazen fails to free prisoners, get the Israel Defense Forces to evacuate towns and promote the overall withdrawal, and if he acts contrary to religious edicts, it will be Hamas and Jihad that will crack the whip over his head. No wonder, therefore, that it is Ahmad Yassin's statements about the hudna are the ones that count and were quoted after the Egyptian delegation's visit to Gaza.
These movements are no longer the underground cells known from the 1980s. More than 30 percent of the population support their ideas, according to the surveys of the Palestinian Institute for Public Opinion. This does not mean that 30 percent of the population are members of these organizations, but that they identify with the causes they represent. Hence the futility in the demand to abolish them. The fight against them has become pointless.
As a feasible alternative to such an impossible war, Abu Mazen believes he can integrate these organizations in the Palestinian political system, as other Arab leaders have done with Islamic organizations. He does not intend to dissolve them and will try to use their weapons in his own defense system. It is doubtful whether he will succeed, because the present hudna has given these organizations a similar political clout that the suicide bombings gave them - a lever to dictate policy. Joining the Palestinian Authority may deprive them of this power.
This new power balance puts both Israel and the PA in a position they tried to avoid in the present and previous intifada. Israel is conducting negotiations with the PA although the terrorist attacks are continuing, while the PA is forced to give in to organizations it regards as an ideological enemy.
The struggle is therefore for time and achievements. In less than three months, the organizations will consider themselves exempt from the hudna and the PA will have to decide if it is fighting them or joining the Palestinian public that supports them.
Israel's objective is to make the PA's decision unbearably difficult. This will not be accomplished by tight-fisted negotiations over the release of prisoners, staging fake evacuations of mock outposts, the bluff of easing up on the traffic restrictions or dragging out the talks. Israel and the PA are now engaged in a tug-of-war with the opposition groups for Palestinian public opinion.
This is the time for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to demonstrate leadership and turn the "painful concessions" into real acts. Otherwise the hudna will be merely a brief interval for cleaning weapons.