Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hamas Provokes Israeli Crackdown Arafat Caught between Militants and Israel after Series of Attacks against Jewish State

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hamas Provokes Israeli Crackdown Arafat Caught between Militants and Israel after Series of Attacks against Jewish State

Article excerpt

AN escalation of violence against Israel by the militant Islamic group Hamas is threatening to widen the conflict between Palestinians and jeopardizes the peace process.

Recent attacks by Hamas reflect the frustrations of many Palestinians over the slow implementation of self-rule in Jericho and the Gaza Strip, as well as a perception that the new Palestinian Authority (PA) led by Yasser Arafat is increasingly influenced by Israel.

"The escalation of violence has proven that setting up the PA under Israeli occupation is futile and even detrimental to the cause of achieving a viable peace," says Ghassan al-Khatib, a Palestinian activist.

The Israeli Cabinet yesterday approved sealing off indefinitedly the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of a crackdown on Hamas. The measure will keep tens of thousands of Palestinians from jobs in Israel.

And Police Minister Moshe Shahal requested 1,500 new police officers to control radical Palestinians. Israeli officials also are weighing tough antiterrorist measures, such as wrecking the homes of Hamas activists.

The crisis highlights anew the daunting tasks facing Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Arafat. He must bring Hamas into both the PA and planned elections, while trying to unite Palestinians behind the PA. And he must meet Israel's demands for halting Hamas's violent attacks without becoming what many Palestinians call "a tool" of the Israelis.

"Mr. Arafat is torn between his own constituency and his determination to keep the peace process alive and not give reason for Israel to take total control again," a PA official says.

Arafat's advisers, most of whom are very unpopular among the Palestinian populace, are divided over what to do. Arafat's mainstream Fatah Palestinian faction strongly opposes a confrontation with Hamas, according to officials close to Arafat.

Palestinian analysts and even some PA members believe that a clampdown on Hamas will not necessarily stop the violence and expect frustration reflected in extremist Palestinian attacks to become a daily problem for Israel.

Some Palestinians contend that Hamas' threats require swifter moves toward more Palestinian autonomy. "What is needed is the withdrawal of Israeli troops and not a redeployment," Mahdi Abdel-Hadi, president of a Jerusalem-based Palestinian think tank said. "What is needed is genuine Palestinian elections and not a mediocre game of elections that is dictated by Israel," referring to the stalemate in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians over terms of Palestinian elections and the extent of Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and parts of Gaza. Caution on showdown with Hamas

Palestinian leaders say that the PA should avoid a showdown with Hamas, since such a confrontation could reduce the PA into an Israeli tool in the eyes of the majority of the Palestinians who want an end to Israeli occupation. …

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