Mideast Accord Presents Dilemma for Islamic Militants Hamas Opposes Self-Rule but Fears It May `Miss the Train'

Article excerpt

The militant Islamic movement Hamas is shifting tactics to adjust to the new reality of Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip.

"The agreement between Palestinians and Israelis creates a new situation in the occupied territories that requires all factions to be united," said Khaled al-Hindi, assistant president of the Islamic University in Gaza City. He is the senior political figure among those Hamas activists not in Israeli prisons.

"The Islamic movement doesn't want to be a part of the self-rule authority, but that doesn't mean it won't participate in normal life," he added. "We are part of this society, after all."

Hamas, better known for its suicide attacks on Israelis and the kidnapping of fellow Palestinians than for its political diplomacy, has not renounced violence against Israel. Nor have its leaders softened their rhetoric. They still label as "traitors" those Palestinians who accept Israel's existence. For them, the peace process is an abomination slated to fail.

But with the start of limited self-rule for the 1 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and Jericho, those "traitors" in the Palestine Liberation Organization will be the ones filling jobs, distributing billions of dollars in aid money and, most important, planning the rebirth of Palestinian civil society.

Aware that most Gazans want to give the self-rule period a chance, Hamas doesn't want to be marginalized.

"People here will be with the autonomy," said Ismail Haniya, a religious teacher and one of the young generation that wants to transform Hamas into a political party. "They think their suffering will stop. But in the future, they will discover many problems and complications. Then they will turn to us."

Many Hamas activists said they planned to continue working as public-sector doctors, lawyers, engineers and teachers, even though their salaries will come from the self-rule regime whose legitimacy Hamas does not recognize. …