Eyebrows were raised around the world Aug. 14 when Hamas security forces in Rafah swiftly, and brutally, destroyed an al-Qaeda-inspired group that had proclaimed the southern Gaza town an “Islamic emirate.” After all, Hamas is listed by the U.S. and the European Union as a terrorist organization, and many in the West don’t expect an avowedly Islamist political organization to forcefully suppress jihadist groups.
Yet, that’s exactly what happened when pro-al-Qaeda cleric Abdel Latif Moussa gathered about 100 of his heavily armed supporters in a mosque to denounce Hamas rule and declared himself the “Islamic prince” of the new “emirate.” Hamas security men moved in to disarm the group, and 24 people, including Moussa and about 20 of his followers, were killed in the ensuing firefight. Their group, Jund Ansar Allah, claimed inspiration from al-Qaeda, and condemned Hamas both for maintaining a cease-fire with Israel and for its failure to impose Islamic Shari’a law after taking full control of Gaza in 2007. It had mounted small-scale attacks on rivals inside Gaza, and two months ago failed in a bizarre cavalry charge by mounted fighters against Israeli border guards. Following the Rafah showdown, the fringe group has vowed to wage war on Hamas, turning Gaza’s rulers into an unlikely ally against Osama bin Laden.
The horsemen of Jund Ansar Allah on training exercises in preparation for their quixotic attack on an Israeli border post in June:
Still, there was little surprise about the Rafah confrontation for longtime observers of Palestinian politics. Hamas, in fact, has always been at odds with al-Qaeda. Despite its Islamist ideology, Hamas is first and foremost a nationalist movement, taking its cue from Palestinian public opinion and framing its goals and strategies on the basis of national objectives, rather than the “global” jihadist ideology of al-Qaeda. For example, Hamas has periodically debated the question of whether to attack American targets in its midst, and each time has reiterated the insistence of the movement’s founders that it confine its resistance activities to Israeli targets.
“What distinguishes Hamas — as well as organizations like Hizballah and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood — from groups like al-Qaeda is that they recognize, whether out of principle or practical necessity, that the will of the people they claim to represent is paramount,” says Mouin Rabbani, an Amman-based analyst with the Center for Palestine Studies. “In deciding their actions, they’re ultimately more responsive to their environment than to their principles.” [continued…]
A Hamas representative said on Thursday the Palestinian Islamist group was still positive about reconciliation with its rival Fatah, days ahead of an expected new round of Egyptian-brokered talks.
“We are going to continue the dialogue with a positive mentality, but we must settle the question of (Hamas) political prisoners in the West Bank,” Hamas official Osama Abu Khaled told AFP. [continued…]
Palestinians are as eager as anyone to see positive economic development for their tormented country. But they know full well that real economic progress awaits their release from Israeli military occupation (West Bank, East Jerusalem) and siege (Gaza Strip).
Consider the recent media promotion of the Netanyahu government’s view that the occupied West Bank is witnessing rapid economic growth. Thomas Friedman picked up on that theme in his New York Times column, as did Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, in this newspaper. The selective economic data they provide ignore the reality: Occupied Palestinian territory is not a sovereign country where traditional economic measures apply.
I was the manager who oversaw the establishment of the first modern mall in the West Bank—the Plaza Shopping Center in El Bireh. I can attest that the success of a West Bank mall rests on a thin layer of elite consumer privilege poised precariously over a chasm of widespread disempowerment. Until West Bank Palestinians gain free and open access to the world economy, beyond the markets of the occupying power, major enterprises in Palestinian towns will suffer. [continued…]