- It would indeed seem that the official Palestinian Authority media has been increasing their enmity toward the United States. The sentiment could be seen particularly during the sermons broadcast on PA radio and television.
On December 13, the official Voice of Palestine radio and the Palestinian Satellite Channel, which is an official station of the PA, broadcast a 35-minute live sermon by Sheik Ibrahim Mudayris from the Khalil Al Wazir mosque in Gaza City. In the sermon, Mudayris appealed to God to avenge the tyrants of the world. He then made it clear that the United States is one of these tyrants. The sheik called for divine intervention against Washington and predicted that one day the Arabs “will announce the downfall of the United States, which claims to be the God of this world.” Mudayris said the United States will be toppled “if it insists on pursuing the path of tyranny, if it continues its support for our enemies at the expense of our cause and our sanctities.” The sheik said the Palestinians deserve Arab and Islamic support. He said the Palestinians are fulfilling the task of the Arabs and Muslims by confronting Israel and the United States. “Oh God, support the Islamic warriors, who are fighting for your sake everywhere,” Mudayris said. “Oh God, help fighters in Palestine score victory. Oh God, lift the siege on the Palestinian people and their leadership.”
The sermons on official PA media became even harsher on December 27. In broadcasts on PA radio and television, Mudayris and Sheik Mohammed Hussein warned Palestinians of a U.S. plot to destroy the Middle East. In a sermon from Sheik Ijlin mosque in Gaza, Mudayris said Arabs, European and the United States are pressing the Palestinians “to make concessions on our Palestinian cause, but that despite the massacres, they [Israelis] will fails to weaken our people, God willing.” Mudayris again predicted the collapse of the United States. “Compared to the Palestinian people, neither Israel nor the United States, the strongest country in the world, does not enjoy the traits of a real society,” the sheik said. “The United States, which dominates the Arab and Islamic world and even the whole world, has a material power, but its society is corrupt and is expected to collapse, God willing, as long as it uses its weapons against weak Arabs and Muslims.”
Hussein delivered a sermon at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque. The official Voice of Palestine, the PA radio station, carried the 14-minute sermon live on December 27, in which Hussein accused the United States of trying to destroy the Middle East. Hussein said the impending war against Iraq is actually “another colonialist crusade to dominate the Arab and Islamic countries.” “The United States and its supporters and allies are planning to destroy the region, although Iraq has accepted the relevant Security Council’s resolutions and the inspectors are still looking for weapons of mass destruction, but with no avail,” Hussein said. “Nevertheless, the United States, with the support of its allies, is planning to launch a war against this Muslim country.”
Dashed hopes that the us will support palestinian arab statehood?
At the same time, PA leaders are expressing guarded optimism that the United States will guarantee a Palestinian state in the near future. PA Interior Minister Hani Al Hassan told PA television on December 29 that a “Palestinian state has never been close as it is today.” He said the negotiations between the PA and the international community, including the United States, is based on a date for a Palestinian state. On the other hand, PA Local Government Minister Saeb Erekat, who is the leading Palestinian negotiator, charged that the Bush administration is supporting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Erekat told PA television on December 29 that President George Bush is supporting Sharon’s reelection campaign.
Concern over deterioration of relations with the US
More than any other international actor, the United States is responsible for the survival and preservation of the Palestinian Authority. The United States helped recruit billions of dollars for the PA from 1994 until 2000. U.S. administrations provided PA officials and Palestinian intellectuals an open door to Washington that included numerous visits by PA Chairman Yasser Arafat to the White House during the 1990s. Senior PA officials have expressed concern over the deterioration of U.S.-Palestinian relations since the PA war against Israel, which began in September 2000.
The PA officials are worried that any U.S.-led war against Iraq would end up with the toppling of the Arafat regime.
Over the last few weeks, PA officials have tried to engage the United States in a dialogue meant to ensure the survival of the Arafat regime whatever the fate of Saddam Hussein.
Abu Mazen Advises Caution
In late December, Palestinian newspapers and radio quoted heavily from an interview given by PLO Executive Committee secretary Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen. Abu Mazen said the United States has held out the prospect for an improvement of relations with Washington if the PA resumes peace negotiations with Israel. An excerpt of the interview published with Abu Mazen demonstrates the caution with which he promotes Palestinian relations with the United States.
The PLO official, regarded as second only to Arafat, raises the prospect of a U.S. backlash against the Arafat regime in a post-Saddam Middle East.
Question: U.S. relations with President Arafat are constantly regressing. Do you see any hope that relations could be revived?
