Almost four years ago, when Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands with Yassir Arafat, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, on the White House lawn most people in Israel and abroad expected that Arafat would form a new Arab entity that could restrain violent Moslem movements known as the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.
That was the rationale behind what later became known as the Oslo peace process, where Israel was expected to cede land, while Arafat’s PLO was expected to form a new Palestine Authority that would fight Hamas/Islamic Jihad and other Arab terror groups that continued to threaten the lives of people in Israel.
Yet from day one, the opposite has occurred. Instead of cracking down on Hamas, Arafat openly woos the Hamas. When I asked Arafat about Hamas at his press conference in Oslo where he was about to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in December, 1994, he answered by saying that “Hamas are my brothers. I will handle them in my own way”.
And when the PLO celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in January 1995, Arafat delivered a series of lectures in Gaza and in Jericho to his own people, praising suicide bombers and refusing to condemn the Hamas attacks which took place at the time. Arafat’s speeches of praise for the Hamas were televised by the new Palestinian TV network that was controlled and operated by Arafat himself. Video cassettes of Arafat’s harangues became popular in the Palestinian Arab open market
Arafat’s strategy was best summed up by US ambassador to Israel and presidential confidante Martin Indyk, who told the Los Angeles Times in March 1996 that Arafat had decided to coopt rather than to fight the Hamas.
Arafat’s co optation of the Hamas was not only in words, but in deed.
On May 9, 1995, I covered a Gaza press conference held by Arafat’s local Palestine Liberation Army police chief Ghazzi Jabali, in which the representatives of Arafat’s Palestine Authority officially announced that they would license weapons for the Hamas. only one month after the Hamas carried out an attack on an Israeli civilian bus near Gaza, killing six young Israelis and one American student, Aliza Flatow.
At Jabali’s packed press conference, carried live on PBC radio, Jabali announced that Hamas leaders such as Mohammed Zahar would be allowed and even “encouraged” to own weapons under the protection of the Palestine Authority. On the same day, our Palestinian TV crew filmed an armed Zahar, standing in front of a skull and cross bones imposed on a map of Israel, as he addressed an angry mob in Gaza and called for bloody overthrow of the state of Israel. Jabali would later assure the Associated Press on May 14, 1995 that he was expecting the Hamas and Islamic to keep their licensed weapons “at home”.
Yet for the last two years both the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad have openly operated with weapons licensed by the PA. Meanwhile, all levels of Arafat’s military forces acknowledge that they have recruited radical Islamics to join forces with them.
And on each occasion when Arafat was asked to “crack down” on these Islamic groups that took credit for fatal terror bombs against Israel, Arafat ordered the mass roundups that resulted in confessions, and then the mass release of prisoners.
And in thirty seven documented instances since 1994, the Palestine Authority has offered asylum to Hamas and Islamic Jihad members who murdered Israelis and took refuge in the new safe havens of Palestinian Arab cities that were protected by Arafat’s armed forces.
A case in point: Muhammad Deif, the admitted Hamas mastermind of the October 1994 kidnapping and killing of the nineteen year-old American-Israeli, Nachshon Wachsman, wanders Gaza freely, armed and untouched. When I asked Arafat’s commander of the Palestine Liberation Army about Deif, he told me that he was under direct orders from Yassir Arafat not to touch Deif. This, despite the fact that U.S. President Bill Clinton declared at Naphthous’s grave in March 1996 that Israel should not continue any negotiating process with Arafat and the Palestine Authority until and unless Arafat hands over Deif to stand trial.
Each Friday, over the past three years, Arafat-appointed Hamas Muftis in Nablus and in Jerusalem deliver weekly sermons in their respective mosques that call for JIHAD, holy war, against the state and people of Israel.
Not to be outdone, Arafat consistently addresses Palestinian crowds as if he were trying to emulate the Hamas, and not as if he was interested in restraining them.
Arafat’s own Jihad harangues have continued when the Oslo peace process was going well with Israel, and when it was not.
Arafat’s arming, encouragement and emulation of the Hamas occur in the open, and in public domain, at a time when more than two hundred foreign and Israeli news bureaus cover Arafat and his new Palestine Authority.
Yet an unwritten rule exists in the media, even among the Israeli press, that downplays the significance of the PA-Hamas cooperation, and Arafat’s calls for armed struggle with Israel.
Many close followers of the Middle East situation wrongly assume that there are two entities – the PLO and the Hamas, and that they somehow remain in conflict.