Are Hamas and Islamic Jihad planning a merger?

Last update – 04:05 01/07/2009

By Zvi Bar’el

“Only the aid from Iran continues to come in, and that too is only for bereaved families and for charities,” Islamic Jihad Deputy Secretary-General Ziad al-Nahla, who is based in Damascus, recently told the Saudi-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat. The problem is that a large part of the donor funds intended for Jihad is deposited in banks in the West Bank, where the funds are confiscated. “We can still guarantee the minimum necessary and the money reaches the Strip via the tunnels, just like the weapons,” explained Nahla. The freeze on aid to Islamic Jihad is part of an overall effort by Hamas and senior Jihad officials to merge the two movements and create a joint leadership coalition in preparation for the possible reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah and the formation of a national unity government. The goal is to have Jihad fighters join Hamas’ military establishment and to fold Islamic Jihad’s administrative officials and civil infrastructure into the Hamas government and civil mechanisms. Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ramadan Abdallah Shalah, Nahla and some of the organization’s leadership in Gaza, such as Mohammed al-Hindi, support the merger with Hamas and are working to promote it. Hindi’s opponents, however, such as Abdallah al-Shami and Nafez Azzam, object to the merger because they see it as eliminating the Jihad organization. This is the source of the big dispute within the organization and the economic pressure on its Gaza branch. One of the public expressions of this dispute occurred several weeks ago at a gathering in Gaza: Hindi talked about the Palestinian Authority‘s arrest of Jihad activists in the West Bank and “forgot” to criticize the arrest of organization members by Hamas. In response, Shami stood up and left in a demonstration of anger. Islamic Jihad activists also mention the pressure placed on them by Hamas during the tahadiya (cease-fire), when it arrested activists and confiscated the weapons of Jihad members who wanted to continue shooting at Israel. As an organization, Islamic Jihad still adheres to its positions and criticizes those of Hamas, which recently made specific mention of the “1967 borders” in reference to the Palestinian state. So far, Islamic Jihad has refused to join the conciliation talks with Fatah and it rejects outright the Arab initiative and the Egyptian plan for reconciliation. The disagreement between the organizations attests also to the new direction Hamas adopted following the Cairo speech of U.S. President Barack Obama and the deepening ties between Syria and Washington. Shalah and Khaled Meshal, the Hamas political leader in Damascus, are already preparing the organizational foundation for the next stage, and judging by Meshal’s declarations it is moving closer to the positions of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with regard to a negotiated solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There is still no formal recognition of the State of Israel here, but even a long-term tahadiya agreement would obligate Hamas to demonstrate its complete control in the Gaza Strip to prove that it is a trustworthy security force. Such control cannot tolerate rebelliousness from Islamic Jihad. Thus the moderate economic pressure that Islamic Jihad in Damascus is exerting on its “daughter” in Gaza, and the quiet with which it is reacting to the confiscation of funds in the West Bank. Brothers, and sisters too Enthusiasm for the new Egyptian law mandating the reservation of 64 new parliamentary seats for women is beginning to wear off. It now seems that it was prompted not by a yearning for democracy, but rather by the political struggle over the character of the regime after President Hosni Mubarak. The addition of 64 women will increase the number of MPs to 518, diluting the power of the Muslim Brotherhood, which holds 88 seats. As a representative body the parliament cannot simply arrange for the appointment of several dozen female MPs. An election must be held, probably in September. Steps are also being taken to rein in the Muslim Brotherhood: Last week, for example, three leaders of the movement were arrested, including Abd al-Munem Abu al-Fatuah, the secretary of the doctors union, one of the largest professional organizations in the country, which is controlled by the Brotherhood. Also arrested were Gamal Abd al-Salaam, the secretary of the Arab doctors union and Dr. Fathi Lashin, a Justice Ministry official. The head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc, Mohammed Saad el-Katatni, who attended the reception for Obama in Cairo, is also likely to be arrested. Observers believe the arrests will escalate as the election date approaches. The Brotherhood, for its part, is adopting a new tactic: It is launching a campaign to encourage women from among their ranks to contest the parliamentary election. If the president wants more women in the name of democracy, the Brotherhood can also contribute. This is a new policy. The organization had refrained from sponsoring women for political office, and the ruling party had assumed that it would continue to favor ideology over politics. The assumption was proved wrong. Even in the Muslim Brotherhood, however, even among happiness does not prevail. The old generation is now being sharply criticized by the young generation, which opposes the conservative line and primarily, the closing of paths to advance within the movement. This is still not a revolution, but large cracks are already visible in the unity of the Brotherhood. It is enough to read the Internet sites of the young critics to understand that President Mubarak is not the target of the attack, rather it is the leadership that is incapable of being flexible, offering ideological alternative that will correspond with the global changes and formulating new principles that will extricate Islam in Egypt from the restrictive approaches created by the founders.

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