Hamas is worried about its image. Jonathan Dahoah-Halevi, a researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam, reports (in Hebrew) that in a leaked document the movement admits to having generated bad publicity for itself during its recent takeover of Gaza with such acts as lynching and stripping Fatah men, destroying an unknown-soldier monument, and damaging the Palestinian flag. According to Halevi, Hamas wants to relieve its isolation by reopening contacts with Fatah and projecting a more moderate image.
Seemingly Hamas faces an uphill struggle. AP reported on Monday that “Man dies after taken into custody by Hamas”:
The body of a Palestinian man was delivered to a hospital Monday, a week after he was abducted by Hamas militants. . . .
Walid Abu Dhalfa, 45, was nabbed last week by Hamas’ Executive Force in Gaza City. Early Monday, his body was brought to Shifa Hospital with signs of suffocation. . . .
Abu Dhalfa was not known to be affiliated with any group, but his brother belonged to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine . . . and was held in a Hamas prison until Monday, relatives said.
The relatives . . . said the two brothers were beaten and tortured in custody.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights issued a statement Monday saying Abu Dhalfa was tortured in custody. . . .
Later on Monday, the human rights group reported that another four men were harshly beaten while in custody. One man, Ziad Fanous, a German citizen lost consciousness while being interrogated. He was held for 13 hours.
Last Tuesday, a 31-year-old man suspected of collaborating with Israel died in Gaza's central prison, operated by Hamas. The prison said the man died of heart failure, but a hospital report said he was strangled.
Earlier this month, The Associated Press documented the ill-treatment of four men who were taken into Hamas custody. One man was tortured, with nails banged into his legs; another two were blindfolded and beaten, to pressure them to provide information on Fatah loyalists. . .
So presumably Hamas will continue to have image problems if anyone notices this type of coverage.
However heinous, though, the reported acts were perpetrated against adult males, not children. Not so the acts of Naif Hawatmeh, longtime chief of one of the factions of the PLO—the organization that, in its current partial embodiment as the Palestinian Authority, has to a remarkable degree become a focus of praise, largesse, and even military cooperation for the Bush administration and the Olmert government.
The Damascus-based Hawatmeh was due to come to Ramallah on Wednesday for a PLO convocation hosted by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. Along with hundreds of other victims, it was Hawatmeh’s Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine that in May 1974 took hostage and then killed 26 Israeli schoolchildren in what became known as the Ma’alot Massacre.
Not long ago in Israel, allowing Hawatmeh into sovereign Israeli territory as a statesman immune from arrest would have meant the unthinkable breaching of a red line. But just about all red lines have a way of vanishing these days when it comes to the PLO. Indeed, Hamas can take heart from the fact that no PLO acts in the past or the present, no matter how heinous, constitute any longer an obstacle to Bush and Olmert’s fawning on the organization and showcasing it as the key to peace and deliverance.
As detailed by Aaron Klein on Monday in World Net Daily, among almost 200 at-large Fatah (Abbas’s faction of the PLO) terrorists pardoned this week by Israel as part of the latest Abbas-strengthening binge are terrorists who over the past few years have masterminded suicide bombings and shooting attacks against Israelis including one directed at a bus carrying junior-high girls.
Another 250 Fatah terrorists, most of whom do not have “blood on their hands” solely because they failed in their murder-missions, are slated to be released from Israeli prisons on Friday.
But as President Bush made clear in his speech on Monday, the 2007-style PLO peace train must roll on. After lauding Abbas as “a president committed to peace” and chiding “Hamas radicals” in Gaza for “betray[ing] the Palestinian people with a lawless and violent takeover,” Bush went on to extol Abbas and new PA prime minister Salam Fayyad for their “vision of a peaceful state called Palestine. . . .”
Bush pronounced himself so impressed by Abbas and Fayyad’s so far nonexistent “reforms” that he “will call together an international meeting this fall. . . . The key participants . . . will be the Israelis, the Palestinians, and their neighbors in the region. . . . so that we can move forward on a successful path to a Palestinian state.”
If I had been the speechwriter, I would have added a few remarks:
In touting Abbas as a man of peace, I am not disturbed the fact that Israel, to “strengthen him,” finds it necessary to release 200 bloody terrorists from prison and pardon another 200 who are still at large. As a president who has initiated the War on Terror and announced that “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” my optimism about the Palestinian people is not shaken by the fact that trying to wean them from Hamas requires creating an association between “moderate” President Abbas and the image of hundreds of terrorists walking free. And in criticizing Hamas for “betray[ing] the Palestinian people with [their] lawless and violent takeover” of Gaza, I of course would not be so indiscreet as to mention that this is the very Hamas that the Palestinian people elected to office resoundingly just a year and a half ago.
Moreover, in pushing Abbas’s peace credentials, I also would not be so tasteless and impolitic as to mention that he has never even publicly wavered in his lifelong, adamant endorsement of the Palestinian “right of return” that is understood by just about all Israelis and supporters of Israel as code for Israel’s demographic eradication, stating as recently as last January 11 in a speech in Ramallah that “The issue of the refugees is non-negotiable" and also that “We should put our internal fighting aside and raise our rifles only against the Israeli occupation."
And I am resolved to leave in the dustbin of consciousness the fact that all professional military studies, including the one by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1967, have concluded that Israel, to be defensible, must retain portions of the West Bank so substantial that there is no possible compatibility between the goals of a viable Israel and of the west-of-the-Jordan Palestinian state that, unlike all presidents before me, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, I have openly endorsed to the point of making it an obsessive theme of my presidency, thereby granting it a great boost in legitimacy whatever its destructive future consequences.
Take heart, Hamas. A history of horrific anti-Israeli and internecine violence, vicious incitement against Israel and the United States, and hewing to the goal of Israel’s annihilation does not preclude an organization from eventually being glorified as moderate, accepted into political processes, and showered with weapons and money. True, the PLO’s “secular-nationalist” and, earlier, leftist-revolutionary image made its path easier than that of Hamas with its “religious” profile. But we live in a world in which even an American president known as a conservative and a religious Christian adopts the cause of the “secular-nationalist” Palestinian murder movement to the point of directly endangering a weak, submissive Israel.