JERUSALEM (Dec. 21)
Israel’s expulsion of 415 militant Palestinians from the administered territories has slowed down fundamentalist activity against Israel, at least temporarily.
But it also appears to have brought the Palestine Liberation Organization and the rival Hamas movement closer together.
Both groups received a measure of support when, in a rare move, Israeli Arab citizens called a one-day general strike this week in solidarity with Palestinians in the territories.
Growing backing for Moslem fundamentalists in the territories has also raised questions about a return to the peace talks for a Palestinian delegation that takes its cues from the Tunis-based PLO.
Palestinian leader Sari Nusseibeh said the clear message getting through to the leadership of the PLO is that most Palestinians no longer support peace negotiations with Israel.
A coming together of Hamas and the PLO surfaced this week in a leaflet signed by the two rival camps that calls for stepped-up action against the Israeli “occupation.”
In their first joint manifesto since the outbreak of the intifada five years ago, they outlined coordinated activities.
Nevertheless, cracks have appeared in their move toward unity. Hamas failed to show up at an East Jerusalem rally this week called by Palestinian leaders to protest the deportations. And it was unclear whether the Moslem fundamentalist group would show up in Tunis for a scheduled meeting with the PLO leadership.
A Hamas spokesman in Amman, Ibrahim Ghoshe, said the group had accepted an invitation extended by PLO leader Yasir Arafat for a meeting in the Tunisian capital.
But PLO information head Yasir Abed Rabbo announced several hours later that the Moslem militants were not expected.
Hamas activists in the territories were reportedly in a state of shock following the deportation of their leaders at the end of last week.
Despite Israeli assurances to the contrary, the fundamentalists fear additional mass deportations and have suspended terror attacks accordingly.
As the fundamentalist camp weighed its next steps, experts attributed its temporary slowdown not only to the expulsion of its leaders but to the fear that security forces were getting closer to capturing Hamas terrorist squads.
Moreover, sympathetic headlines in newspapers around the world made it less attractive to launch brutal terror attacks at this time. And continued demonstrations in support of the deportees has reduced the need for more violent action.
Speakers at the Palestinian rally in East Jerusalem’s Hakawati Theater said rage and public protest in the territories over the deportations was reminiscent of the early days of the Palestinian uprising.
A speaker from Gaza said public pressure made it difficult for the PLO to continue the peace process even if it wanted to do so.
Ghazi Jiab, a past member of the PLO-supported Unified National Command, said that difficulty would be reinforced unless Israel took back the deportees, in line with a resolution adopted last Friday night by the U.N. Security Council.
Meanwhile, the Gaza Strip continued to be under curfew for the second consecutive week after clashes in Khan Yunis on Saturday between rock-throwing demonstrators and Israeli forces, which killed six residents, including a 9- year-old girl.
Israel lifted its military closure of the West Bank town of Ramallah on Monday, which means its residents can now enter Israel freely. But Arab residents of the Bethlehem and Hebron areas are still barred from entering Israel proper.