A boost for Islamism
Sunanda K Datta-Ray
Friday, January 16, 2009
Osama bin Laden’s call for a jihad over Gaza underlines the prescient warning by Mr Boutros Boutros Ghali, the former UN Secretary-General, that Israel’s Operation Cast Lead would “reinforce extremists, fundamentalists, all over Arab countries and even inside Israel”.
Tel Aviv’s decision to ban two Arab-Israeli parties contesting next month’s election confirms that the radicalisation the world fears and may have to suffer in repetitions of the Mumbai, Twin Towers, London and Madrid atrocities has already begun. There is no reason either to disbelieve the Shin Bet head, Mr Yuval Diskin, who says that Hamas is using the crisis to liquidate Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party supporters, that is, moderates, in Gaza.
This should be an early charge on Mr Barack Obama when he is sworn in on Monday. He has already announced his determination to end the war in Iraq and make US foreign policy more than only a ‘war on terror’. To live down his predecessor’s disastrous legacy, he must also ensure that the 1967 Arab-Israel war is at last given burial, which means returning to their owners the conquered Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza. Only then can there be any hope of meeting the two conditions for peace — secure borders for Israel and a viable Palestinian state — that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown mentions.
In the short run, Operation Cast Lead is likely to take toll of Mr Abbas and his Palestinian Authority. Hamas expelled the 74-year-old President at gunpoint after seizing power in Gaza 18 months ago. One reason why the Egyptian peace initiative is unacceptable to Hamas is that it would give the PA a foothold in Gaza by being placed in charge of reopened border posts. Mr Abbas calls Hamas “murderous terrorists” and criticises its rocket attacks on Israel as “acts of foolishness”. Though also condemning Israel, he has reportedly not suspended security cooperation with Tel Aviv. Far from releasing Hamas prisoners, Mr Abbas dismissed his Hamas Prime Minister, Mr Ismail Haniyeh.
This rift surfaced again when PA police took action against thousands of Palestinian protesters gathered in the West Bank’s Ramallah town last Friday. Though there are conflicting reports on whether some protesters flew green Hamas flags, apparently there were no yellow Fatah flags. The slogans were pro-Hamas as marchers chanted they would “sacrifice” themselves for Gaza. A banner read, “One people united against Israeli aggression.”
Palestine’s electoral history indicates Israel’s catalytic role. Though Hamas did well in municipal polls, it attracted only 26 per cent of the vote in the September 2005 election when Fatah won 54 per cent. This was attributed to hopes that Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza would lead to a sovereign Palestinian homeland. Desperation grew when nothing happened. Hamas might have defeated Mr Abbas if it had not boycotted the January 2005 presidential poll but did win the January 2006 legislative election.
Hamas’s terrorist edge might have been blunted if Israel and the US had accepted that victory. The US rejection was ironic for Hamas might not have become so prominent if the Americans, trying to undermine the late Yasser Arafat’s corrupt, inefficient and bombastic regime, had not initially turned a blind eye to Hamas’s repudiation of the 1993 peace agreement that created the PA.
The PA is doomed if it cannot deliver a political settlement that meets the minimum requirements of Palestinian self-respect and nationhood. Even within its limitations, Mr Abbas’s regime, like Arafat’s, seems incapable of living up to expectations of efficient governance, accountability, transparency, economic progress and a commitment to fighting terrorism within the displaced community. It is also accused of being out of touch with grassroots opinion. Mr Abbas has not improved his credibility by unilaterally extending his four-year term, which ended last week, to 2010.
Gaza could be a straw in the wind of the Islamic future. Radical Muslims — Turkey’s Justice and Development Party or the Prosperous Justice Party in Indonesia — are coming to the fore wherever relatively free elections are held. Egypt’s still banned Muslim Brotherhood, from which Hamas emerged in 1987, is the most obvious example. President Hosni Mubarak manipulated laws and elections to keep out the Brotherhood after its members won 20 per cent of the seats in 2005. With 40 per cent of Egypt’s 70 million people below the poverty line, and unemployment and inflation riding high, the hijab has become a symbol of political protest.
West Asia’s Kings and Presidents are right to fear Hamastan’s demand for “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine” as the thin end of the territorial/ideological wedge. It can spread from Gaza, or whatever the Israelis leave of it, in a wave of reckless, populist, religion-inflamed strikes against leaders who batten on the fellahin without doing anything for them.
There are always mullahs waiting in the wings to exploit discontent. Hamas’s founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who never missed Friday prayers, was thus more than a frail quadriplegic in a wheelchair who could barely see, and spoke in a thin and quavering voice. The Israelis murdered him because he was a formidable revolutionary leader. His utterances resonated with the Arab poor. That means the majority.
