Running out of time
As the roadmap hits a dead end Hamas makes a peace offer aimed at saving the nearly moribund two-state solution. Khaled Amayreh reports
In an ostensible departure from its traditional all-or- nothing approach, the Palestinian resistance group, Hamas, has proposed a protracted peace with Israel in return for a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Hamas founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, told reporters in Gaza earlier this week that the movement would be willing to end armed resistance in return for a "true and genuine" Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, with Jerusalem as its capital.
Yassin, who escaped an Israeli assassination attempt a few months ago, said "the historical rights of the Palestinians [an allusion to the expulsion by Israel of the bulk of Palestinians from their historical homeland in 1948] would be left for future generations."
Yassin's remarks were echoed by Abdul-Aziz Al- Rantisi, the second highest-ranking official in Hamas. He told reporters on 25 January that Hamas would consider a 10-year truce with Israel if it withdrew from all the territories occupied in 1967. Rantisi was quoted as saying that the movement had come to the conclusion that "it is difficult to liberate all our land at this stage", adding, "we accept a state in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip."
Yassin's and Rantisi's remarks indicate that Hamas may well be moving closer to the mainstream strategy adopted by the PLO, namely the creation of a viable Palestinian state pursuant United Nations resolutions and the formula of land for peace.
One Hamas official, who asked for anonymity, told Al-Ahram Weekly this week, that "we can't ignore reality. Israel is a fact. Yes, it is a malignant fact, but nonetheless it is a fact." The official added. "we recognise the reality of Israel, but we can't and we won't recognise Israel's moral legitimacy since Israel was created through ethnic cleansing, aggression and genocide."
Hamas's pragmatic overture is likely to facilitate renewed Egyptian efforts to reach a cease-fire or truce between Palestinian resistance groups and Israel. Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman is due to arrive in Ramallah later this week for talks with PA leader Yasser Arafat. Suleiman might also travel to Gaza for talks with Palestinian faction leaders.
Egyptian efforts coincide with mounting Palestinian frustration over the stalemate which the US-backed roadmap seems to have reached.
The fact that US President George W Bush's State of the Union Address contained not a word about Israel's separation wall, or indeed the wider Palestinian- Israeli conflict, was interpreted by the Palestinians as signifying that the US administration was effectively abandoning the Arab-Israeli conflict, at least until the American elections nine months from now.
For the Palestinians, however, the matter goes beyond a mere election-related non-engagement. PA official Sa'eb Erekat told reporters this week that "American non-engagement in the peace process amounts to a green light for Sharon to cage the Palestinians."
Despite a virtual suspension of Palestinian resistance attacks, Israeli attacks against Palestinian civilians continued unabated. On 21 January, Israeli army bulldozers once more rolled onto the streets of Rafah, flattening more than 40 homes. The wanton destruction, resembling recent scenes from the earthquake-devastated Iranian city of Bam, prompted UN Commissioner Peter Hansen to describe the demolitions as "obscene and callous beyond imagination... I can't find the words to express my horror. It is pathetic, pitiful...."
One Palestinian official accompanying him intimated that in a private conversation, Hansen described the demolitions in Rafah as "similar to what the Nazis were doing in Europe", adding, "Of course, he can't say it publicly lest he lose his job."
Israel's "final solution" (the code-name of the IDF operation in Rafah), was followed by the killing of at least five Palestinians, including an 11-year-old boy in Gaza. According to eyewitnesses, 11-year-old Muhsen Daour was hunting birds outside his home in southern Gaza when Israeli soldiers shot him in the head. In response, the Israeli army issued the usual terse statement, saying "the army is investigating the death of a Palestinian boy".
Another Palestinian, injured by the IDF near the northern West Bank town of Tulkarem, died after the soldiers refused to allow him through the checkpoint. "He was bleeding, and the soldiers were watching passively. We pleaded with them to allow us to transfer him to hospital to save his life. They said no, and he bled to death," said one eyewitness.
Israel's ongoing aggression, as manifested in the continued building of the wall, along with the perceived connivance of the US with the Israeli government, are convincing Palestinian officials that the Palestinian goal of creating a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank is becoming unrealistic and impractical.
This week, Arafat reiterated what Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei said two weeks ago, warning that the prospect of achieving Palestinian statehood was fading very fast. In Arafat's words, "Time is running out for the two-state solution."