Over the past three weeks, since the death of Yassir Arafat, rumors have been rampant about a major breakthrough with the Islamic Hamas organization.
This past Friday, December 3rd, 2004, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency went so far as to state in its headline article that Hamas had proclaimed that it was ready to enter into an era of "reconciliation" with the state of Israel.
This impression was left because two weeks ago, after Israel freed a Hamas cleric, Sheikh Hasan Yusef, from jail, the freed prisoner declared that Hamas would accept a long-term "hudna" in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state on all lands that Israel acquired after the 1967 war. That would mean Israel's withdrawal from the Old City of Jerusalem, the closure of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv road, and the dismantling of Israel’s civilian and military presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza (the West Bank).
Sheikh Yusef stated to the Israeli media that the "hudna" that he suggested would last for ten years.
Yet "hudna", often mistranslated as a “ceasefire” or armistice, connotes no more than a temporary respite in the war between Islamic forces and non-Islamic forces.
The authoritative Islamic Encyclopedia (London, 1922) defines "hudna" as a “temporary treaty” which can be approved or abrogated by Islamic religious leaders, depending on whether or not it serves the interests of Islam, and that a “hudna” cannot last for more than ten years. The Islamic Encyclopedia mentions the Hudaybia treaty as the ultimate “hudna.” Arafat also referred to a hudna in his speeches when he would refer to the Oslo accords. In the words of the Islamic encyclopedia, “The Hudaybia treaty, concluded by the Prophet Muhammed with the unbelievers of Mecca in 628, provided a precedent for subsequent treaties which the Prophet’s successors made with non-Muslims. Muhammed made a hudna with a tribe of Jews back then to give him time to grow his forces, then broke the treaty and wiped them out. Although this treaty was violated within three years from the time that it was concluded, most jurists concur that the maximum period of peace with the enemy should not exceed ten years since it was originally agreed that the Hudaybia treaty should last ten years.”
Hamas spokesman, Dr. Muhammad A-Zahar, held a press conference on Sunday, December 5th to clarify the Hamas position on the "hudna".
A-Zahar, speaking to a crowded room of reporters in Gaza, insisted that "all discussions of 'hudna" have taken place with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority in one context -- expelling the Jews from all of “Palestine.”
A- Zahar stated that "The strategy of Hamas is the liberation of all lands of Palestine. This is a well known strategy. We believe in the liberation of all lands of Palestine, as an order from the Koran. As we achieve this reality, we must go through several stages and sustain as few casualties as possible. Yet we will not give up on our goal to return of all of the Palestinian people to all of our land."
One should not assume that Hamas acts in a vacuum and without coordination with the PLO and the Palestinian Authority.
When I covered the Peres-Rabin-Arafat Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo in December, 1994, I asked Yasser Arafat at his press conference about what he was going to do about Hamas, given the fact that then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and then-foreign minister Shimon Peres had given assurances in their press conference that Arafat would “crush Hamas.” Arafat’s terse answer was that “Hamas are my brothers. Don’t you understand that?”
A few months later, in May, 1995, our agency covered another press conference with Arafat’s police chief in which he said that the PA was licensing the Hamas to carry weapons. And in December, 1995, the Hamas and the PA came to a working agreement in Cairo that allowed Hamas to continue its “activities.”
Less than a year after the signing of the Oslo Accords, which called for a renunciation of violence, Jibril Rajoub, then head of Palestinian Authority Preventative Security Service in the West Bank, said in a lecture at Bethlehem University:
“We sanctify the weapons found in the possession of the national factions which are directed against the occupation ... If there are those who oppose the agreement with Israel, the gates are open to them to intensify the armed struggle."[i]
This was an early open acknowledgement of the way in which the PA would be playing both sides at the same time.
Nabil Sha'ath, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and presently a member of the PA Cabinet, is on record as saying, in 1994: “For us, we have a political relationship with Hamas, a brotherly relationship.[ii]” When he made that statement he was reflecting an on-going interaction between the PA and Hamas that only a few experts were yet aware of. A year later, in 1995, a formal pact was established between Hamas and the PA. Article 12 calls on the PA to cease all preventive security, which means letting Hamas operate without PA interference. The agreement also gives Hamas a role in the PA government.
Yigal Carmon—now head of MEMRI and a former advisor on terrorism to Prime Ministers Rabin and Shamir —confirmed the reality of the Hamas PA Cairo agreement on January 7, 1996, when he wrote:
“Two years of negotiations between the PLO and Hamas concluded in an agreement a few days ago, formalized in a joint statement.
‘According to the agreement, Hamas will continue to adhere to its principles regarding the struggle against Israel. It will continue to attack from anywhere it can, except Zone A (to avoid embarrassing the Palestinian Authority, which controls that zone). In return, the PLO, which does not consider itself responsible for areas outside Zone A, will not act against Hamas.
‘It will also release Hamas activists still in its jails, and demand that Israel release Hamas prisoners it is holding, particularly Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
‘…If the PLO-Hamas agreement was…about Hamas's ceasing terror in favor of politics, there would be nothing wrong with it. But the pact contains the precise opposite: It allows Hamas to continue on its path of terror (outside Zone A), with the PLO refraining from action against it, in flagrant violation of the essence of its agreement with Israel.
‘Moreover, in recent media interviews, the chief PLO negotiator with Hamas has actually been encouraging Hamas to carry on along this path."Everyone must understand,’ he keeps declaring, ‘that we are not the defenders of the Israeli entity [sic]. If Israel wishes to spare itself Hamas's activities, it must speedily withdraw from the entire West Bank, and wherever it remains in the Gaza Strip’.
‘His colleague, Hamas's negotiator with the PLO, is in perfect agreement. Hamas activities, he proclaims, ‘strengthen’ the Palestinian Authority vis-a-vis Israel.
‘Thus the PLO-Hamas understanding and agreement takes shape. The two ‘complement each other,’ said Freih Abu Medein, in charge of PA justice, some months ago. Added Hamas's Sheikh Mahmoud Zahar lyrically in Gaza:"Like the wings of a bird, they must work together.’
Is Yasser Arafat aware of the agreement his associates and Hamas have worked out together? The chief PLO negotiator reported:"I contacted [Arafat] and read the final communiqué to him, and he said, `Allah bless you, it's good, it's good.’”[iii]
The first confirmation of overt anti-Israel cooperation between Hamas and the PA followed the next year when Palestinian Authority cabinet secretary Ahmed Abdel Rahman declared that:
“From now on, resisting settlements will not be through words, condemnation or complaints to the U.N. Security Council…All means should be considered.”
At a Gaza meeting, he announced establishment of a joint PLO-Islamic committee to resist settlement.[iv]
Confirmation of the Hamas-PA connection has come from PLO political chief Farouq Al-Qaddoumi, who said on January 3, 2003:
“[Fatah was] never different from Hamas…Strategically, we are no different from it. [v]”
So much for the hoopla over a truce with Hamas that has the diplomats and news media in a whirl. The more things are said to change, the more they stay the same.
[i] Yediot Aranot, 1994
[ii] Reuters, October 28, 1994
[iv] Jerusalem Post, march 10, 1997
[v] Memri dispatch 462, January 28th, 2003