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Behind the Headlines: As the Deportees Prepare to Return, Palestinian Moderates Voice Concern

The beds are made, the rooms are nice and tidy — everything is ready for the return of Nabil Na’im a-Natshe.

Natshe, 35, a father of five, shares with his father, Na’im, a huge cement import and money-exchange business. Permanent address: Hebron. Temporary address: Marj a-Zuhur, southern Lebanon, a barren stretch of land where nearly 400 Palestinian deportees are now encamped.

Eight months ago, Nabil was deported to Lebanon along with 414 other Palestinians. Most were members of the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement, expelled following a series of murderous attacks by Muslim extremists within Israel.

The deportations produced a worldwide outcry against what was seen as an unduly harsh measure. In the wake of American pressure, Israel agreed to cut in half the period of expulsion, which had previously been set at a maximum of two years.

Under the terms of an accord that the Israeli government and the deportees reached Aug. 15, a first group of some 190 deportees are to arrive here in mid-September.

Nabil Natshe will probably be among them. He had never been arrested before and, according to his parents, was never associated with any political organization.

Bassem Id, an Arab human rights activist who works for the human rights organization B’Tselem, visited Marj a-Zuhur last winter. He interviewed Natshe and heard from him what he heard from most other deportees: They did not known why they had been deported.

“Soldiers came to my house and said they were taking me for just a few minutes of interrogation. After three days, I was on the bus to Lebanon,” Natshe told Id.

LINK TO MOSLEM BROTHERHOOD

Israel had never said that the deportees were directly involved in any terrorist activities. The deportees — who included doctors, lawyers and teachers — were described by the government as comprising the financial, legal and intellectual infrastructure that enabled the outlawed Hamas movement to operate.

Some of them were described as the people who supplied the funds, others as those who stirred up support and brought in recruits.

“None of us are Hamas,” Dr. Abdul Aziz al-Rantisi, the spokesman for the deportees, said in a telephone interview from Lebanon. “We are all innocent.”

The latter part of the statement is disputable, since many of the deportees were expelled straight from their prison cells. But the first part, that none of the deportees is a member of Hamas, may be truer than one would expect — and yet at the same time untrue.

This is because Hamas is a branch of the worldwide Moslem Brotherhood movement.

Hamas declared its links to the Moslem Brotherhood in the second article of its Islamic Covenant, which was published in Gaza five years ago at the outset of the intifada.

The Moslem Brotherhood, founded in Egypt at the turn of the century, has traditionally been divided between those who push for an armed struggle against non-believers and those more moderate elements more concerned with creating improved conditions for the Muslim community.

This internal debate continues to be waged. Sometimes the moderates have the upper hand; sometimes the extremists call the shots — or pull the knives.

Sheik Taisir Tamimi, a religious judge at the Hebron religious court, was asked this week whether he could envision peaceful coexistence between an independent Palestinian state and a Jewish state. He replied with a quote from the Islamic Covenant: “Our aim is to restore the land to its true owners.”

All the land, he explained. But he was polite enough to suggest that Jews could live there safely under Islamic rule, “as they had done in their Golden Era in Spain.”

ARAFAT IN WEAKENED POSITION

Israelis are not alone in their apprehensions over the imminent return of the Hamas infrastructure. Many Palestinians share their concerns, including many Palestine Liberation Organization activists in the administered territories.

The deportees will return to the territories at a time when the PLO and its supporters are facing a deep ideological and financial crisis.

On the ideological level, the Palestinian organization is torn by a deep internal debate over whether PLO leader Yasir Arafat is steering the peace process in the right direction.

Two leading members of the PLO executive committee — Mahmoud Darwis, a poet and a close adviser to Arafat, and Shafik al-Hout, a PLO representative in Lebanon — have resigned in protest over what they see as Arafat’s “moderate” policy toward Israel.

In addition to ideological disputes, Arafat is facing the gravest financial crisis the organization has ever known.

The PLO is now considering the idea of selling real estate it controls throughout the world to pay the salaries of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who are dependent on the PLO for their daily living — and these include doctors, teachers and journalists.

From a financial standpoint alone, prospects for the PLO do not look good in its ongoing competition with Hamas. Hamas has far fewer mouths to feed. Those who do depend on Hamas need not worry.

Given Hamas’ relative financial strength — as well as its political ideology, which provides simple, uncompromising answers — Palestinian moderates have a serious problem.

The Hamas and quasi-Hamas deportees not only threaten Israel. They also threaten the society envisioned by Palestinian moderates — a heterogeneous, secular community governed by democratic principles.

Islamic fundamentalists pose a threat in Egypt, where last week they attempted to assassinate Interior Minister Hassan al-Alfi. They pose a threat in Jordan, where, as King Hussein charged this week, fundamentalist elements there tried to assassinate him two months ago.

They also pose a threat in Israel — to Israelis and moderate, democratically inclined Palestinians alike.

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