Answer: I believe that if we return to negotiations, the U.S. stance toward President Arafat would change.
Question: Do you have any hope that negotiations could be resumed?
Answer: There is some hope, but it is weak. It is up to the Israelis now.
Question: Are the Arab states making efforts to mend U.S.-Palestinian relations?
Answer: Arab leaders are indeed making enormous efforts to revive the relationship between the United States and the PNA. One example is the three-way meeting that followed the visit of the Saudi king to Washington. The meeting pressured the U.S. administration into reconsidering its relationship with the PNA.
Question: Do you think the U.S. administration succeeded in separating the Palestinian issue from the Iraqi one?
Answer: The United States has succeeded, to some extent, in attracting international attention to the Iraqi issue while the issue of Palestine was disregarded.
The PA has found a role for the United States that could improve their relations.
The PA has quietly encouraged the United States to help mediate a dispute between the ruling Fatah movement and Islamic opposition groups.
Palestinian sources have been quoted as saying that the United States continues to have contacts with Hamas in the effort to achieve a Palestinian cease-fire in the war against Israel, which would require the agreement of all Palestinian factions.
Palestinian media are beginning to quote from a series of articles in the London-based Arab media last week that disclosed the relationship between the United States and Hamas.
These sources disclosed the U.S. involvement in Egypt’s effort for a reconciliation dialogue between competing Palestinian factions.
Egypt has been hosting separate talks with the ruling Fatah movement and Hamas in an effort to reach agreement on a cease-fire accord.
The US – Hamas Factor
On December 28, the Saudi-owned A-Sharq Al Awsat daily published an interview with Osama Hamdan, a member of Hamas’s politburo and the representative of the Islamic movement in Lebanon. Hamdan was in Cairo as part of the Egyptian-sponsored Palestinian reconciliation effort and discussed the U.S. role.
Hamdan said Hamas and the United States held a dialogue for years.
Yet that dialogue ended two years ago after Hamas refused to make any concessions on its insistence for armed struggle against Israel.
At that point, Hamdan said, the U.S. State Department decided to place Hamas on its list of terrorist organizations. “We had a dialogue with the United States in the 1990s,” Hamdan said.
“The talks reached a certain level but now the door is closed. They asked and we answered.”
Hamdan said he didn’t think that Egypt was representing U.S. interests in the Palestinian reconciliation talks in Cairo.
The Hamas official, however, did not rule out a renewal of formal talks with Washington.
At the same time, another senior Hamas official was more specific regarding the U.S. role in the Palestinian arena. Khaled Masha’al, head of Hamas’s politburo, held a closed-door discussion with his Islamic supporters in the Qatari capital of Doha in late December.
The Saudi-owned Al Hayat daily reported the discussion, regarded as the most authoritative in the Arab world. Masha’al would not provide dates of the meetings.
But he said Hamas met with both U.S. and European Union diplomats regarding the future of the Palestinian war against Israel.
He said Hamas told both the United States and EU that Hamas would continue what he termed the resistance until Israel ends the occupation.
He explained that the West sought a dialogue with Hamas because it plays a major role in the war. The Hamas official reviewed U.S. policy in the Middle East and warned that any war against Iraq could have damaging repercussions for the Palestinians.
Masha’al said Israeli pressure on the Palestinians would increase amid and in the wake of a war against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He warned that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon plans to attack the PA and aligned groups while the international community is busy with Iraq.
What most concerned the Hamas activists was the future of the organization around the Arab world. Masha’al did not rule out the prospect of heavy U.S. pressure on Syria to expel Hamas from its offices in Damascus. “The scenario focuses on pressure on the resistance abroad and pressure on Syria,” Masha’al said. “And we can’t rule out an air strike on the [Hamas] headquarters, offices and apartments, particularly in Damascus and perhaps Beirut. We are prepared for all possibilities.” The Hamas official denied reports that the United States pressured Iran into closing the organization’s office in Teheran. He said the only place where Washington succeeded was in Jordan, which closed Hamas offices and expelled Masha’al about three years ago. Masha’al also expected U.S. pressure to increase on Egypt and Saudi Arabia in a post-Saddam Middle East. He said Egypt has been in contact with Hamas for a long time and the current discussions focus on an effort to suspend suicide missions against Israel. “The Egyptians are holding a dialogue with us,” Masha’al said. “They are not pressuring. We are discussing martyr operations and other matters. We are continuing the dialogue and will not be pressured.”