Israel's killing of Hamas "spiritual" leader Ahmed Yassin last week has given rise to a lot of media mythmaking. One of those myths is that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority played no role in Hamas. The common assumption is that the PA and the PLO, both under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, was simply not involved with Yassin or Hamas. In point of fact, Arafat's PA has absorbed Hamas, coordinating terrorist strikes with Hamas leadership.
This was not the way it was supposed to be. The very rationale of the Oslo process, after all, was for the U.S, the EU, and even Israel to arm Arafat's security forces so that Arafat would use such arms to crush Hamas. Indeed, almost 11 years ago, when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands with Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn, most people in Israel and abroad expected that Arafat would form a new Arab entity to restrain the violent Moslem movements known as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
That was the idea behind what later became known as the Oslo Peace Process, wherein Israel was expected to cede land for a new Palestinian Arab entity, while Arafat's PLO was expected to fight Hamas and other Arab terror groups that continued to threaten the lives of Jews in Israel.
Yet, from day one, the opposite occurred: instead of cracking down on Hamas, Arafat created an alliance to absorb Hamas.
Less then a year after the signing of the Oslo Accords, which called for a renunciation of violence, Jibril Rajoub, who was then head of PA Preventative Security Service in the West Bank, said in a lecture at Bethlehem University in May 1994:
“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.”
Nabil Sha'ath, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and now a key a member of the PA Cabinet, told Reuters News Agency in October 1994, “For us, we have a political relationship with Hamas, a brotherly relationship.”
When I asked Arafat about Hamas at the press conference in Oslo before he was about to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1994, Arafat answered, "Hamas are my brothers. I will handle them in my own way."
And when the PLO celebrated its 30th anniversary in January 1995, Arafat delivered a series of lectures to his own people in Gaza and Jericho, praising suicide bombers and refusing to condemn a spate of Hamas terror attacks. These took place at the time Arafat's speeches praising Hamas were televised by the new Palestinian TV network, the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, which is owned, controlled and operated by Arafat himself. Videocassettes of Arafat’s harangues for Hamas soon became popular in the Palestinian Arab open market.
Arafat’s strategy was best summed up by U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, who told the Los Angeles Times on March 1, 1996, that Arafat had decided to co-opt, rather than to fight, Hamas.
Arafat's co-option of the Hamas was not only in words but in deed. On May 9, 1995, our news agency dispatched a Palestinian journalist to cover the Gaza press conference held by Arafat’s local Palestine Liberation army police chief Ghazzi Jabali. There, the representatives of the Palestine National Authority officially announced that they would license weapons for the Hamas – a step taken only one month after Hamas had carried out an attack on an Israeli civilian bus near Gaza, killing six young Israelis and one American student, Aliza Flatow.
At Jabali's packed press conference, carried live on PBC radio, Jabali announced that Hamas leaders such as Dr. Muhammed Zahar - who was present at the meeting - would be allowed, even encouraged, to own weapons under the protection of the Palestine Authority. On the same day, our Palestinian TV crew filmed an armed Zahar, standing in front of a skull and crossbones imposed on a map of Israel, as he addressed an angry mob in Gaza and called for the bloody overthrow of the State of Israel. PA police chief Jabali would later assure the Associated Press on May 14, 1995, that he was expecting Hamas and Islamic Jihad to "keep their licensed weapons at home."
In late October 1995, shortly before Prime Minister Rabin's assassination, I asked Rabin at a public forum about Arafat’s decision to provide weapons to Hamas. Rabin acknowledged the practice.
In other words, for the past ten years, both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have openly operated with weapons licensed by the PA.
Meanwhile, all levels of Arafat’s military forces acknowledge that they have recruited radical Islamics to join forces with them.
As the Israeli daily newspaper Ma'ariv reported on August 5, 1997, “The Israeli security establishment knows about dozens of Hamas activists who have been enlisted in Jibril Rajoub's organization, and dozens of Fatah activists who have begun operating within Hamas and Jihad, while being involved in attacks. Senior Palestinian officials claim that Hamas and Jihad are receiving massive aid from many elements in the Palestinian security establishment.”
