Hamas, Israel and the PLO

October 24, 1994

The Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, poses no strategic threat to Israel but every menace to the Palestine Liberation Organization and embryonic Palestine. Yet it is Israel that has rightly gone to battle against Hamas, and against the PLO that coexists in a tacit truce with Hamas in Gaza, being too insecure to confront its mortal enemy.

The first duty of the government of Israel, since the founding of the state, has been to protect Israeli citizens. After the Hamas kidnapping and murder of an Israeli soldier and the suicide bombing of a crowded bus in Tel Aviv killing 21, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin took every measure possible to reassure his citizens. This includes sealing the West Bank and Gaza from Israel at grave cost to Israeli employers, and seeking authority to lock up suspects without formality. Mr. Rabin -- who has won the Nobel Peace Prize with his foreign minister, Shimon Peres, and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat -- is not dovish on Israelis' security.

Yet Mr. Arafat, while denouncing terror, is unready or unable to suppress Hamas in Gaza. And while he refrains, Israelis question his commitment to peace. Hamas, for its part, mounts terror from within Israel's security perimeter. It avoids compromising autonomous Gaza and fighting Mr. Arafat's Fatah police.

President Clinton's visit to the Middle East starting tomorrow, pTC while initiated to add prestige to the Israel-Jordan treaty signing, is also designed to isolate the terrorists. His side trip to Damascus Thursday to encourage a Syria-Israel agreement is pressure on President Hafez el-Assad to end support of terrorism and toleration of it in Lebanon.

For Israel's government, the questions about counter-terrorism tactics are practical. If it takes measures that sacrifice the peace process, it delivers what Hamas wants. If it does nothing, it will fall along with the peace process.

Mr. Arafat's response ignores what Islamic-extremist organizations like Hamas do in the Arab world. In Algeria, a counterpart is murdering Arab Muslim journalists as well as prominent Berbers. In Egypt, another is murdering anyone in state uniform, and knifed the 83-year-old Nobel novelist, Naguib Mahfouz. As head of a secular political movement and married to a Christian, Mr. Arafat must realize that any truce with Hamas is opportunistic and temporary on Hamas' part.

As for Israel, Hamas can inflict terror against individuals but only nuisance pinpricks on the state. Hamas' threat is to the peace process and the Palestine state emerging from it. The bombs that kill Israelis, unstopped, could kill the PLO.

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