Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s decision to free the Hamas leader, Sheikh Achmed Yassin has immediate ramifications for the Oslo process, and also for the future of Israel’s bilateral negotiations with the Palestine Authority, Jordan, Egpyt, Syria and the United States.
From Netanyahu’s point of view, a key factor in Yassin’s release is that Yassir Arafat and the Palestine Authority can never again deny their connection with Yassin or the Hamas.
Until Sheikh Yassin’s triumphal return to Gaza, almost every action of Arafat and the PA were overshadowed by a sympathetic press that usually negated any connection that Arafat or the PA ever had with incitement, fanaticism and terror of the Hamas.
Arafat’s well-oiled public relations system that has served him well for so many years contrasts with Hamas, which makes no pretensions that it is in the business of building an Islamic entity at war with Zionism and the state of Israel. Arafat speaks in two languages. Sheikh Yassin speaks in one.
Well, the “good-cop/bad-cop” game of the Oslo process is over.
From hereon in, Yassir Arafat and Sheikh Yassin will sit shoulder to shoulder and together run the Palestine Authority.
From Netanyahu’s perspective, it serves Israel very well to have a Palestine Authority that openly conducts a relations with the Hamas rather than a PA which maintains those connections with violent Islamic groups and later denies them.
Netanyahu is the most media conscious Israeli prime minister since Israel’s first PM, David Ben Gurion. Bibi recognizes that Israel’s battle is also one of image. Having the world media conjure up the image of a Yassin rather than a Yassir at the head of the PA fosters a new image in the public domain of the world media and in Israeli public opinion.
Perhaps that is why a senior official of Israeli security confirmed to the foreign press only a few days after Yassin’s release that the Israeli intelligence services had already decided to send the Sheikh back to Gaza.
Benyamin Netanyahu was harshly criticized from all sides of the political spectrum for the way in which he has been handling security affairs.
However, Netanyahu is playing for the long run. Israel now has a presidential form of government, with few checks and balances. No longer does the Israeli prime minister have to worry about constant votes of confidence that could topple a government whose popular support seems to be waning. Bibi is not worried about what people say about his security moves in the short run.