zondag 17 juni 2007

Analysis: Looking law-abiding is the toughest task facing Hamas

Last update - 02:03 17/06/2007

Analysis: Looking law-abiding is the toughest task facing Hamas

By Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondents

In a press conference in Damascus on Friday, Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal looked like an abusive husband trying to convince his wife to return home.

"We have no plans to control Gaza," Meshal claimed. "We were forced to take over as an emergency measure." He explained that "Hamas plans to cooperate with Mahmoud Abbas for the good of the Palestinian people."

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, for his part, claimed that his organization is still committed to Palestinian unity.

The statements sound less than honest less than 24 hours after Hamas militants conducted a murderous political purge of the Gaza Strip. The past three days have included the arrests of dozens of senior Fatah officials, the looting of the Presidential Palace, and the robbing of homes of anyone ever associated with Fatah.

Not only Yasser Arafat's residence, but the home of businessman Ihab Al-Askhar who hasn't been active in Fatah for 13 years and that of Mohammed Dahlan's mother.

Hamas is trying to bring routine back to Gaza's streets. Once again, Hamas is wrapping itself in moderate garb and explaining that it didn't act against Fatah, only against Dahlan's branch.

Hamas even promises the imminent release of abducted BBC journalist Alan Johnston as part of law and order measures.

But despite efforts to create the appearance of business as usual, Hamas leaders face a complex task.

Meshal, Haniyeh and particularly the leaders of the military wing green-lighted not only the civil war, but also atrocities like the execution of Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade militant Samiah Al-Madhoun.

Hamas militants who abused corpses, threw fellow Palestinians off high-rises, burned and looted, will have trouble getting up the next day looking like a law-abiding public.

And it is not just the street Hamas will have trouble controlling. The organization's supposed mainstream also has a prominent extremist group that sees Fatah as a gang of heretics.

Fatah officials, too, are trying to create the impression of business as usual. Salam Fayad was appointed to head a Palestinian emergency government that probably no one understands how will function and may only emphasize the rift between the West Bank and Gaza. Many in Fatah believe their last hope after the serious blow to Dahlan is in an Israeli prison.

However, it seems restoring Fatah to its former glory in Gaza will be too big a job, even for a freed Marwan Barghouti.

The Israeli defense establishment had two approaches to the situation over the weekend: one viewed the events gravely and claimed that Fatah's defeat would lead to a serious deterioration of Israel-PA relations. The second sought a ray of light. They said it comes from the fact everything is clearer now in Gaza. There are no more "bad" and "good" Palestinians. There is one address in Gaza - Hamas, with which it is possible to speak only with force.

Either way, the defense establishment assumes Hamas will be interested in the short term in calm with Israel to stabilize its hold on the strip. The central dilemma for Israel is opening the border crossings. In a few days, reports will appear in the media about the suffering of Gaza residents. It is unlikely it will be possible to dump the problem on Egypt's doorstep, since that country is not enthusiastic to let most of the goods into Gaza from its territory via the Rafah crossing.

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