It’s also worth remembering that Hamas devotes much of its $70-million budget to an extensive social services network, funding schools, orphanages, mosques, healthcare clinics, soup kitchens, and sports leagues, especially for the 33 per cent of Gaza’s population in refugee camps. “Approximately 90 per cent of its work is in social, welfare, cultural, and educational activities,” writes Israeli scholar Reuven Paz who founded the Project for the Research of Islamist Movements. The PA often fails to provide such services while many Fatah officials are accused of corruption.
When former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that “at the end of the day” there is “no alternative” to “bringing down” Hamas, he doesn’t consider that Israel might be sowing dragon’s teeth which grow in Greek mythology into fully armed warriors. To return to Mr Boutros Boutros Ghali, Operation Cast Lead “will weaken all moderates, all who are in favour of dialogue”. Any Arab who seeks a negotiated settlement will be “treated as a traitor”. In short, the assault on Gaza that began on December 27 could convert the entire Arab world into a militant Hamastan. -- email@example.com
Osama for jihad against Gaza strikes
Washington/GAZA STRIP, Jan 14: Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has issued a 22-minute audio statement calling for jihad, or holy war, to stop Israeli aggression in Gaza, the US-based IntelCenter monitoring service reported today.
In the statement, titled A Call for Jihad to Stop Aggression Against Gaza, Bin Laden calls for jihad to restore “Jerusalem and Palestine”.
In Gaza, an Israeli aircraft struck a Gaza City cemetery today, unearthing dozens of bodies, and pounded militants' weapons positions and arms smuggling tunnels, witnesses and the military said, as guerrillas in Lebanon raised the spectre of a new front by sending rockets crashing into northern Israel. Israeli police said three rockets were fired from Lebanon at open areas near the town of Kiryat Shemona, causing no injuries. AFP
Laden and Al Qaeda number one threat to US: Obama
Agencies Posted: Jan 15, 2009 at 0956 hrs IST
Barack Obama emphasised on adopting a regional approach in resolving the Afghanistan problem. Barack Obama emphasised on adopting a regional approach in resolving the Afghanistan problem.
Barack Obama emphasised on adopting a regional approach in resolving the Afghanistan problem.
Washington: The US President-elect, Barack Obama, has said Al Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden, the most wanted terrorists of the world, are the number one threat to the United States of America.
"I haven't changed my mind, that bin Laden and Al Qaida are our number one threat when it comes to American security," Obama told reporters on Wednesday after a new voice recording emerged from the Terror group's leader warning the president-elect of new fronts in bin Laden's self-styled holy war against Western interests.
The 22-minute audio recording, which the US-based Site Intelligence Group said it believes is authentic, was the first commentary from the Al-Qaeda leader in last eight months.
Obama was addressing a joint press conference with his Vice President-elect, Joe Biden, along with the Republican Senator, Lindsey Graham. Both Graham and Biden returned on Tuesday from a visit to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
Obama emphasised on adopting a regional approach in resolving the Afghanistan problem, so did Biden. "As Joe (Biden) indicated, we have to take a regional approach. We're not going to solve the problem just in Afghanistan; we're going to have address issues in Pakistan as well," Obama said adding that he would have more to say on this issue after being sworn in on January 20th.
His administration, working in concert with Congress, with Republicans and with the American people, Obama said: "We're going to do everything in our power to make sure that they cannot create safe havens they can attack America. That's the bottom line."
Terming Pakistan a determining factor in the success of the US-led war against terrorism in Afghanistan, Vice President-elect, Joe Biden said he expected things to be getting tougher before becoming better in Afghanistan.
Referring to the speeches made by him and the President-elect, Barack Obama, during election campaign days last year, Biden told reporters there would be major change in Afghan policy.
"Pakistan's position on Afghanistan is going to affect our ability to succeed in Afghanistan," Biden, who went to the region in his capacity as a Senator and outgoing Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said. During his stay in Pakistan Biden met the top Pakistani leadership, and officials from its military and intelligence. There is about to become a shift, which you have all known and talked about, we've mentioned it in the campaign, and that is that there need to be more resources to attend to the situation in Afghanistan, which has deteriorated over the last six years. It has not gotten better," he said.
Supporting new Administration's plan to send additional 35,000 troops to Afghanistan, Senator Lindsey Graham said that focus was diverted to Iraq and there is now need to reengage.
Graham said re-engagement in Afghanistan now is going to come at a heavy price. "I would like every American to know that not only are the troops needed; unfortunately, casualties are likely to increase. But we have a game plan in Afghanistan that I think justifies the expenditures of blood and treasure that's about to come," he said.