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Tuesday, March 29, 2005



By Michael Widlanski 29 March 2005

Official Palestinian media said today that Mahmoud Abbas's Palestine
Liberation Organization (PLO) and the HAMAS and Islamic Jihad organizations
have agreed in principle to full unification, with all sides recognizing the
PLO's "Strategy of Stages," a document that sets out a phased program for
Israel's destruction.

"Representatives of the HAMAS movement and Islamic Jihad will formally
attend a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation
Organization today, and the two movements [HAMAS and Jihad] have agreed in
principle to join the PLO [Arabic: al-munadhama]," declared the opening
headlines on Voice of Palestine radio.

At Mid-day, however, a spokesman for HAMAS, Hassan Youssef, said HAMAS
would not participate in the meeting today of the 13-member PLO Executive
Committee, the PLO's highest body, but he and Jihad members reiterated they
were joining the PLO.

"We have made a strategic choice," asserted Mushir al-Masri of Jihad,
citing the PLO's Strategy of Stages as an underlying point of agreement
between the PLO, HAMAS and Jihad.

Even his use of the words "strategic choice" [Arabic: khayar istrateeji]
was an echo of the term as used by the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat and his
successor Dr. Mahmoud Abbas.

The dramatic announcement of PLO-HAMAS-Jihad unification comes amid the
flow of sophisticated weapons to PLO and Islamic agents, and it represents
both a major success for Abbas along with a serious potential threat for
Israel for several

*--For Abbas, who succeeded Arafat as the leader of both the PLO and the
PA, it is a major Palestinian domestic success, perhaps beginning to take
him out of Arafat's shadow;

*--For Israel, it is worrisome that the Islamic extremists, who have
continued to amass weapons and stage intermittent terror attacks, are now
officially part of the Palestinian establishment;

*--And perhaps most problematic is the re-statement by both the PLO and
HAMAS that they are bound to the PLO's 1974 action-plan entitled the
"Strategy of Stages" (Arabic: barnamaj al-marahil) which seeks Israel's
destruction through a combination of diplomacy and violence.

The announcement of unification was featured in detail on all the
morning news shows of Voice of Palestine radio (Sawt Felasteen) from
Ramallah and on Palestinian television from Gaza, showing lengthy shots of
Abbas meeting with the HAMAS leadership, while demonstrably fingering
Islamic prayer beads (Arabic: sibha or masbah) in his left hand.

HAMAS officials declined to give detailed responses to questions about
whether the unification meant a change in HAMAS's ideology or its official
covenant (Arabic: mithaq), but it appeared that neither HAMAS nor Jihad-nor
even the PLO-was willing to offer an official renunciation of the use of
violence against Israel.

Instead, both PLO and HAMAS officials have, in recent days, confirmed
that they have accepted the strategy of "staged goals" (Arabic: ahdaf
marhalliyya) as it appears in "Strategy of Stages" set forth at a PLO
conference in 1974.

"The goals of the present stage are that by the end of 2005 our people
will arrive at the borders of September 2000 [when Arafat launched the
present war know as the "Aqsa Intifada"]," asserted Palestinian leader Abbas
in an interview with Egyptian news agency two weeks ago.

When Abbas was asked specifically about the Bush Administration's demand
for disarming Palestinian terrorists, he said, "I will not embark on an
operation that will lead to a civil war."

The Abbas interview was featured on the front page of his own Al-Hayat
Al-Jadeeda newspaper, run by his Fatah organization, on March 15 and March
17. Fatah is the largest constituent member of the PLO, and it includes the
Tanzeem militia and the "Aqsa Martyrs Brigades" suicide bombers.

In recent weeks, Palestinian leader Abbas has steadfastly refused to
condemn HAMAS or Jihad by name for recent acts of terror, including the
bombing of a Tel Aviv nightclub on Feb. 25, saying only that such acts "gave
Israel excuses" not to meet Palestinian demands and were, therefore,
"against Palestinian interests."

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said in a cabinet meeting this
Sunday that PLO and Islamic agents had successfully smuggled sophisticated
Soviet-made SAM-7 "Strella" anti-aircraft missiles into Palestinian-ruled

Such missiles could shoot down Israeli civilian planes, and they are also
the reason that Israel has cut back on the use of military helicopters.

Official Palestinian spokesmen today denied the Israeli comments (which
have been made very quietly), asserting that there were no missiles in Gaza.
Meanwhile, the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Ariqat [sometimes
spelled Erikat] made fun of the Israeli comments in a radio interview

"That's what the Israelis say," asserted Ariqat, the PA Negotiations
Minister, referring to the Israeli allegations.

"They have the whole West Bank under lock and key. There are road blocks
everywhere and they're saying there are missiles in the West Bank," he
declared laughingly.

"It's all part of an Israeli strategy to delay carrying out their
commitments," he said.

Israeli forces yesterday arrested several members of a joint Islamic
Jihad-Fatah terror cell in the northern West Bank town of Jenin which was
preparing explosives and motorized projectiles for the production of a new
generation of "Qassam" rocket-the kind only used until now in the Gaza
Strip. Several members of the cell were among the 500 Palestinian
convicts whose release PLO leader Abbas had recently won in talks with

2005 Michael Widlanski [By Permission to IMRA]
Dr. Michael Widlanski teaches political communication and comparative
politics at the Rothberg School of Hebrew University. His doctorate,
"Palestinian Broadcast Media In the Palestinian State-Building Process:
Patterns of Influence and Control," was based on eight years of research
involving more than 7,000 hours of monitoring Palestinian radio in Arabic as
well as television and newspaper surveys. Widlanski was a
reporter-researcher in the NYTimes Jerusalem bureau, 1980-82, Middle East
Correspondent for The Cox Newspapers/Atlanta Constitution/Boston Globe,

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