Rantisi: Failure to Reach Deal Won't Lead to Civil War

GAZA CITY - There will be no Palestinian civil war, even if Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas fails to persuade Hamas to agree to a cease-fire, senior Hamas official Abdel Aziz Rantisi said in an interview with Haaretz Tuesday. The full interview appears in this Friday's edition of Haaretz.

Senior officials in Abbas's Fatah party confirmed Rantisi's assessment, telling Haaretz that the Palestinian Authority's security services had no intention of making – as well as no ability to make - mass arrests of Hamas members as they did in 1996.

Speaking from his house in Gaza City's Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, Rantisi reiterated his movement's official position - that Hamas is studying the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire. Other Hamas sources said that the organization would be willing to uphold a cease-fire, even if it was not formally declared. But the Hamas is expecting Abbas to show them Israeli guarantees Israel will halt its assassinations of wanted men. Other armed groups - including the armed wing of Fatah - support the Hamas position on the issue.

However, it is not clear that even proponents of a cease-fire would go along with Abbas's demand that it apply in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as inside Israel.

Another senior Hamas official, Ismail Abu Shenab, who participated in the cease-fire talks with the Egyptians, gave Haaretz a summary of how his organization viewed the pros and cons of a truce. The advocates, he said, argued that this would enable the Palestinians to prove to the world that Israel under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was not interested in peace. They also say it would expose the U.S.-backed road map for Israeli-Palestinian talks as nothing more than a security arrangement, not a peace plan, he added.

Opponents argue that a cease-fire will enable Sharon to boast that Israel's army defeated Hamas. Additionally, they say, it will lead to an economic upswing in Israel.

Rantisi, in his interview, declined to relate to the details of the internal Hamas debate or to hint at what he viewed as its most likely outcome. Yet his answers did reflect some of the internal tension in his own stances.

For instance, he did not repudiate the statement he made last week, immediately after being wounded in an Israeli assassination attempt, that "the struggle will continue until the last Jew has left the country."

Asked how long he thinks this will take, he replied: "Dozens of years."

From a religious perspective, he explained, the Jews view this land as theirs, while Muslims view it as Muslim land that must be liberated.

But he then went on to say that these views constituted a "diagnosis" of the future sparked by current Israeli aggression, which, he said, "is pushing us over the edge, so that the Palestinians have nothing to lose."

And in the next breath, asked whether he was not pushing his people into a life of permanent misery and the constant threat of death, he replied: "No one can guarantee that Hamas will be able to bring about the land's liberation within 100 or 200 years. Without dramatic changes in the region, it will be impossible. We can't tell our people to continue in an unequal struggle. But we also can't tell them to give in."

This led him to a view that has hitherto been associated with those defined as the movement's "moderates": If Israel would withdraw from all the land it captured in 1967, dismantle all the settlements and enable an independent Palestinian state, "there will be an end to the struggle, in the form of a long-term truce."