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March 25, 2005

'PERESTROIKA IN PALESTINE':HAMAS IN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS

KEY FINDINGS

** Euro and Mideast papers see "political maturity on the part of the militants."

** Dailies contend Hamas participation will "strengthen the essence of [PA] national unity."

** European outlets lobby Israel "to take into account' Abbas's "tightrope act."

** War on terror has given Hamas "no choice but to...become a political party."

 

MAJOR THEMES

A 'significant change in the attitude of Hamas'--An overwhelming majority of outlets saw Hamas's "decision to run for parliament" as a "clear declaration of a desire for broader participation." Russian papers compared the dtente between Abbas and Palestinian "radicals" to the notion of "perestroika".Israel's left-leaning Ha'aretz judged Hamas's decision a "significant change in attitude" with Saudi Arabia agreeing it "reflects a radical change in its political thinking." Lebanon's moderate Daily Star determined that "Palestinian factions have proven that there is more to resistance then killing Israelis."

More than a 'tactical ploy'-- Outlets cited the "historic" shift to raise their expectations.The West Bank's official Al-Hayat Al-Jadida noted that Hamas's decision "deserves...respect" as it demonstrates an "awareness about citizenship." Israeli writers cautiously termed Hamas's participation "not merely a ploy to bring calm to the area" but also a "return to...structural reforms in the Palestinian leadership." The West Bank's independent Al-Ayyam backed Hamas's announcement, saying it will "add to the Palestinian political regime" and "offers" Hamas "local, regional, and international legitimacy." Jordan's Ad-Dustour concluded: "This really shows the political maturity of the PNA and the depth of its democratic sense."

'Build bridges of mutual trust'-- Palestinian papers contended that because Hamas has "shown...flexibility" the "international community must convince Israel to change its rigid position drastically" to achieve "a just peace."Germany's leftist Die Tageszeitung cautioned that in order to avoid an electoral victory by Hamas, "exaggerated demands of the Palestinians" that "only increase the influence of Isamists" should be avoided.Al-Hayat al-Jadidah opined that in light of "this new position by the factions, primarily on the part of Hamas" the "road map's custodians should utilize this new trend and not miss the opportunity."

Hamas must show a 'social face'-- Dutch centrist weekly HP/De Tijd held that even if newfound democracy in the Mideast is "decorum, movements like Hizbollah and Hamas will have to show their social face instead of only inspiring fear."A Lebanese writer declared that "in today's international climate of the 'war on terror' acts of violence directed at civilians are increasingly viewed as intolerable."While simultaneously applauding the "continuation of the breather" and Hamas's announced participation in elections, Germany's centrist Der Tagesspiegel warned that to "give politics another chance" Hamas must "bid farewell to terror, not temporarily but forever."

Prepared by Media Reaction Branch (202) 203-7888, rmrmail@state.gov

EDITORS: Patricio Asfura-Heim

 

EDITOR'S NOTE: Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment.Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion.Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet. This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government. This analysis was based on 22 reports from 9 countries over March 9 - 18, 2005.Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.

 

EUROPE

GERMANY: "Give Policy A Chance"

Clemens Wergin had this to say in centrist Der Tagesspiegel (3/18): "The militant Palestinian groups know what their people want: a continuation of the breather with Israel to give Palestinian President Abbas the opportunity to conduct serious talks with Israel about the next stage of the road map and to test whether Ariel Sharon is willing to offer more than a withdrawal from Gaza and from a few settlements on the West Bank. That was the background for a historic agreement in Cairo, where Islamic terror organizations and left-wing groups publicly announced that they would extend the cease-fire.... Hamas also announced that it wants to take part in the upcoming elections. But regardless of whether it will become an opposition party or a coalition force, in order to be accepted as political force, Hamas must bid farewell to terror, not temporarily but forever. Even though this decision has not yet been announced, the Palestinians made another important step on Thursday to give politics another chance."

