The brotherhood portent

Commentators have expressed doubt about the ability of the rival governments in Ramallah and Gaza to reach true reconciliation.

Abbas 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Abbas 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The picture is clear. Soon, the State of Israel will find itself facing an Arab world ruled, to some degree or another, by radical Islamist movements, lead by the veteran Muslim Brotherhood.
There have been indications over the past few years that Islamist movements would take the lead in democratic elections. And as the push for democracy ushered in by the “Arab Spring” grows stronger in the region, it seems all but certain that this trend will sweep the Muslim Brotherhood to power.
The Palestinians were in the forefront of the trend – democratic elections in the Palestinian territories in 2006 brought Hamas, an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, to power. There were signs even earlier – over 20 years ago, elections in Algeria and Jordan did bring significant victories to Islamist movements, but the traditional ruling powers managed to squash them. In Algeria, the army suppressed the Islamists in a brutal civil war, while in Jordan, King Hussein simply rearranged the election procedures.
The Gaza Strip was the first place in the Middle East where, five years ago, the Muslim Brotherhood took over the reins of power. The recent elections in Tunisia were won by an Islamist party, as were the elections in Morocco. In Egypt, all eyes are on the Muslim Brotherhood and the composition and character of the government it is expected to form. In Syria, signs are growing stronger that the Ba’ath party, under the leadership of Bashar Assad, will fall and the Islamists will rise in its place. In Jordan, too, the growing popularity of the extremist Muslim anti-government protesters is becoming apparent. In the region overall, an Islamist movement is ruling Turkey, and there’s no need to elaborate on what’s happening in Shi’ite Iran.
This trend, of course, is extremely significant for Israel. With a Muslim Brotherhood-type of Islam comes a policy of unwillingness to recognize the legitimacy of the existence of the State of Israel. According to numerous documents, such as Hamas’s founding charter, all of Palestine is considered Muslim waqf, holy ground, and it is forbidden to give up an inch to a non-Muslim.
It is therefore important to look closely at the reconciliation initiative between the Palestinian Authority, led by PLOFatah in Ramallah, and the leaders of Hamas. The initiative received a boost with a groundbreaking meeting in Cairo on November 24 between Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas strongman Khaled Mashaal. “There is no disagreement between us. We agreed on everything,” the two of them announced.
Israeli commentators have expressed doubt about the ability of the rival governments in Ramallah and Gaza to reach true reconciliation and establish joint rule in the West Bank and Gaza. Abbas reassured Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, at a meeting in Amman on November 30, that reconciliation with Hamas will not hurt the peace process because the unity government will be obligated to agreements and arrangements with Israel. Another series of meetings between Fatah and Hamas, together with other Palestinian factions, is scheduled to take place December 18-22 to determine arrangements for establishing a unity government and to recommend who will stand at the head of the new “technocrat” reconciliation government that will prepare parliamentary and presidential elections in May.
MASHAAL WAS ASKED IN an article November 29 in the East Jerusalem “Al-Quds” daily about what exactly happened in the closed- meeting with Abbas in Cairo.
Mashaal explained that the urgent topic in the meeting was the need to release the prisoners held on both sides. In prisons in the West Bank, there are dozens of Hamas activists (and perhaps many more) who have been arrested in recent years, and there are many Fatah prisoners in Hamas prisons in Gaza. According to Mashaal, the two also talked about the need to reorganize the PLO and the Palestinian National Council, which oversee Palestinians throughout their diaspora, in a way that will enable Hamas to join these national institutions.
Officially, it is these institutions that handle the PLO’s negotiations with Israel, rather than the government in Ramallah, which only represents West Bank and Gaza residents.
Mashaal related that he spoke with Abbas about the need to form a unity government and election procedures. He attacked the Israeli policy of building and expanding in the settlements, the “Judaization” of East Jerusalem and “the racist segregation fence.”
From the Israeli perspective, the most important part of the interview was Mashaal’s references to “the resistance” and the struggle against Israel. In other words, what about terror?
