Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, February 13, 2006

"Hamas, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority," February 13, 2006.

Last week, World Report ended with some questions of fact: What is the PA and how is it different from the PLO? and the question of the week: How are the Palestian elecitons structured? Do they have proportional representation? Stay tuned for the answer to that and more.

But first, Let's look at the Palestinian Authority. What is it? What is its relationship to the PLO and Hamas? They're all pretty much the same, aren't they? Only the PA is more official.

Well, not exactly.

Let's begin with the PLO or Palestine Liberation Organization. In 1964, at a summit meeting in Cairo, the Arab League initiated the creation of an organization to represent the Palestinian people. The PLO was founded on June 2 of that same year, 1964. The "Statement of Proclamation" declared quote "... the right of the Palestinian Arab people to its sacred homeland Palestine" and affirmed quote "the inevitability of the battle to liberate the usurped part from it." endquote

Later that year, the Palestinian National Charter stated that quote "The claims of historic and spiritual ties between Jews and Palestine are not in agreement with the facts of history or with the true basis of sound statehood." Article 18 of the Charter claimed that quote "[T]he Jews are not one people with an independent personality because they are citizens to their states." Article 24 stated that the PLO quote "...does not exercise any territorial sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, on the Gaza Strip or in the Himmah Area [of the Golan Heights]."

It wasn't until 1969, after the defeat of Syria, Jordan and Egypt in the Six Day War had destroyed the credibility of those states that sought to be patrons of the Palestinian people and had significantly weakened Egypt's Pan-Arab president Nasser, that Yasser Arafat came to power. Arafat advocated guerilla warfare. He sought to free the PLO from its Arab state sponsors and bring it under control of Palestinian member organizations.

The largest of those member organizations in the PLO, which still exists today, is Arafat's middle-of-the-road, nationalist Fatah party, now chaired by Mahmoud Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen. Other member or factions of the PLO coalition include the Communist PFLP and DFLP, a Syrian Ba'athist party, an Iraqi Ba'athist party, and several non-violent parties including the Palestinian Peoples Party and the Palestine Democratic Union.

The significance of these so-called minor parties is that all except the Ba'athists have elected representatives to the Palestinian Legislative Council. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

In 1987, at the beginning of the First Intifada when Hamas was established, there was no Palestinian Authority and no Legislative Council--only the PLO. Hamas's 1988 charter, as we often hear these days, calls for destruction of Israel. We almost never hear that the same charter calls for the destruction of any secular Palestinian government, and the creation of an Islamic Republic in their place. [2]

Hamas attracted members through preaching and charitable work before spreading its influence into trade unions, universities, bazaars, professional organizations and, beginning in December 2004, municipal government [21]. Nowadays, Hamas devotes much of its estimated $70-million annual budget to an extensive social services network. It funds schools, orphanages, mosques, healthcare clinics, soup kitchens, and sports leagues.

These programs are viewed variously as part of a sincere social development agenda, as an integrated para-state policy, as propaganda and as recruitment exercises--or all of the above. Hamas has significantly increased literacy in areas where it is active.

According to an article by the Israeli scholar Reuven Paz, published by the conservative US Council on Foreign Relations, approximately 90 percent of the organization's work is in social, welfare, cultural, and educational activities [9].

According to UPI, Israel supported and encouraged the early grassroots Hamas' movement during the 1970s to counterbalance secular PLO.

Beginning in 1991, secret negotiations between Israeli Yair Herschfeld and Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin, who were acting on behalf of Prime Minister Shimon Peres, and Palestinian financial expert Abu Ala eventually led to the Oslo Accords in 1993.

Yasser Arafat, then chairman of the PLO, recognized the State of Israel in an official letter to its prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin. In response, Israel recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Hamas describes its first use of suicide bombing as a response 40 days later to the mass killing of 29 Muslims during Friday prayers in the month of Ramadan by Dr Baruch Goldstein on February 25th, 1994. Baruch's massacre took place in the Cave of the Patriarchs—the burial site of Biblical figures Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah—which is considered holy to both Muslims and Jews and is said to have "changed forever the complexion of relations between Israelis and Palestinians" (Foundation for Middle East Peace).