"Transfer Of Jericho Only First Step"

Susanne Knaul in leftist Die Tageszeitung commented (3/17): "The transfer of Jericho from Israeli to Palestinian security authorities does not offer reason for euphoria, since only one checkpoint will be taken down.and nothing will change in Jericho's municipal area..Nevertheless, the transfer of the city and next week's planned transfer of Tulkarem are steps in the right direction, steps in the direction of a daily routine when Palestinian instead of Israeli security forces will establish law and order.... And the Palestinians are now faced with the first test, since Israel has called upon the Palestinian leadership to disarm twenty militant Palestinians who allegedly sought refuge in Jericho. Since Islamic extremists announced that they plan to take part in the upcoming parliamentary elections, there are voices that no longer rule out a victory of Hamas. A confrontation initiated by the Palestinian leadership would be at the expense of the currently strongest faction, President Abbas's Fatah....Until the elections in July, he must now walk a tightrope act between his commitments to Israel and his own domestic policy constraints. Israel's government should take this into account. Exaggerated demands to the Palestinians only increase the influence of Islamists.And this could be seen in the outcome of the coming elections."

NETHERLANDS: "A Window Towards The West"

Dirk-Jan van Baar opined in centrist weekly HP/De Tijd (3/11): "The Bush government hopes for a domino effect in the Middle East comparable to the revolts in Eastern Europe after the fall of Berlin wall. A diplomatic breakthrough in the Middle East is no reason for al Qaeda fighters to give up. But if Syria, after Iraq, also gives in, 'ordinary' terror movements will lose influence and the Mullahs in Iran will be further isolated. That will give Israel room to make some concessions. Even if 'democracy' in the Middle East is just decorum, movements like Hezbollah and Hamas will have to show their social face instead of only inspiring fear. If that is the result of the War on Terror, America may consider it has won that war, even if Osama bin Laden has not been arrested."

RUSSIA; "Hamas To Take Part In Vote"

Andrey Pravov said in reformist Novyye Izvestiya (3/14): "Hamas's decision to run for parliament is a clear declaration of a desire for broader participation in Palestinian politics. New Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is determined to resume negotiations, that is, he is willing to compromise if that brings peace to the Middle East. Hamas will be responsible for that, too, provided it gets elected. Many Palestinians really believe in Hamas. In the Intifada years Hamas, receiving considerable financial assistance from abroad, opened schools and hospitals in Gaza and took care of the families of suicide bombers. Feeling strong now, its leadership must want to bring about a situation where it can use constitutional methods to block Mahmoud Abbas' proposals in parliament. But Abbas does not seem to mind. In fact, he has welcomed Hamas' decision, pointing out that he has long wanted the organization to get involved in the Autonomy's political life."

"Perestroika In Palestine"

Andrey Pravov in reformist Novyye Izvestiya declared (3/17): "The Cairo conference, now in its third day, is important to the Palestinians, Israelis and peace in the Middle East as a whole. New Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is trying to talk radicals into making peace with Israel. What is going on in the Palestinian Autonomy now is quite consonant with a very familiar notion, 'perestroika.' It best conveys the idea behind the Mahmoud Abbas policy. The world demands concessions. The positions must get closer and the sides are bound to start bridging the gap.Otherwise, peace will never come to the Middle East."

MIDEAST

ISRAEL: "The Start Of A New Relationship"

Zvi Bar'El wrote in independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz (3/18): "The gathering of the Palestinian factions and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority in Cairo... not in a crisis, but in an agreement that was well-known in advance for the most part.... The more important aspects of the agreements reached yesterday lie in the new relationship between the PA and the Palestinian opposition groups, including their participation in the local elections, scheduled for May, and those for the Legislative Assembly, set for July, as well as their political cooperation in the future.This is a significant change in the attitude of Hamas, which refused in 1996 to participate in the elections that it regarded as the result of the Oslo process. It is also a withdrawal from terms initially posed by the group, when they asked for a 40 percent quota of parliamentarians, before the elections were held. But the continuation of the hudna is not merely a tactical ploy to bring calm to the area, but a return for the commitment of Mahmoud Abbas to carry out structural reforms in the Palestinian leadership."