“Every nation is against occupation,” Mashaal said in the newspaper interview.“It’s the right of that nation to use every possible armed [military] means, as well as other means. At this stage we have agreed to utilize popular resistance under a national command, and we will discuss the resistance with all the factions in the framework of the PLO during the next meetings. At this point, we want cooperation on this issue of the popular resistance, which is something we all agree on – even though we believe in armed resistance.”
Mashaal, in the name of Hamas, is temporarily renouncing military means, such as terrorism, rockets and attacks, and is choosing to cooperate with Fatah in a popular resistance, which will include protests, marches, sit-ins and political action.
All Palestinian and Arab commentators have chosen to emphasize this point, which they view as a core issue: Hamas is ready “at this stage” to stop all terrorism and to focus on the path that Abbas has recommended, the non-violent popular resistance. And Hamas is willing to persuade other organizations (particularly Islamic Jihad) to stop launching rockets and committing other acts of terrorism.
For Israeli security and intelligence officials, this is nothing new. It has been apparent for quite some time that Hamas has not been behind the sporadic launching of rockets at Israeli population centers – and has, in fact, taken action against those organizations that have continued the rocket attacks.
In the past, Hamas had been willing to enter into a cease-fire with Israel, based on Islamic law dating back to the Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad signed an armistice agreement, a hudna, with his enemies when he felt the Muslims needed a break from fighting to regain their strength.
In 2006, after the Hamas election victory and the formation of a Hamas government in Gaza with Ismail Haniyeh at its head – back in the days when Israeli journalists were permitted to enter Gaza – I visited Haniyeh’s office. The visit was brokered by the head of Haniyeh’s media bureau, Ghazi Hamad, who knows Hebrew and is interviewed occasionally on Kol Israel radio, and more recently, played a key role in the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
I asked Haniyeh if Hamas would give up the armed struggle, the terror, and he answered that Islam allows a hudna for a period of 10 years. And what happens after that, I asked. He said: “We will extend the hudna for another 10 years.” And after that? “Again, another 10 years… Each time we will extend it by 10 years,” he said.
However, the official Israeli position is that Hamas must not only keep the cease-fire, but must also recognize Israel and fulfill the demands of the international community to implement past agreements.
There is no chance that this will happen.There is no chance that Hamas would officially recognize Israel. And there is also no chance that any Muslim Brotherhood organization, in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, or any other place, would recognize Israel. From their point of view, Islamic law doesn’t see a non-Muslim government on the holy territory of Palestine as legitimate.
In other words, a cease-fire with Israel, yes; recognition of Israel, no. It is likely that this position will be stronger and maybe even more dominant in the near future throughout the surrounding Arab states.
There were more than a few clues recently that the American administration and some European states were willing to accept this type of arrangement. Many articles have been published in the past weeks on the developing relationships between certain countries and the Muslim Brotherhood. It seems the international community understands the strength of this movement, and is trying to pull it in the direction of the more moderate Muslims, such as in Turkey and Indonesia, and not to steer it towards the Taliban or Al-Qaeda.
This poses a difficult dilemma for the Israeli leadership. Would it agree to arrangements limited to a cease-fire, if and when security and borders (based on the 1967 lines) are agreed upon? Or would Israel reject this and demand full recognition of the state? The dilemma is difficult, in particular, because no one knows in which direction the Hamas-style Islamist regimes will launch themselves. Will a “continuous hudna,” like the one Haniyeh described, be the opening to a peace process with Israel, a moderate regime and the establishment of normalcy – or could it be merely an interim during which they will stock up on weapons in order to continue the all-out war?
Abbas is certain the reconciliation with Hamas, which will put a stop to violence and terror, is a necessary step towards the establishment of a Palestinian state. He will try to convince the world now that this is the only way to reach a real agreement with Israel.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s government probably won’t agree to this, and therefore there is cause for continued pessimism over the prospects of peace negotiations.