"Until then, activists in the Islamic Jihad and in the military wing of Hamas had concentrated their actions against Palestinian collaborators. They also sent knife-wielding fanatics into Israel to kill and be killed; they hit Israeli military targets, attacking Israeli troops on patrol, kidnapping and killing border policemen and Israeli internal security forces. For many years they were known for, and they prided themselves on, attacking solely military targets" (FMEP).

According to IDF sources, from November 2000 to April 2004, 377 Israeli citizens and soldiers were killed and 2,076 wounded in 425 attacks by Hamas. (Source: IDF website.)

Baruch's act demonstrated that settlers like him posed a threat to the lives and safety of Palestinians as well as to the viability of the Palestinian state which was grounded in the Oslo process. Hamas became the main opponents of the Oslo accords.

On the Israeli side, radical settlers and their supporters also saw the secret negotiations that had led to Oslo as illegal and even treasonous. It has been called a "monstrous crime" and an "unmitigated disaster for Israel."

In 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, a man loosely associated with the same Hebron settlement as Goldstein.

The Palestinian Authority was established on May 4, 1994, as a result of the Oslo accords. It was originally seen as transitional body with a 5-year lifetime during which final status negotiations between the two parties were to take place.

The PA nominally governs parts of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip (which are part of the Palestinian Territories).

Under Oslo, the PA controlled both security-related and civilian issues in Palestinian urban areas (referred to as "Area A"), but only civilian issues in Palestinian rural areas ("Area B"). The remainder of the territories (including Israeli settlements, the Jordan Valley region, and bypass roads between Palestinian communities) were to remain under exclusive Israeli control ("Area C").

The Palestinian Legislative Council is the legislature or parliament of the Palestinian Authority and is a single house or unicameral body.

On January 20, 1996, elections took place in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem for President of the PA, and for members of the PLC.

For the 1996 elections it had 88 members, elected from 16 electoral districts in the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas boycotted the 1996 elections.

In 2004, Hamas declared a unilateral truce which it offered to maintain for 10 years in exchange for Israel's complete withdrawal to its 1967 borders. The truce was violated once in August 2005 with an attack wounding seven, and in several attacks on Israeli motorists - killing six [18] [19]. But in general the truce or hudna has held even through a period that included the extrajudicial killing of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and his replacement Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi.

According to the Israeli internal security agency Shin Bet, "Forty-five Israelis were killed in Palestinian militant attacks in 2005.

"This is 60% fewer than the number killed in 2004, and the lowest since the start of the intifada in 2000.

"The main reason for the decline, Shin Bet said, was the informal truce observed by some Palestinian groups" (BBC Jan 2 06).

In June 2005, PLC passed a new law increasing the number of MPs from 88 to 132, stipulating that half be elected under a system of proportional representation and half by traditional constituencies. In legislative elections on January 25, 2006, Hamas won 74 of the 132 seats.

The Palestinian Authority enjoys international recognition as the organization representing the Palestinian people. Under the name "Palestine", it has an observer status in the United Nations (UN), as did the PLO since 1974. After the 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence, the PLO's representation at the UN was renamed Palestine; it hsa participated in General Assembly debates, without voting, since 1998.

The PNA receives considerable financial assistance from the European Union as well as some from the United States (which both have threatened to cut now that Hamas won paralimentary elections in January 2006), and few other donor countries. The Gaza International Airport was built by the PA in the city of Rafah, but operated for only a brief period before being razed by Israel following the outbreak of Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000.

The PA maintains an official uniformed armed service which various sources estimate to include anywhere from 40,000 to 80,000 recruits (1) employing some armored cars, and a limited number carry automatic weapons [2]. Officially termed a "police force", it is accused by some of violating the Oslo Accords which limit the force to 30,000 recruits.

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