An Alternative to the P.L.O. -- Fundamentalists

This piece appear in the New York Times on Sept. 9, 1989. As some have reported, Israel backed Hamas -- sort of a microcosm of the U.S. backing the Majuhadeen in Afghanistan. This is an example of that actually being openly advocated. Might write more about this later, but thought it important to get it out and, to avoid accusations of pulling out of context, show it in full. -- Sam 

An Alternative to the P.L.O. -- Fundamentalists 
by Clinton Bailey

Jᴇʀᴜsᴀʟᴇᴍ -- As the episode of Israel's abduction of Sheikh Abdul Kareim Obeid, A Lebanese Shiite clergyman, fades from the headlines, the influence of Islamic fundamentalism in the occupied territories deserves the attention of Israeli and American policymakers. Surprisingly, these fundamentalists may hold a key to a Middle East towards peace settlement.

It is true that Islamic fundamentalists are known for violence and hostage-taking. Not only is fundamentalism been behind the uprising against the Israeli occupation, but the spirit of fundamentalism has largely sustained it for 21 months. Recently, fundamentalists have attacked Israelis deep inside Israel further destabilizing the situation.

Moreover, an estimated majority of the Arabs in the territories (80 percent to 90 percent in Gaza, 40 percent in the West Bank) now adhere to the fundamentalist umbrella organization Hamas (the Movement of Islamic Opposition) and no longer consider the Palestine Liberation Organization their representative. 

At present, Hamas leaders are looking forward to competing with the P.L.O. in the elections that are part of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir peace initiative. Their aim is not to advance the peace process, they say, but to show they represent 60 percent of the Arab population.

A deep ideological gap separates Hamas and the P.L.O. Hamas holds that a Palestinian state must be Islamic with a constitution based on the Koran. The P.L.O. advocates a secular state for Palestinians and includes factions that are Marxist and atheistic. Hamas does not intend to challenge the P.L.O. until the Palestinians are free of Israeli occupation, but its leaders express no doubt that an armed clash will ultimately come.

Many western leaders, concerned about the growth of militant Palestinian fundamentalism, urge a hasty resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through negotiations with the P.L.O. Perhaps understandably, little thought has been given to the possibility of using fundamentalist influence in the occupied territories in the service of a compromise solution.

Viewed ideologically, a compromise based on Hamas's participation seems impossible. Its charter stresses that all Palestine is a trust from Allah to the Palestinian Muslims and must be under Islamic rule. There is nothing to negotiate with Israel except its dismantling. Even Hamas's elected representatives, in the event of future elections, would not negotiate with the Jewish state.

On a pragmatic plane, however, Hamas has unwritten positions that demand attention. For example, it holds that determination of the Israeli occupation of any Muslim territory is preferable to the present situation. Its members claim that, while Hamas would never negotiate a compromise with Israel, it would not obstruct others from doing so. And, unlike the P.L.O., it would not insist on tying an Israeli withdrawal to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Hamas also views with equanimity the prospect of Jordan's assuming primary responsibility for the occupied territories. Its adherents cite a history of amicable relations between the Muslim Brotherhood -- the main component of Hamas -- and the Hashemite regime. They would not oppose a return to Jordanian rule, perhaps in a confederation.

These position, held by an organization that claims to represent the majority of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, should not be disregarded. The Israeli public will be persuaded to cede territory only if it feels such actions will not endanger its security. And the P.L.O.'s unwillingness to stop attacking Israelis makes the prospect of a P.L.O.-led state seem too great a risk. On the other hand, having lived peaceably with Jordan for 18 years, most Israelis might be persuaded to cede land to Jordan in exchange for peace and proper security agreements.

Thus, if America and the international community decide to concentrate their efforts on implementing Security Council 242 with an Israeli-Jordanian accord, they might find the ground largely prepared in the Palestinian camp -- ironically, by the Islamic fundamentalists. Moreover, the fundamentalists' emphasis on regaining whatever territory they can might leave room for compromises with Jordan that the P.L.O. does not allow itself to make.

These possibilities are not without danger. The fundamentalists' ultimate aim of placing all Palestine under Islamic rule hardly differs from the PLO's plan for regaining all of Palestine by stages. Both advocate using any land that Israel cedes as a springboard for gaining more. The survival of the Hashemite regime after it assumed authority over a largely fundamentalist Palestinian population would also be problematic.

These dangers can be met. Without doubt Israel and Jordan, as well as other parties to the peace agreement, would have to exercise a firm hand against extremists that oppose territorial compromise. If, however, an end to the Israeli occupation were coupled with generous international aid for Palestinian development, much of the malaise that swells in the ranks of extremist fundamentalism would wane.

In light of the deadlock that blocks progress towards peace between Israel and the P.L.O., it is vital to remember that another option involving Hamas may exist.