Sunday, June 19, 2011

Palestinian Reconciliation Helps Keep Away Extremism

By Musa Keilani
 Al Qaeda is using the Palestinian cause to strengthen and “legitimise” itself. In a statement issued last week, naming Osama Ben Laden’s long-serving deputy Ayman Al Zawahiri as its new leader, the group said it “will never recognise any legitimacy for the alleged state of Israel”.
“We assure our people in Palestine that we will not accept any compromise with anyone regarding the land of Palestine,” Al Qaeda statement read.
“We seek the help of God to preach the true religion, to incite the nation to get ready and fight to fulfil the duty of fighting the infidels who committed aggression on the land of Islam, led by America and its spoiled child Israel, to fight them with all our might,” it said.
What a great surprise!
The last thing that the Palestinians want at this point in their struggle for liberation and independent statehood is support from extremist groups like Al Qaeda. Such “expressions” of support actually undermine their cause, since they will be immediately exploited by Israel and its allies to discredit the Palestinian liberation movement, arguing that since the Palestinians have the support of Al Qaeda and are “aligned” with the network, they are indeed “terrorists”, as Israel has been maintaining for decades. That would be the biggest blow for the Palestinians.
Hamas and all other Palestinian factions have effectively told Al Qaeda, through public statements, that they could do without its support, but the group insists on backing them and there is little the Palestinians could do about it.
Iran’s loud declarations in support of the Palestinian cause do not necessarily come from genuine Iranian regime sympathy with the freedom struggle. Tehran simply wants to present itself as the strongest supporter of the Palestinians and to send yet another message to the Arabs that it has “friends” among them. It even wants to outdo Arab countries in offering support to the Palestinians, mainly the Islamic Jihad and Hamas movements.
The Palestinians are smart enough not to fall for the Iranian gambit. They could of course do with material aid from the international community, including Iran, but they are keeping a relatively low-profile approach to the issue.
In the case of Al Qaeda, Israel has been maintaining in recent years that the group established a strong presence in the mountains in the Sinai area. Israel said Al Qaeda also set up a “unit” in Gaza Strip and it is only a matter of time before Israel will witness attempts at staging Al Qaeda-style attacks.
The contention pressured Egypt into sending additional forces into the area and stepping up surveillance and reconnaissance. However, there is no evidence that Al Qaeda set up a base there.
Similarly, the Hamas movement, which is dominant in Gaza Strip, dismissed as untrue the Israeli assertion that Al Qaeda penetrated into the Mediterranean enclave from Egypt. What we know so far is that Al Qaeda might be interested in setting up a presence in Gaza Strip, but it is not having much luck because of Hamas resistance.
The Palestinians know well that any association with groups like Al Qaeda, perceived or otherwise, will spell disaster for them. The international sympathy for them will vanish and they would not be able to advance their freedom struggle.
There was indeed a time when some Palestinian factions took their struggle to the European scene by hijackings and attacks against Israeli interests. But that is a thing of the past. At this point in time, the Palestinians do not have an international agenda except to gather as much support as they can for their quest for independent statehood, starting with UN recognition of their national state based on the 1967 borders.
Hamas has its own Islamist agenda and hence its disagreement with the mainstream Palestine Liberation Organisation. Hamas has now settled its row with the dominant faction in PLO, Fateh. It is not known how the two groups will reconcile their conflicting positions over Salam Fayyad, the current Palestinian prime minister, continuing in that capacity during an interim period ahead of legislative and presidential elections next year.
It is very unfortunate that the discord is preventing the finalisation of the interim government that is crucial to forming a common, collective Palestinian platform to deal with all issues of relevance to the cause.
Hopefully, Palestinian President and Fateh leader Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Mishaal will be able to find common ground in their meeting in Cairo this week.
Agreement, and not discord, is the only way ahead for the Palestinian cause. In the meantime, the Palestinian leadership has to nip in the bud any Al Qaeda effort to penetrate its ranks and recruit some of the angry, young Palestinians who despair at the systematic injustices they are suffering under Israel’s control of the Palestinian territories.
There could indeed be a recruiting ground for Al Qaeda in the Gaza Strip: the Jihadi Salafists. According to Israel, the hardline group behind the heinous murder of an Italian activist in Gaza, in April, belongs to the Jihadi Salafist movement that could have some “sympathetic” links with Al Qaeda. The Brigade of the Gallant Companion of the Prophet Mohammed, a previously unheard group,claimed responsibility for kidnapping and murdering Vittorio Arrigoni.
The Jihadi Salafist movement accuses Hamas of being too weak to deal with Israel and wants to step up armed resistance. According to reports, five major Jihad Salafist groups are present in Gaza Strip. They are Jund Ansarallah, Tawhid wa Jihad, Jeish Al Islam, Jeish Al Umma and Ansar Al Sunnah. Their strength is not known, but some of them are known to have attacked UN facilities as well as other targets they deem to be engaged in actions unacceptable in Islam. These include shops selling audio-video music and films, as well as places where men and women could mix.
They are also behind the rocket attacks launched from Gaza Strip against Israeli targets. A tough Hamas crackdown is keeping them largely in check.
The Salafists are two schools. The moderate Salafistsare against violence. They are unlikely to have an alliance with Al Qaeda, except perhaps for some sense of affinity, since both see the US-led West as exploiting and victimising the Muslim world. They should not be allowed to turn that affinity into an “organisational” link between the two groups.
Again, complete and absolute reconciliation among all Palestinian groups is vital not only to bolstering hopes for the realisation of their struggle for freedom, but also to root out any growth of Al Qaeda-style “jihadism” among them.
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 19/06/2011

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