When Israel Backed Hamas
In the game of "Prostrate the Palestinians", the geniuses within Labour and Likud gave material and political backing to the radical Islamists in order to discredit the PLO and the Palestinian Left. Clever bastards, huh...and doubtlessly high-fived in Washington.
However, for those of us who are uninformed of Dubya's and Ohlmert's darkest intentions, now that they've pushed the secular moderates in the Arab world off the stage, what's next? Personally, I don't see how permanently annexing all of Jerusalem and the Jordan River Valley, which Ehud Olmert announced yesterday, is going to bring about peace.
When Israel backed Hamas
LE MONDE | 4 February 2006 | CHARLES ENDERLIN |
Some lonely Cassandras had already sounded the alarm: Israeli policies contribute to the Islamization of Palestinian society.
In 1976, Israeli leaders were incapable of understanding reality. Shimon Perez was then Defense Minister in the first Rabin government. Hoping for a victory by pro-Jordanian candidates, Israel allowed municipal elections on the West Bank on April 12. Unhappily for them, their calculations proved wrong. Voters cast their ballots in a landslide for the PLO and the secular Palestinian Left.
A few days later, to promote the emergence of a new political force in Gaza, the Israeli military approved the creation of the “Islamic Association”, whose declared aim was to propagate Islam through cultural activities and sport. The spiritual leader of the movement, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, was an ailing 40 year-old sheikh: Ahmed Yassin. Military governors made regular visits to Yassin as a token of honor. The generals explained: It is better for Palestinians if they stay out of politics. The arrival of Likud to power will not change Israel's protective attitude towards the Brotherhood.
Following the assassination of Anwar el-Sadat in 1981, the Egyptian authorities expelled dozens of Islamist Palestinian students, whom Ariel Sharon, Minister of Defense, permitted to settle in Gaza. They grew to become the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The next year Israel gave the green light –and according to sources, material assistance— for the construction of a building to house the Islamic Association, whose members regularly vandalized the offices of the Palestinian Red Crescent, headed by Haidar Abd al-Shafi, who was close to the Communist Party and the PLO. Israeli protection would go so far as to put a stranglehold on opposition to the Islamists. When Palestinian students dared to speak out against the cynical policy in public debates, they would wind up behind bars. The students were led by Mohammad Dahlan, future head of Security for the Palestinian Authority. At that time, Dahlan was the Gaza organizer for Shabiba, the Fatah youth movement, and was arrested eleven times. His West Bank counterpart, Marwan Barghouti, was a student at Bir Zeit University. He also received a number of prison sentences.
In 1984, the Israeli security services had a bad surprise. The Islamists were not innocent religious men. During a search of Ahmed Yassin’s home, the Israelis discovered dozens of assault rifles. The Sheikh had achieved the next phase of his secret project: the formation of militant cells. Yassin was sentenced to 13 years in prison, but was released in 1985 in a prisoner exchange between Israel and Ahmed Jibril’s Palestinian organization. The deal was brokered by Yitzak Rabin, then Minister of Defense.
In December 1987 the Second Intifada broke out. Israeli leaders believed that the PLO might make some political gains from the insurrection. The priority of Israel’s response was therefore given to dismantling Fatah’s popular committees. Barghouti and Dahlan, considered dangerous agitators, were expelled to Jordan. In Gaza, Sheikh Yassin organized Hamas, which the Israeli military at first ignored. Yassin will be arrested the following year, after the murder of an Israeli soldier, kidnapped by the Azzedin el-Qassem commando brigade, the armed wing of Hamas. At the time, the brigade counted only a few dozen members.
It is in 1993, after the signature of the Oslo Accords, that Israel changes it policy and backs Fatah. Yassir Arafat’s organization takes over the administration of the West Bank and Gaza on every level. PLO officials from Tunis take power and distribute key positions as well as the purse strings to its supporters. Hamas, opposed to all negotiation with Israel, decides to torpedo the peace process by particularly bloody campaign of anti-Israeli suicide bombings in 1995 and 1996. The attacks produce double consequences. Israeli public opinion switches and elects Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud, the principal opponent to the Oslo Accords, while the Israeli Army tightens its grip on the West Bank and Jordan.
For the average Palestinian, the arrival of Fatah to power translates into long lines at checkpoints while the men at the top distribute the spoils, obscured by their opaque management, while the Israelis reinforce colonization. The popularity of Hamas grows even faster in 1997 when, following a monumental blunder by Mossad in Jordan, Benjamin Netanyahu releases Sheikh Yassin.
The pivotal moment will take place at the end of 2000 with the collapse of Oslo and the outbreak of the Second Intifada. Faced with another Palestinian uprising, the Israeli Army will adopt new tactics to “bore into the minds” of Palestinians that they will attain nothing through violence. Cities are hermetically sealed, curfews are enforced, and vehicular traffic is forbidden. At the same time Tsahal put military pressure on the Palestinian Authority and Fatah militants to force them to end the bombings [for which they were not responsible--Nur].
Result: The population of the West Bank and Gaza is faced with an economic and social crisis, which they had not experienced since the 1950’s. Meanwhile, Israel systematically dismembers the institutions built by the Palestinian Authority leaving no space for alternative political prospects. The Jewish state and the international community considerably weaken the Palestinian security services, which might have, if they had been given the means, been able to restore order.
According to Israeli intelligence, Hamas is now more powerful than Mahmoud Abbas’ police force in Gaza. Some Shin Beth and military intelligence analysts had warned of the consequences. They were ignored.
In February 2006, faced with a moth-eaten Fatah, frayed by power and corruption, the arguments presented by Hamas could only convince the population, which had been bled dry. The process commenced in 1976 has reached its conclusion. The policies of all Israeli governments and the errors and missteps of the PLO and Fatah have handed power over to the Muslim Brotherhood.