"Hamas Is Feeling Its Strength"

Danny Rubinstein wrote in independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz (3/16): "The prevailing wisdom in East Jerusalem nowadays among merchants, teachers and professionals is that they feel the Palestinian public is angry at Fatah's activists who have not been serving the public but rather handing out perks to cronies.The way to punish Fatah, they say, is by voting Hamas. Thus, the party's popularity is not because of its anti-Israel policies, but rather the result of disgust with Fatah corruption. Apparently, the feeling that Hamas is going to succeed in the elections has also taken hold in the Palestinian leadership, and even Abbas has been heard saying lately that he is not afraid of Hamas winning the elections.So, there's no chance the current PA government will send its security forces in to clash with Hamas and forcibly disarm it."

"Hamas Has No Choice"

Danny Rubinstein wrote in independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz (3/15): "This evening, under Egyptian auspices, and presumably in the presence of Syrian representatives, the various Palestinian factions will meet in Cairo for what may well be remembered as one of the most important gatherings in the history of the Palestinian national movement. The gathering will center on a dialogue between the Palestinian Authority, or more precisely, the Palestinian ruling party, Fatah, and the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas.... The revolutionary change in Hamas's position signifies a degree of acceptance of the peace process. One can certainly point to international and regional developments that have led to this change, but there is also a direct cause: Hamas made a very strong showing in the local elections that took place in the West Bank and Gaza Strip a few weeks ago.After these elections, one of its representatives said: 'We now have a responsibility toward the masses who voted for us, and we cannot uphold this responsibility if we don't play a part in all the governmental institutions in the territories.'In other words, having decided to participate in the municipal elections, Hamas now has no choice but to go all the way and become a political party."

WEST BANK: "The Dialogue On Calm!"

Basim Abu-Sumayyah wrote in semi-official Al-Hayat al-Jadidah (3/18): "The statements by Israeli officials to the effect that the PA's real test lies in disbanding the armed organizations are unsettling and a cause for pessimism, but yet not binding. We know that Israel will continue dragging its heels and procrastinating on the implementation of its Sharm al-Shaykh obligations. It will find any possible flaw in the calm agreement, set additional conditions, and exploit any opportunity to place obstacles.... The 13 factions' agreement on adhering to calm in such a situation is the real test of the Palestinian forbearance in light of the Israeli provocations. Therefore, Palestinian political and diplomatic action should now focus on the international community in order to win its sympathy and rally its stance in our favor....the ball is now in the court of the quartet, the custodian of the road map, and not solely in Israel's court.Hence, the success of the Cairo declaration depends on the measures that the United States and its road map partners will take. If the United States wants to revive this political plan and make it feasible, then both the PA, which favors a political solution, and the factions that oppose such a solution, have shown a real desire and taken serious measures to bring about calm....this is a new position by the factions, primarily on the part of Hamas, and therefore the road map's custodians should utilize this new trend and not miss this opportunity....the agreement reflects a new and different language by the opposition factions, which helped realize a national understanding, while taking into consideration regional and international circumstances and the Palestinians' need to catch their breath following many years of aggression, destruction, and shedding of innocent blood!"

"Cairo Talks: Necessities And Transformations"

Independent Al-Ayyam commented (3/18):"It's normal that this time the Palestinians have a different view of the national dialogue in Cairo and that their expectations of it are higher than of previous ones....There's a transformation of the various national and Islamic factions' positions in dealing with the PA, for...most parties are now looking to become part of the PA institution.This...was obvious when the factions took part in the local and legislative elections and most recently Hamas's official announcement that it will participate in legislative elections..Palestinians have to deal with the truce issue not merely within a Palestinian-Israeli framework, given that Israel is not ready or interested at this stage, but also by considering the national interest one of their top priorities. The truce must be conditional on Israeli acceptance of the Palestinians' just demands, which must be the obligatory program of the PA, the PLO and all national and Islamic parties."

"Cairo Meeting And Israeli Stubbornness"

Independent Al-Quds editorialized (3/16):"Is the goal of the Israeli government to achieve calm and a cease-fire as preparation for a resumption of peace talks? Or is it trying to generate a crisis by imposing unacceptable, impossible conditions so as to trigger an internal Palestinian war under the pretext of so-called 'dismantling' of the infrastructure of what Israel describes as 'terrorist' organizations?....This extremist Israeli position will certainly not encourage Palestinian factions in the Cairo talks to make the necessary efforts to reach a truce agreement... Egypt...will not accept any Israeli government attempt to thwart the good efforts Egypt has been putting forth for several months. The international community must convince Israel to change its rigid position drastically...to allow sufficient time for calm and self-restraint and to build bridges of mutual trust in order to achieve a just peace based on the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people."

