After Yassin, Hamas will live on


March 24, 2004

Surely no one likes failure, especially Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is currently facing a dilemma.

He is embroiled in numerous corruption investigations concerning himself and his sons, experiencing a drop in popularity, and has less support from within his own government. Having failed to provide security for Israelis and victory over Hamas, Sharon declared a withdrawal from Gaza.

Hopes soared high, but it soon became clear that one necessary condition to the withdrawal would be a rebuilding of consensus in the Israeli government and society. The shaping of this consensus was to be built on the repression forced daily in Gaza.

The new consensus was also based on the assumption that there is no Palestinian partner - that the Palestinians are enemies who threaten the state of Israel. Sharon made it clear that any withdrawal would be done on Israel's terms.

What better way to divert attention from Sharon's problems and gain some consensus than by killing a Palestinian spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin?

Monday's assassination exhibits a dangerous trend in the operating philosophy of the Israeli government - a philosophy that supports dehumanization of Palestinians and the labeling of any act of Palestinian resistance as terrorism.

But the killing really had little to do with the prevention of terror. The real intent was to portray the withdrawal from Gaza as a victory for Sharon and as a major blow to Palestinian resistance groups. In the process, it has intensified the Palestinians' sense of defeat. It has also given Israel the right to impose victor conditions, such as the continuation of the policy of denial of the national rights of Palestinians.

In the Israeli government today, most consider war to be the only way to exist in the Middle East. The crusade against Palestinian leadership has become the strategic framework of the Israeli political and military establishments. The killing of Yassin is a move that suits this mentality.

Sharon's decision to launch three missiles at Yassin Monday after the Hamas leader finished his dawn prayer in a densely populated neighborhood was an important military operation designed to eliminate any sign of Palestinian resistance. But if ever an act was designed to deepen the hostility of the Arab and Muslim world against Israel, its people and its friends, the assassination was it. Sharon showed that he is betting the future of Israel on the clash between civilizations.

Contrary to what many think, the killing of Yassin is not the end of Hamas. His absence will not create a vacuum in Hamas leadership. Neither will it weaken it. This is because Hamas is not only a political organization with a military wing; it is an ideology, with social, religious and economic grounds.

Much of the Hamas ideology is about fighting to end the occupation in the Palestinian territories. The assassination of Yassin and at least seven unarmed civilians, the absence of progress in the peace process, the destruction of houses and uprooting of thousands of trees, the construction of the apartheid wall - these all are actions that definitely will give reason to Hamas to retaliate.

The assassination has not only assured the unity of all Palestinian factions, but created a new hostile environment that warns of a new cycle of destructive violence. It's back to square one: Palestinians and Israelis will find themselves in front of new lists of victims.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a political-historical conflict, cannot be solved by use of force and arms; we are not talking about classical armies confronting each other, but rather human masses charged with awareness, myths, rights and the details of life and a place in this small geographical area. This reality makes any security approach to the political solution a mere illusion.

Qustandi Shomali is an associate professor of Palestinian and comparative literature and translation at Bethlehem University.

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