What Palestinian leaders say in English for Israeli and Western consumption continues to be very different from what they say in Arabic to their own people -- and to various audiences filled with their supporters.
This phenomenon has clearly manifested itself in the developments of the Palestinian Authority elections. What was said in Arabic for the people before the election remains especially intriguing. Consider the following:
Deputy Prime Minister Nabil Sha’ath has declared that Fatah would not be dismantling terrorist groups following the election. PA Chair Abbas made the commitment: We cannot do it before the elections, he had declared, but we will do it right after. Few believed him, but now we have Sha’ath’s word: "We can't honor Abbas' commitment to dismantle the Hamas and Islamic Jihad militias," he declared on January 24.
There is a proviso, however, and it is perhaps the most significant part of what he said. The PA, he explained, would require additional training and weapons before taking on terrorists. The U.S. and the EU have invested many millions in bolstering the PA security forces. This smells like a bid for more of same: "We must rebuild the security forces, have more weapons and munitions at its disposal and plan better training for the police and army."
Hamas has used mosques, both in the Gaza Strip and in Judea-Samaria for its campaigning. A protest has come out from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights with regard to the fact that, during Friday sermons offered on January 20, dozens of preachers called on their congregations to vote Hamas. Additionally, Hamas’s unlicensed television station, “Al Aksa,” set up a transmission station from the third floor of the Bashir mosque in the Jabalya refugee camp; Hamas has been using its station for campaigning. Palestinian Authority Election Law number 9 forbids use of mosques for campaigning.
The significance of this information is not that the law was broken (a routine happening in the PA), but that PA Muslim preachers are pro-Hamas. Rather than being a modifying force within the society, those who speak in the name of their religion are promoting radicalism and terrorism.
In spite of hopeful predictions that Hamas, once inside the PA government, would moderate and ultimately lay down its arms, the evidence is very much to the contrary.
Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar went on PA television just days ago, and declared that, "Our principles are clear. Palestine is a land of Wakf [Islamic trust], which can not be given up. We do not recognize the Israeli enemy, nor his right to be our neighbor, nor to stay [on the land], nor his ownership of any inch of land. Therefore, we do not see [Israel] as an ally, not in policy, neither in security, economy or any form of cooperation. Israel is an enemy who is interested in uprooting us, and we are interested in restoring our full rights to return all the people of Palestine to the land of Palestine."
Zahar said that his party has drafted a plan for teaching Palestinians the history of the country – which leaves us with the prospect of more incitement and more distortion of facts.
In a final pre-election press conference, Zahar said he would not rule out negotiations with Israel, but that Hamas would continue its resistance. "Negotiations are not illicit. However to sit down with Israel and smile and falsely claim to be making progress when it's not the case would represent a political crime, and we are not going to deceive the Palestinian people. Our entry into the political arena in no way signifies that we are renouncing our right to resistance."
Another Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, speaking in an interview on Al-Jazeera TV, echoed many of Zahar’s statements. There is a difference, he explained, between elections issues and concrete strategies.
The concrete strategy calls, said Haniyeh, first, for “cling[ing] to the land of Palestine as a historic right for the Palestinian people, to hold on to the choice of Palestinian resistance and resistance as a concrete choice to liberate the land and gain our rights back…These concrete issues do not change or alter."
He acknowledged that the subject of Israel’s destruction had been left out of a Hamas pamphlet outlining its positions, but explained that this was a tactical decision for purposes of the election campaign. "The subject of negotiations is not suggested on the agenda of the movement. Why would we try negotiations since we have tried the resistance and it proved its efficiency?"
Political activities within the PA have also put the lie to the notion that Fatah is in any measurable way more peaceful in its intentions than Hamas. Differences between them are mostly illusory, in any event, and the participation of Hamas in the political fray has strengthened a militant agenda across the board. Conciliation with Israel is out. Fatah ads during the campaign have featured militaristic themes, with young men holding rifles and stones. One ad reads: "The first with the gun. The first with the stone. The fight and building will continue."
While a great deal is made of the significance of a Fatah victory, in real terms it is not likely to offer substantial benefits over a Hamas victory.
Arlene Kushner is an investigative journalist and author based in Jerusalem. Her article on UNRWA appeared in the Autumn edition of Azure Magazine. She is the author of Disclosed: Inside the Palestinian Authority and the PA.
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