"Hamas's Participation Is A Historic Step"

Hani Masri opined in independent Al-Ayyam (3/14):"Hamas's participation in the Palestinian political system might strengthen this system by expanding the political grassroots it is based on. It could also provide Hamas with the protection it needs, since it and the [entire] Palestinian resistance have a price on their head....Hamas's participation is a major step in the right direction. It complements a number of other steps, mainly Hamas's acceptance of the establishment of a Palestinian state on the land occupied in 1967 and a long truce....It is also positive because Hamas's participation will add to the Palestinian political regime, since neither Fatah nor any other party will have a monopoly on power and will face a strong opponent capable of strengthening its unity and improving its performance."

"On Time"

Semi-official Al-Hayat Al-Jadida commented (3/14):"Hamas's decision to participate in the legislative elections deserves all our respect. It's a decision demonstrating awareness about citizenship....To engage in the elections means to present a clear agenda that allows citizens to cast their votes with confidence about whom and what they are voting for.... Following the elections, all of us, both in the authority and the opposition, must strengthen the essence of national unity...with the door open for elections based on national unity."

"Hamas, Fatah And What's In Between"

Hafiz Barghuthi opined in official Al-Hayat Al-Jadida(3/14): "Hamas's participation in the parliamentary elections will not cause a 'tsunami' in Palestinian political life in a negative sense.Rather, in a positive sense, I believe Hamas will be the second political force after Fatah despite the latter's loss of direction.... Palestinian political life will basically have two poles, Fatah and Hamas, without a third heavyweight party. Perhaps the worst kind of government is the presence of two big parties sharing the parliament then executive authority. Thus, there's an urgent need for the emergence of a third heavywieght force, which we could call the independent national party given that the left wing has vanished."

"Hamas: The Party Is On Its Way To Parliament"

Ashraf Ajrami commented in independent Al-Ayyam (3/14): "All indications show that Hamas's step to participate in the elections is a major move toward becoming a political party. This doesn't necessarily mean that at this stage Hamas will terminate its military body or lay down its arms. The truth is that Hamas is indeed a political party and carries out all the activities that any party would...especially given that it possesses a specific political and social ideology.... Hamas's participation in the legislative elections will undoubtedly lead to a moderation of its political positions.. Hamas has shown enough flexibility to deal with regional and international variables, and it can't ignore the...European and American efforts to deal with Hamas differently as a social-political party and not a resistance faction listed on the list of so-called 'terrorist organizations.'Hamas also knows that its presence in PA institutions, local and legislative commissions and perhaps later in the government offers it local, regional and international legitimacy."

"Hamas, A Parliamentary Force"

Hasan Al-Batal opined in independent Al-Ayyam (3/14):"The Hamas movement will enjoy, in the second Palestinian parliament next July, relatively greater representation than that Hizbullah currently has and will have next May in the Lebanese parliament.This means that what we refer to as Palestinian 'incorporation of factional democracy' is better off than the Lebanese 'sectarian democracy'."

SAUDI ARABIA: "Noble Goal"

Moderate Al Jazirah editorialized (3/18):"This is a noble goal for different Palestinian groups, which share the same concerns and aspirations. They all have a common agenda an end to the Israeli occupation and the creation of an independent Palestinian state. They must, therefore, establish a middle ground and put the Palestinian house in order, the editorial says. Participation in the July elections shows the political maturity of Hamas and its willingness to engage in political life and to be an effective force in formulating laws regulating the lives of Palestinians. If Hamas wins the elections, it will impose its terms and conditions concerning the peace process. If Palestinian groups arrive at a common agenda, this will consolidate their stance and help achieve peace that satisfies the people."

