The number of countries in the world at the moment that are in some form of transition is higher than some ten years ago, and in some ways more efforts are made to resolve situations that threaten stability. And the moves of all involved parties are not without major-league risks.
Today, in many countries’ political realities, tribalist and nationalist or globalist forces clash fiercely, undermining chances of peace and democracy. This is particularly topical in the Middle East, where efforts by established leaderships to discourage armed conflict have reached a new phase, in which both Hezbollah and Hamas, organizations labeled ‘terrorist’ by the US, are nudged to start thinking about participation in mainstream politics.
By finally addressing security issues by making a clean sweepthrough, the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is slowly shifting into gear, starting the clampdown on Palestinian insurgency that has long been called for. he has even told Hamas fighters publicly to give up their arms, This was a first for the president who until now has been anything but clear on security issues. The Hamas leaders according to a report in the London Asharq Al Awsat paper are reportedly planning to return to Gaza after the Israelis have withdrawn.
The newspaper report detailed that the leaders are likely to move their group’s political bureau to Gaza as soon as Israel transfers control over the border crossings to the Palestinian Authority. “When a militia turns into a political party, I believe the issue of a need for arms becomes irrelevant,” Abbas was quoted as saying. “There will be only one authority, one law and one legal [armed force],” according to the recently elected Palestinian leader, who played down the risks involved in the operation, saying that this has happened many times before in history.
Hamas leaders however deemed it necessary to reiterate that they have no intention of disarming at all. “Our fingers will remain on the rifle triggers until the removal of the occupation,” Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri said, according to the Israeli Al Haaretz paper. Even though Hamas has participated in the elections recently, Masri doubted that this means the members are actually going to function as such.It is remarks like these that worry the international community very much. US President George W. Bush has been said to be waiting with inviting the Palestianian leader Abbas until he has got something of substance to report. Perhaps an invitation will finally be extended soon now. The Palestinian leader has installed a hardliner as new intelligence chief. Tareq Abu Rajab, who used to be deputy intelligence chief, is known to have played an important role in a crackdown on the militant group Hamas.
Hamas, which has participated in municipal elections already, might see next July’s municipal elections turn out in its favor. “Extrapolating from the present point in time, Hamas I believe would gain between 30 and 50 percent in the elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council in July. Fateh is in total disarray and is searching for its lost identity”, said Matti Steinberg, an Israeli former security advisor to two heads of the Israel General Security Service. “Hamas could register considerable gains in elections and possibly demand to play a role in the next Palestinian Authority government”, according to Yossi Alpher, a former senior advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The gains that the ‘party to be’ is likely to win are largely due to unhappiness of the Palestine population with the Fateh party, which has lost its identity more or less due to dysfunctioning of the PA.
This is echoed by Ghassan Khattib, the Palestinian Authority minister of planning. “It is possible that Hamas, which so far maintains a fundamentalist ideological and extreme political position, will become a pragmatic movement if it has the chance to be part of official politics, locally, regionally and internationally. The rhetoric of Hamas now reminds many of Fateh’s rhetoric when it was treated by the “legitimate powers” as an “illegal terrorist group”. Fateh successfully worked out a trade-off. It was recognized and included in the system in return for playing politics within the parameters of international legality”, he says.
Some view the moves of the radicalists to mainstream politics as a positive transformation and it is surely to be hoped that the organizations involved in the decades-long strife in the region that are now close to becoming involved in mainstream politics, will ultimately disarm. Yet their popularity might be evidencing real hardship on the ground. Aside from what’s driving the islamist vote, Israel’s reaction to a possible Hamas inclusion into the Palestinian Authority (PA) might not be favorable and it might be unwilling to negotiate with Hamas leaders. But then, this might not turn out to be the case. Prime Minister Sharon who is said by some to favor a peace process that is open ended might think he has a better negotiating partner in a Hamas- partipated PA.
It is also going to be interesting what is going to be happening with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah leaders have expressed opposition to disarmament that’s as strong as the the Palestinian Hamas leaders. So far, this issue, the groups’ status as terrorist and their unwillingness to recognize Israel as a state has always deterred countries like the US to deal with them as mature political entities. This is changing. Word in the diplomatic corridors has it that the State Department might acquiesce in Hezbollah’s entry into Lebanese politics if it abandons terrorism and severs its political and operational ties with Syria. This US recognition of Hezbollah could serve as a precedent for US acceptance of a political role for Hamas.
So far it looks like every major move that the islamist groups make by definition will continue to go accompanied with pledges to hold onto arms. But one ought to bear in mind that often the public rhetoric is different than any private action. The leader of Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrullah, recently reiterated that his group will not give up their weapons. In an interview with Reuters he said that his party will keep its weapons and will not give it up, noting that this decision is because of the continued Israeli occupation and the risks of occupation against his country. He even snubbed the UN, saying that its Security Council resolution demanding Hezbollah to hand over its weapons is ‘meaningless’ and ‘of no value’.
Meanwhile, in Iraq Al Qaeda’s Jordanian-born leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi also recently publicly rejected a call from the new Iraqi president for militants to lay down their arms. Calling the new Iraqi leader President Jalal Talabani an agent of the US and Jews, the rebels said they would continue their strife until Sharia law was established in the country and never forgive the leader for his “infidelity” and “spilling of the blood of Muslims”. It is not clear whether the statement, posted on a website used by Islamist militants is authentic. It is a smack in the face however of Mr Talabani, who has been quite lenient to those Iraqi’s who have taken to violence over the past few years, saying a peaceful solution should be found with Iraqis who were ‘led astray’ by terrorism. He even invited them in to participate in the democratic process and offered some convicted terrorists an amnesty.
Angelique van Engelen is a freelance writer for http://www.contentClix.com. She has been a Middle East correspondent based in Cairo Egypt for over three years and currently lives in the Amsterdam, the Netherlands, from where she writes on all major events. She also runs a blog examining the merits of anarchy and alternative rule http://clixyPlays.blogspot.com