Amid its latest attempt at so-called reconciliation with its Palestinian nationalist rival Fatah, Hamas surprised the chorus of its supporters by picking the mastermind of the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers to burnish its phony image of “moderation.” By doing so, Hamas manages to once again show its true face.
The Egyptian-brokered unity deal was initially seen by some as Hamas toughening its jihadist posture in advance of reconciliation talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement. If that were the case, however, what possible benefit to its supposedly new public image would Hamas gain from naming this arch terrorist as its deputy leader? By naming convicted murderer Saleh al-Arouri as its deputy political chief, Hamas promoted a man best known for masterminding the 2014 abduction and murders of yeshiva students Gil-Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel, and a long list of other terrorist attacks in the West Bank.
In the view of Naji Sharab, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, Arouri’s appointment was meant to signal that the jihadist movement will not accept Abbas’s political program of a two-state solution that includes recognizing Israel and accepting responsibility for keeping the agreements signed with it.
“Abbas wants Hamas to support his political program, including recognition of Israel, respect for agreements, peaceful resistance and being against violence. But the message here is we can’t make more concessions on the political program,” concludes Sharab.
Reports of the latest unity bid were replete with the usual suspects – differences over security issues being foremost. While Abbas insists on disarming Hamas’s military wing, the Izzadin Kassam Brigades, the jihadist movement’s strategic aim – despite the PR exercise of its “revised charter” (the genocidal charter was not amended, rather a deceptive policy document was issued last May) – is to keep control of the Gaza Strip, while leaving the dirty work of governing to Fatah. This overdue admission of its total incompetence as a governing body for Palestinians is the only rational thing the so-called “pragmatists” of Gaza have to their credit.
On August 20, 2014, after being publicly identified as the mastermind of the yeshiva boys’ murders, Arouri declared that Izzadin Kassam was behind the atrocity.
Arouri, one of the founders of Hamas’s military wing, made his comments at a conference in Istanbul, where he lived in exile after his release from an Israeli prison.
While Abbas had said that he would not accept a deal that would allow Hamas to be like Hezbollah in Lebanon – an armed militia in a land run by a seemingly moderate government – the deal signed in Cairo on Thursday is essentially that. While Fatah will take control of civil matters in Gaza and of the crossings into Israel, Hamas has not given up a single rifle and it remains to be seen if it ever will.
That is why Arouri’s appointment is important to keep in mind. While Hamas might be putting on a pretty face for the world to see, the chance that this unity deal leads to anything different than the unfortunate cycle of violence that has plagued the people of Gaza and Israel’s South in recent years is small.
While unemployed Gazans struggle to live with rationed electricity and drinking water, the world might finally expect Hamas to take responsibility for its failure and stop stockpiling weapons and digging tunnels for the next round, but that, too, is unlikely to happen.
Israel’s challenge will be in keeping the world focused on the Middle East Quartet’s original conditions for engagement with Hamas – recognition of Israel’s right to exist, recognition of previous agreements signed by Israel and the PA, and a full cessation of terrorism and violence.
None of these conditions has been met, and it is doubtful that they will be, but Israel will need to make sure that the world does not forget the need for terrorism to end before real diplomatic progress can be made with the Palestinians.
Yitzhak Rabin famously once said, “You don’t make peace with friends. You make it with unsavory enemies.”
While there is some truth to that statement, Hamas first needs to meet some basic conditions, and the world needs to be careful of the repercussions of what happens if it gives Arouri and the terrorists of Gaza a free pass.