JERUSALEM (Mar. 21)
Hamas has completed its takeover of the Palestinian Authority, and Israel is hoping the radical Islamic group’s success will turn into a failure. Busy before March 28 elections, Israeli officials had no immediate comment after Hamas unveiled its 24-member Cabinet this week. But a political source in Jerusalem said the move would intensify international pressure on the Palestinian Authority.
“This is a reality check for the Palestinians,” the source said. “Hamas has proven damn adept at dispatching teenagers to carry out suicide bombings, but let’s see how good it is at managing an economy or foreign policy.”
Hamas, labeled a terrorist group by the United States, European Union and Israel, formed its government after failing to talk rival factions into entering a government coalition.
As expected, Ismail Haniyeh was nominated for prime minister, a powerful post though it formally is subject to vetoes by the more moderate president, Mahmoud Abbas.
Haniyeh is considered a relative pragmatist in Hamas, but he, too, has spoken again and again in favor of violence against Israel. He survived an Israeli assassination attempt in 2003.
Following Israel’s killings of Sheik Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantissi in 2004, Haniyeh led Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip along with Mahmoud Zahar.
Commentators who parsed a recent hard-line interview Haniyeh gave to Israeli television found marginally positive elements when he talked about “resistance according to the interests of our people” — which some took to mean that violence could be suspended, under certain circumstances
Zahar, the most public face of Hamas during its major terrorist campaigns against Israelis in 2002 and 2003, was named foreign minister.
Zahar studied medicine at Cairo’s Ain Shams University, specializing in general surgery. It was in Cairo that he was influenced by Egypt’s oldest and largest Islamist organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose ideology nourished Hamas.
Zahar was influential for Hamas in announcing an informal truce last year and in arranging Hamas’ participation in the recent parliamentary elections.
As finance minister — a tough job given the threat of aid cutoffs hanging over the West Bank and Gaza Strip since Hamas won January elections — the group appointed Omar Abdel Razek, a West Bank economist.
Most worryingly for Israel, senior Hamas official Sayed Seyam took over the Interior Ministry, gaining control of the Palestinian Authority’s dozen or so armed forces.
As JTA reported in its recent series on UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, nine former UNRWA staffers who ran for Parliament were forced to resign their UNRWA jobs. Seyam resigned from UNRWA in February 2003 to become a Hamas spokesman, and reportedly was a protege of Rantissi.
According to a source familiar with his employment record, Seyam worked from 1980 to 1993 in UNRWA schools in Gaza, and then served for seven years as head of the teachers union, reportedly a Hamas-dominated group.
In April 2004, as masked Hamas members countered a U.S. threat to freeze assets by collecting cash and jewelry from mosque-goers, Reuters quoted Seyam explaining that the fund raising would not only allow the group to buy more ammunition, but also would send “a message to the Zionist enemy and to the Americans that they would never succeed in besieging resistance and blocking its resources.”
Wary of being used as a fig leaf for Hamas’s jihad against the Jewish state, the more pragmatic Palestinian faction Fatah declined to join a coalition.
Abbas, the Fatah chairman, had insisted that Hamas first renounce terrorism and recognize past Israeli-Palestinian agreements. It refused.
Hamas was even shunned by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a fringe terrorist group whose leader, Ahmed Sa’adat, was seized from a West Bank prison by Israeli troops last week.
Khaled Meshaal, a Hamas leader living abroad, blamed the failed coalition talks on U.S.-led campaigning.
“The United States placed pressure on Palestinian factions to not participate in the government so that the government will be purely Hamas and Israel can justify carrying out its plan to attack the Palestinian people,” he said during a visit to Yemen.
The United States, with E.U. backing, has called for the Palestinian Authority to be cut off diplomatically and deprived of government-level donor aid once Hamas takes power.