Hamas suspends operations in Israel to ease Palestinian conditions

Developing Just Leadership

Crescent International

Shawwal 17, 1422 2002-01-01

Occupied Arab World

by Crescent International

Hamas announced on December 21 that it was suspending martyrdom operations inside “the land occupied in 1948.” The announcement, in a notice issued in Ghazzah, came after weeks of intensified Israeli military pressure on Palestinians aimed at making life unbearable for civilians, and at forcing the Palestinian Authority to crack down on Islamic groups on Israel’s behalf.

The pressure had resulted in the PA closing down over 40 Islamic societies and cultural clubs accused of having affiliations with the Islamic movements. The danger to Palestinian unity was emphasised by several days of sporadic clashes between Palestinian police and Islamic movements, which culminated in angry confrontations in Ghazzah as masked Palestinian policemen attempted to arrest Hamas spokesman Abdul Aziz al-Rantisi at his home on December 20, and the deaths of five Palestinians in clashes with Palestinian police at the funeral of an Islamic Jihad member in Ghazzah on December 21.

Hamas sources emphasised that their decision was not the result of any tacit agreement with the Israelis, and that they would continue to regard all Israelis as legitimate targets as long as Israel maintained its attacks on Palestinian civilians. Palestinian groups including Fateh and Hamas had earlier offered Israel a deal by which they would halt military operations in 1948 Palestine if the Israelis stopped their onslaught on Palestinians in the West Bank and Ghazzah. The Israeli response had been to step-up their operations.

Arafat, meanwhile, was effectively locked into his Ramallah headquarters by Israeli military action after the major clashes early in December; famously, he was not permitted even to attend Bethlehem’s Christmas celebrations. Part of Israel’s strategy is to belittle and humiliate Arafat in order to show that any Palestinian polity that is permitted to operate can do so only at their tolerance and under their hegemony.

As so often in the past, the Israeli military pressure was accompanied by renewed and initially secret political talks, details of which were revealed in the Israeli press on December 23. With Arafat holed up in Ramallah, these talks were conducted by the speaker of the PA legislative council, Abu Ala, and other PA officials. As on so many occasions on the past, the details of the talks as published show that Israel is again trying to redefine the terms of any future political settlement in order to void all previous agreements, the most recent being the Mitchell Accord which agreed a basis for returning to the political process.

The new talks are on a plan proposed by Shimon Peres, by which the Palestinians will get a smaller state than previously agreed, in return for an end to the intifada and the dissolution of Islamic groups. In return, Israel promises only to end its blockade and military operations. Talks on issues such as the rights of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem would be deferred for 9-12 months.

Even this agreement, however, seems to be too much for Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, who appears determined to take the hardest line possible, either because of domestic Israeli political reasons, or because of his personal instincts.

It goes almost without saying, meanwhile, that Palestinian civilians, including children, are continuing to be killed by the Israeli military on a daily basis, and many more are subjected to Israeli military attack, shelling, harassment, curfews and the economic and social effects of the Israeli economic blockade.

While the West focused on Arafat’s plight during the Christmas period, most Palestinians were more concerned with Eid al-Fitr, which fell a few days earlier. Three children were among the five Palestinians killed by the Israelis during the days of Eid. They included 12-year-old Muhammad Handiq, shot dead while playing outside his home west of Khan Younis on December 17. Five other children were wounded in the shooting, one of whom — Muhammad’s cousin Mahmoud Handiq — later died in hospital. Another child, Yasser al-Kasba, 14, was injured when Israeli troops fired on Muhammad Handiq’s funeral procession.

Others killed during the Eid period included a Hamas member, Ya’qoub Adkidak, 28, assassinated by Israeli troops when his home in al-Khalil (Hebron) was attacked at dawn on December 17, and Munjid Salman, 20, a Palestinian policeman killed in Nablus when an Israeli tank fired on his police car for no apparent reason.

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