Mon, Mar 20, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Hamas focused on internals, not externals

The international community wants commitments on Israel, but Palestinians want a higher priority placed on tackling problems such as corruption than on negotiations with the Jewish state

By Daoud Kuttab

As it struggles to form a government for the Palestinian territories, Hamas seems to be clutching to the Biblical verses in Ecclesiastes rather than the desires of the Quartet (the US, Russia, the EU and the UN) charged with trying to bridge the Israeli-Palestinian divide.

"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven," fits Hamas' current agenda because its priorities and time frame are different from those of the international community, which is pressing it to make immediate political declarations, most importantly, to recognize Israel's right to exist.

Hamas understands the political obligations that it must meet in order to be accepted in the world community, but its leaders prefer to wait until they are fully empowered before exploring these issues. Moreover, Hamas, like most Palestinians, is trying to evaluate the best way forward in the peace process. In their eyes, the current process produced years of inaction in negotiations, allowing for continued occupation and theft of Palestinian lands.

As an example, Hamas leaders point out that in the past year, with the moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in power, the Israelis have not even negotiated with him. So, from their point of view, Israel is not going to rush to negotiate with any Palestinian authority, whether it recognizes Israel's right to exist or not.

Instead, Hamas leaders are preoccupied with basic issues like preserving internal unity among Palestinians, ending lawlessness, ensuring greater respect for the rule of law, fighting corruption and reforming Palestinian governance. Most Palestinians are in complete agreement with these priorities.

Indeed, the latest public opinion poll among Palestinians shows that 73 percent feel as secure as or even more secure than they did before the election. Of the 709 randomly selected Palestinians who were surveyed, 30 percent said that they hope the new Hamas government tackles corruption. Twenty-two percent said that they hope Ismael Haniyeh, Hamas' designated prime minister, will end the chaos in towns and provide internal security and the rule of law. Almost one in five hoped that unemployment would be addressed.

Ironically, while the majority of Palestinians voted a religious movement into power, only 1 percent of those polled said that Hamas' priority should be to implement Islamic law.

While the poll showed that an overwhelming 73 percent of Palestinians still support a peace deal with Israel, they are not confident that a deal is around the corner. Eleven percent of the respondents said that the prisoner issue should be the most important priority for the new government -- nearly twice the number who said that a peace settlement with Israel should be the top priority. More than 8,000 Palestinians are held in Israeli prisons, many without charge or trial. Nevertheless, 62 percent of respondents said that they believe Hamas should change its position regarding recognition of Israel.

It is difficult for an international superpower like the US or a regional one like Israel to realize that a group or a people dare to have priorities different from theirs. But Palestinians have shown over the years that they are a proud people who will not cave in just because the other side is militarily or politically more powerful.

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