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The Peace-process under fire – threats from the Islamists

Dr Magnus Norell  As indirect (so-called proximity talks) are under way between Israelis and Palestinians, new reports are surfacing concerning the main foe of any such peace-process, the radical and militant Islamists in Hamas and Hizb’allah. This is happening as new calls for a return to ‘the armed struggle’ is yet again heard from the regimes in Damascus, Libya and Iran. Regimes that has a long history of supporting the radicals as well as doing their outmost to block any peace-process. 

The most recent alarm were raised by Palestinian President, Abbas, who, in an interview on May 6 with the London-based Arab newspaper A-Sharq al-Awsat accused Hamas of smuggling and hoarding weapons into the Fatah-controlled West Bank. Abbas – who was attending the Arab league meeting – made the accusations hot on the heels of a spate of recent reports concerning new missiles and rockets being smuggled, from Iran via Syria, to the Lebanese Shiite militia Hizb’allah. It was no coincidence that Abbas decided to go public with these new allegations at the Arab League meeting. There is, within that organization, a constant ‘tug-of-war’ between the radicals (such as Syria and Libya for example) and the more moderate states such as Egypt and Jordan.

The message put out by Abbas was meant to be heard far and wide and add to the very real threat that the various Islamist movements and organizations constitute.  For Abbas, Hamas is a very potent threat to his ability to cobble together a coherent regime that can both withstand pressure from the Israelis as well as coordinate a more unified Palestinian policy concerning the proximity talks. It is a question of balancing various interests from within and from without the Palestinian polity. The long drawn-out process of trying to get Fatah (Abbas party and movement who lead the Palestinian government under Premier Fayyad) and Hamas to reach and agreement, has so far failed, despite heavy political investment from Egypt and also the EU. This should come as no surprise; for Hamas, it is enough to keep talking as they consolidate their grip on Gaza, where Abbas government have no say at all. Hamas is banking (probably correctly) that pressure from EU and the US will eventually force Israel to ease up on the blockade (put in place after the war last winter) without Hamas being forced to accept any of the conditions the so-called quartet (US, EU, UN and Russia) insisted upon before letting Hamas into the political salons.  For Abbas and Fatah, however, it is paramount that a long-term strategy towards a peaceful solution to the conflict with Israel is launched. This means a two-state solution and an end-of-conflict agreement.

Therefore, it is necessary to keep Hamas, and other Islamist movement and organizations, on a tight leash. This means an agreement that at the very least will neutralize Hamas as a military and political threat. But to achieve this, Fatah needs the quartet (and especially the US and the EU) to help bring Hamas to heel. The fear in the current Palestinian government is that the political pressure from various quarters, particular within Europe, on EU governments to ease the pressure on Hamas, will only strengthen Hamas and make it even more difficult for Fatah to reach an agreement with Israel. And all Hamas has to do to keep Fatah on the defensive, is to keep highlighting the very real suffering among the Gaza population and to refuse to budge on their long-term goals of destroying Israel and strangle any serious peace process. As for Hizb’allah, ever since the war in 2006 ended, the organization has re-armed and stocked up enough weapons and munitions to be able to withstand any Israeli attack and, more importantly, be able to call the shots politically in Lebanon.

The missiles reportedly received are (among others) Scuds and the smaller but much more accurate Syrian-made M-600 rocket. With these (and other) weapon systems, Hizb’allah is clearly upping the ante and various leaders for the organization have made numerous statements over the past months about the threat of war and renewed fighting with Israel. Statements intended to bully other Lebanese actors into silence.  From the perspective of the Islamists, the prospects look good; they have, if not the upper hand, at least enough clout to thwart any serious peace process to get off the ground. The really sad thing is that these anti-peace movements are helped in their efforts by an increasingly appeasing and conflict-weary West. That is bad news for the increasingly battered forces around the region that still harbor hopes of a peaceful solution of a very long conflict.


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