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PMW op-ed: PA and Hamas Ideology Converge(Published under: Find the Differences)

Itamar Marcus & Barbara Crook  |
The Western world sees Hamas as a terrorist organization seeking Israel's destruction, but treats the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a peace partner, either actual or potential, for Israel. The fact that Israel continues to seek contact with PA leaders heightens the clear distinction made between the PA and Hamas.
But the distance between Hamas and the PA has been shrinking for years. And the way the PA has responded to the killing of Yassin shows just how close the two groups actually are. The PA has gone far beyond its expected level of condemnation of the killing, and has eulogized Yassin as a leader representing all the Palestinian Authority.
PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, for example, told PA TV that just as "Yassin united the Palestinians in his life he united them again in his death." Yasser Arafat's official daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, published a cartoon of a wheelchair shaped as a map of what the PA calls "Palestine" (which erases all of Israel) thereby stating graphically that Yassin and "Palestine" are one and the same.
In an unprecedented move, PA television ceased all regular programming for days, and except for brief news reports, broadcast only slides of the Quran sung to mournful tunes. In the Arab world, this Quran broadcasting is usually reserved for the deaths of heads of state, as was done on Syrian TV after the death of Hafez Assad. That PA TV treated Yassin in this fashion demonstrates his elevated stature among PA leadership and PA society.
Anyone listening to PA leaders' pronouncements in Arabic over the years has recognized that there never was a meaningful ideological divide between the PA and Hamas. It is well understood, for example, that Hamas believes Islam demands Israel's destruction. As the Hamas Charter states, "Palestine is an Islamic Waqf the liberation of Palestine is an individual duty binding on all Muslims everywhere."
Less noted is that PA religious leaders have repeatedly made identical rulings. Even when the Oslo Accord appeared to be in its heyday, Yousuf Abu Sneinah, preacher of Al-Aqsa Mosque, issued this ruling on PA TV: "The land of Palestine is a Waqf for all Muslims… The liberation of Palestine is an obligation for the entire Islamic nation. " (April 30, 1999)
The perception is that a difference between Hamas and the PA is that the latter, at least in principle, had given up using violence to reach its political goals. Yet it was Arafat who said in 1999, literally anticipating the current terror war: "The agreements won't liberate the land. Every centimeter needs struggle, and the land needs blood." (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Jan. 25, 1999)
When Hamas started using suicide terrorists to kill Israelis in 1996, the PA condemned the killings in English. But in Arabic, PA leaders made it clear that there was no difference in attitude, only a division of labor.
Muhammad Dahlan, then head of Preventive Security in Gaza, said that the presence of Hamas "is important and essential in the cooperation in the building." Hani Alhasan, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, explained the role of Hamas: "Unity is in the nature of construction, and it is incumbent upon us to divide the work among the builders." (Al Ayyam, Aug. 31, 1997)
As long ago as 1997, after the bombing at Tel Aviv's Apropos cafe, a member of the PA Legislative Council expressed his condolences to the family of the suicide bomber during a session of the Legislature, and "his words were interrupted by the applause of the members of the [PA Legislative] Council." (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 27, 1997) It should be stressed that all this cooperation was openly expressed in PA society long before the current terror war began in October 2000.
After starting the terror war, the PA completely erased any differences between the "builders" by creating its own suicide terror unit, the "Aqsa Martyrs Brigade," which has committed numerous suicide terror attacks identical to those of Hamas.
IF THERE is any difference today between Hamas and the PA, it's in their attitudes toward temporary agreements with Israel.
While the Hamas charter states, "There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by jihad," the PA has argued that temporary agreements can be used to gain strategic territory from which to fight more easily for Israel's destruction.
Then PA Minister Abd Al-Aziz Shahin explained this just months before the PA started the terror war: "The Oslo agreements [were] a foothold and not a permanent settlement, since war and struggle on the land is more efficient than a struggle from a distant land... The Palestinian people will continue the revolution until they achieve the goals of the '65 revolution..." – that is, the destruction of Israel." (Al Ayyam, May 30, 2000)
Faisal Husseini called the Oslo Accords a "Trojan Horse... the Oslo agreement, or any other agreement, is just a temporary procedure... according to the higher strategy [Palestine is] 'from the river to the sea.'" (Al-Arabi – Egypt, June 24, 2001)
Today, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas both embrace the use of terror to fight Israel. The only meaningful difference between them is the acceptance or rejection of political process as a vehicle to destroy Israel.
Marcus is founder and director of Palestinian Media Watch. Crook is PMW's North American representative.