"The Hamas Gamble"

Pan-Arab, London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi said (3/15): "Hamas' participation in the parliamentary election was expected and reflects a radical change in its political thinking after 10 years when it initially began its boycott of those elections. Maybe the big victory that Hamas achieved in the local elections encouraged it to take part in the parliamentary elections. Hamas hopes to make the same achievements but this is too optimistic because there will be an American and Israeli veto against it. Maybe if Hamas wins a large number of seats, it will be able to play a role and act as an obstacle to curb the ambitions of the head of the Palestinian Authority to prevent the signing of the final agreements if Palestinian rights are dropped, particularly the right of return."

"The Right Decision"

Conservative Al-Madina editorialized (3/9):"The Hammas decision to participate in the legislative council election next July was not a surprise to anyone... the Legislative election will be a test and a measure of Hammas's popularity in regions that are normally under the control of the Palestinian Authority.This will be a chance for Hammas to participate in the democratic system and be part of the decision making process in Palestinian political life."

JORDAN: "Hamas To Participate In Elections"

Ya'acoup Jaber said in center-left influential Ad-Dustour (3/18): "The decision by Hamas to participate in the elections indicates its flexibility in dealing with local, regional and international changes. With its participation, Hamas has entered a new phase in the history of the Palestinian struggle, particularly after the death of Yasser Arafat. This phase requires it to get involved in the collective political work supervised by the PNA. The PNA has recently adopted a new approach, promising to end the armed struggle and stop military operations against Israel. This call has received a positive response from Palestinians who are exhausted by the four-year-old uprising.Palestinians long for peace based on international legitimacy but without giving up their national programme.In spite of its announcement that it will stick to the programme of resistance, it appears that Hamas has finally accepted the ground reality. However, the move was welcomed by the PNA.This really shows the political maturity of the PNA and the depth of its democratic sense, which most Arab regimes do not have. It seems that a real democracy is rising in Palestine that is worthy of respect and appreciation from the international community."

LEBANON: "Palestinian Factions Have Shown There's More To Resistance Than Killing Israelis"

The English-language moderate Daily Star noted (3/17): "That the leaders of Palestinian factions are so actively engaged in negotiating a truce with Israel is both a positive step in the peace process and a sign of political maturity on the part of militants. The factions' leaders have proven their commitment to their country, which through their efforts will exist long after their generation. By taking this bold step, the leaders of Palestinian factions have proven that there is more to resistance than simply killing Israelis. As Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal himself suggested, there is an underlying commitment to "basic principles," which cannot be abandoned. But at this juncture, the factions seem to recognize that there are alternative ways to confront the conflict with Israel, particularly if the Israelis are willing to reciprocate.The fact is that acts of terrorism have proven self-inflicting, not unlike Israel's occupation. In today's international climate of the "war on terror" acts of violence directed at civilians are increasingly viewed as intolerable. The only way for the Palestinians to gain friends in this world now that the U.S. has opened its door to Abbas' government is to demonstrate that they are among the parties who are willing to participate in dialogue. The Palestinian factions are wise to join President Mahmoud Abbas' efforts to forge a truce. In essence, they are calling President George W. Bush's bluff.Time will tell whether Bush and Israel are also committed to peace. The time-span of the truce should coincide with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's timetable for Gaza withdrawal. During this period of time, let the Palestinians see whether efforts to free prisoners, halt settlement expansion and prepare for a withdrawal from the West Bank begin. During this timeframe Israel and the United States can prove or disprove their commitment to upholding the principles of the 'road map' to peace."

UAE: "PNA Should Work Together With Hamas"

Khalid Al Huroub wrote in semi-official Abu Dhabi-based Al Ittihad (3/18): "The move is historic and extremely important for the Palestinians. It represents a change in the strategy of Hamas and will have an impact on its political performance. With this step, Hamas has chosen to be part of the political process and share decision-making with the Palestinian National Authority.Hamas's move will encourage all Palestinian factions and groups to participate in elections and be engaged in political life. Its presence in the Palestinian Legislative Council will prompt it to participate in political life and shoulder its responsibility as an effective political party.The PNA, however, should not consider Hamas as a competitor that tries to dominate the Palestinian political scene. It should look at Hamas as a strategic partner, and work alongside the group for the benefit of the Palestinian people. The PNA, Hamas and other Palestinian factions must show political maturity in their efforts to achieve their national dream."

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