Hamas considers an end to terror Another way: PLO's opponents may press the cause in elections

October 29, 1995

HAMAS, the militant Palestinian organization dedicated to destroying peace with Israel, has two strong reasons to end terrorism and seek a democratic path to power in Palestine. Together they amount to an offer it cannot refuse.

The main reason is that the legitimacy and popularity of Yasser Arafat and the PLO are going up in the West Bank and Gaza, especially as Israeli soldiers hand over Jenin in the West Bank to Palestinian forces. The Palestine bus is leaving the station. Hamas couldn't stop it and had better be on it. Mr. Arafat is delivering the self-government and self-respect to Palestinians that all past terrorism could not produce.

The second reason is that vigorous police action to suppress Hamas terrorists -- involving cooperation between Israel, the PLO and the United States -- seems to have crippled its ability to do harm. The suicide bombings and shootings of Israelis subsided before Hamas thought about suspending them.

So there is no surprise that Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, now in an Israeli prison for ordering the deaths of informants, told an Islamic paper, "Give peace a chance."

This adds substance to reports that the PLO and Hamas are negotiating Hamas participation in Palestinian elections expected on Jan. 20. The group could evolve into the more militant political party in Palestine, contesting seats on the Palestinian Council, with the PLO as the mainstream party that negotiated self-government. The alternative would be to repudiate the legitimacy of the election and launch a Palestinian civil war, which Hamas would undoubtedly lose.

"What is going on today is a new reality," Sheik Ahmed Yassin told his interviewer, "imposed by Israel but better than the occupation." Given the moral authority he holds among the young gunmen, a call by the sheik for a cease-fire would have telling effect.

Hamas is not the only terrorist organization, but it is the only one well-rooted in the West Bank. Hezbollah, funded by Iran, operated from Lebanon, is more of an outside nuisance.

If Hamas does cease fire, that would be the strongest testament yet that the Israel-PLO peace is holding and winning over Palestinians.

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