An Israeli intelligence report, issued in July 1997, indicated:
“It is also known that at least dozens of Fatah activists have begun to act inside Hamas and Islamic Jihad, while being deeply involved in attacks. Senior Palestinian officials claim that Hamas and Jihad are receiving massive aid from many elements from within the Palestinian administration and security services, including giving material and logistical support.”
In an interview on September 24, 1998, with the official Palestinian Authority newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, Muhammad Dahlan, head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service in Gaza, acknowledged that he had drafted 25 Hamas terrorists into Palestinian Preventive Security Force in order to protect them from Israel. In the words of Dahlan:
“We have enlisted into the ranks of the Preventive Security Service many of our brothers active in other organizations opposed to the agreement and I have considered this to be a personal goal…the enlistment of some 25 members of the Hamas military wing, which was done as part of our overall responsibility toward all members of the Palestinian people. Israel accuses them of being the hard-core military infrastructure of the Izz a-Din Al-Kassam brigades [the Hamas terror cells]. We arrested them in the past for various security-related matters, but we saw no reason to continue to detain them...We said very clearly to the Israelis that an attack on any of them would be an attack on the entire Palestinian Preventive Security Service. Thus, we protected them and gave them the opportunity for an honorable life."
Arafat’s formal alliance with Hamas first became a matter of public record when the semi-official Egyptian newspaper Al Aharam broke the story of the formal PLO-Hamas accord, signed between the two organizations on December 15, 1995, in Cairo. That accord allowed Hamas to carry out attacks in "areas of Palestine that had not yet been liberated."
That PA-Hamas accord gave Hamas a role in the PA government.
Hamas leader Imad Falluci was then awarded with the all-important PA cabinet post of “Minister of Communications.”
And on each occasion when Arafat was asked to "crack down" on these Islamic groups that took credit for fatal terror bombs against Israel, he ordered the mass roundups that resulted in mass confessions, followed by mass release of prisoners.
In 37 documented instances between 1994 and 2000, the Palestine Authority actually offered asylum to Hamas and Islamic Jihad members who murdered Israelis and took refuge in the new safe havens of Palestinian Arab cities that were protected by Arafat's armed forces.
Under pressure from Israel and Western countries, Arafat eventually did arrest 22 Hamas members who had been involved in bus bombings throughout Israel between 1994 and 1996 - all of whom were released when the latest intifada that broke out in September 2000. After that, Arafat placed all Palestinian armed forces under one military command.
A case in point: Muhammad Deif, a Hamas military operative in Gaza. Deif is the admitted Hamas mastermind of the October 1994, kidnapping and killing of Nachshon Wachsman, a 19-year-old American Israeli. When I asked Arafat’s commander of the Palestine Liberation Army about Deif, he told me that he was under direct orders from Yassir Arafat not to touch Deif.
This, despite the fact that former President Bill Clinton declared at Nachshon Wachsman’s grave in March 1996, that Israel should not suspend the negotiating process with Arafat and the Palestine Authority until Arafat hands over Deif to stand trial.
Many close followers of the Middle East situation wrongly assume that the two entities - the PLO and the Hamas - are in conflict when, in fact, they closely coordinate every move under the administrative framework of the Palestinian National Authority, which represents the Palestinian state-in-the-making.
The reality of the Hamas-PA connection has come from PLO political chief and close intimate of Yasser Arafat, Farouq Al-Qaddoumi, who said, “Fatah was never different from Hamas. Strategically, we are no different from it" (as reported by MEMRI on January 3, 2003).
At this point in time, the current Israeli government shows no signs that it is about to crack down on Arafat’s forces, which have absorbed Hamas into their ranks.
Unless and until Israel acts decisively against the PLO and the PNA, the parent organizations of Hamas, the strike against Yassin will have been for naught.