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The Radicalization of Palestine By: David Bedein
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Fatah movement might be going to the opposition party, but the Palestinian Authority-owned media has found Islam. PA dailies and media,  including those owned by the Fatah movement, have been adopting Islamic symbols, rhetoric and even advertisements. The newspapers have become boosters of Hamas and its agenda of Islamic resistance.

 ThePA-owned Al Hayat Al Jadida daily newspaper is a prime example of this phenomenon. For the last decade, this was the most strident nationalist daily in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and stood for Palestinian militancy that appeared almost secular in nature. 


No longer.


Over the last few weeks, Al Hayat Al Jadida has turned perceptibly to support a Hamas agenda in both images and content. Hamas now commands the front page; The PA has disappeared.


As a result, the newspaper crowed over Russia's invitation to Hamas for talks with the leadership in Moscow. Next to the article published on February 11 was a photograph of women holding a Koran in a demonstration on Jerusalem's Temple Mount against cartoons that appeared in European newspapers.


The PA newspaper accused Israel of preventing prayer at the Al Aqsa Mosque by limiting worshippers to those 45 and over. Nearby were ads for Radio Quran in Nablus, a Hamas-aligned station that features Koran readings, Islamic thought and programs for Muslim children.


Al Hayat Al Jadida columnists, not long ago ardent critics of Hamas, have become the boosters of the movement. Yusef Al Qazaza might be a Fatah employee and, thus, a supporter of the Palestinian agreements with Israel. But today Al Qazaza supports Hamas's position to deny recognition of, and negotiations with Israel. The headline of Al Qazaza's column on February 11 said it all: "Recognition for What?"


Still, the embrace of the PA-owned media of Hamas has not been without qualms.


The other PA-owned daily, Al Ayyam, stresses Russia's condition that Hamas must recognize Israel and support peace activities.


Another way in which Hamas is still being criticized in the PA print media is with regard to its silence concerning Israeli assassinations of Fatah and Jihad operatives. Al Aqsa military commander, Mohammed Hijazi, wondered why Hamas has not protested the deaths of Palestinian fighters. "What is strange is the Hamas position that has not condemned the killing of the resistance leaders," Hijazi said.


Al Hayat Al Jadida has left plenty of room for questions to Hamas.


In an "open letter to the Hamas leadership," Jenin attorney Ghassan Barham congratulated Hamas on its victory and then proceeded to propose an agenda for any new PA government. The agenda included reform, end of poverty and the implementation of government decisions.


Yet Barham makes it clear that he shares Hamas's strategy. He said the Palestinians want Hamas to confront Israel, Europe and the United States and not to blink in the face of threats to cut off foreign aid.


Barham also saw no benefit to dealing with Israel: "Negotiations with Israel achieved nothing except for corruption," Hijazi said. Hamas has released its agenda that stresses control of the PA, including security agencies, as well as war against Israel.


Hamas's leader in the Gaza Strip, Mahmoud Zahar, said any government led by his movement would place security at the top of the agenda. In an interview with Egyptian Nile television on February 7, Zahar also stressed honest government, justice and transparency in finances and investment.


But the top of the Hamas agenda was Israel. Zahar pledged that Hamas would not recognize Israel or end its war against the Jewish state.


"Hamas will not abandon or budge a single inch from the Palestinian people and will keep its weapons as long as the Israeli occupation remains in Palestinian lands," Zahar said.


Zahar dismissed fears that the PA would lose foreign funding from the West. He said Arab and Islamic countries would significantly increase aid.


"Around 60 percent of the PA funds comes from those countries, thus, we are aspiring to maintain such aid and increase them if possible," Zahar said. "Hamas enjoys political flexibility without giving up Palestinian legal rights."


Indeed, Hamas leaders insist that none of the Arab countries have pressed the movement to recognize Israel. This has included Egypt, the largest Arab ally of the United States and a longtime host of Hamas and other Palestinian groups. Egypt, led by intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, has been holding talks with Hamas over the last week in an attempt to ensure the smooth transfer of power from Fatah.


"The issue of recognizing the Hebrew state wasn't discussed in the meeting as they know that it's totally rejected by Hamas today and in the future," Hamas leader Ismail Haniya said.


Indeed, the PA media have confirmed that Egypt has been defending Hamas from international pressure. The media quoted Egyptian presidential political adviser Osama El Baz as saying on February 7 that Hamas should not be pressured.


Earlier, El Baz met Masha'al.


"No party has the right to place conditions on the Palestinians or to ask them to make concessions," El Baz said.


Hamas leaders stress that they would not concede on their demand for control of PA security agencies. They warned that any law passed by the outgoing Palestinian Legislative Council would be overturned.


"We expect the Hamas-led government to control the security services which according to the law fall under the responsibility of the interior minister," Hamas spokesman Mushir Al Masri said.


Khaled Masha'al, regarded as the de facto chief of Hamas, said the movement would not accept a government with "reduced authority." The official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported on February 8th that Masha'al said Hamas would maintain its right to control all areas of the PA, including security.


Masha'al said Hamas's leading priority was "ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian land." Later, Masha'al revised his message in an interview with the BBC, saying a "long-term truce" with Israel was possible.


"We now say that if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, there could be peace and security in the region and agreements between the sides until the international community finds a way to solve everybody's problems.”


Masha'al said on February 8th: "Any truce would be long-term but limited, because there's a Palestinian reality the international community must deal with. There are those kicked out of their land in 1948, the international community must find a solution for those people."


"When Israel changes, come and ask me to change," Masha'al added.


The Palestinian Authority has also halted condemnation of Palestinian attacks on Israel.


Instead, the PA has directed its attention against Israeli retaliation.


The PA media no longer criticizes the daily Palestinian missile attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israel. The attacks have been conducted largely by the ruling Fatah movement and Islamic Jihad.


PA-owned newspapers and electronic media now refer to every Palestinian who attacks Israel as a "martyr," a term that often makes his family eligible for aid. This term applies to all those Palestinians who wage attacks, regardless of their target – even if it is the Gaza Strip border terminal at Karni, the main crossing point for cargo to and from the area.


Fatah, for its part, also announced that the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the Gaza Strip has acquired an extended-range rocket; it is said to have a range of 13-16 kilometers and a more powerful warhead that contains TNT. Until now, Fatah has used the Kassam-2 missile developed by Hamas. Fatah said it has also acquired Soviet-origin Grad missiles.


On February 9, the Palestinian Human Rights Center reported that a Palestinian rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck a home in Beit Lahiya. The center said the rocket traveled 300 meters and struck the home belonging to Sabr Mohammed Abdul Dayem. The rocket exploded in the living room.


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David Bedein, author of the forthcoming book, "Swimming Against the Mainstream", has run the Israel Resource News Agency. www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com, since 1987, at the Beit Agron Press Center in Jerusalem, where he also heads the Center for Near East Policy Research and serves as the Middle East correspondent for the Philadelphia Bulletin, www.thebulletin.us.

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