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Archive for Sunday, October 30, 1994

MAKE PALESTINIANS A PART OF SYSTEM, KU PROF SUGGESTS

October 30, 1994

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WHAT IS HAMAS?

Hamas, the Palestinian group whose members have claimed responsibility for recent violent acts in Israel, was formed in 1987, KU political science professor Deborah Gerner says.

Hamas is a large, grassroots fundamentalist group with roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, a religious organization formed in Egypt in the 1920s.

Hamas' popularity among Palestinians stems mainly from the group's provision of social services, including food, education and home repair.

A relatively small faction of the military wing within the organization commits terrorist acts, Gerner said.

"It is unfortunate that the image of Hamas in the United States is of that small (radical) group. Not many people know about all the beneficial things Hamas has done," she said.

A reduction of Middle East violence could come by legalizing Palestinian groups, a KU professor says.

The peace process is in vogue in the Middle East -- at least between Israel and "official" Arab representatives and governments.

Promise was in the air more than a year ago, when Israeli and Palestinian leaders signed a peace accord in Washington, and the latest achievement came Wednesday with signing of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty.

And the next major step may be an eventual Syrian agreement with the Jewish state.

Yet, Palestinian radicals recently shot an Israeli soldier and blew up civilians in terrorist bombings. And some Israelis continue to support equally brutal acts such as the massacre in the Hebron mosque by one of their own extremists.

Why?

The answer is the groups' fears of losing their ultimate goals amid concessions and third-party arrangements, a Kansas University professor said.

"There is so much fear within the Palestinian community ... There is a lot of fear among Israelis as well," said Deborah Gerner, associate professor of political science.

Many Palestinians feel that unless they keep up the pressure, they could lose their dream of an independent state, she said.

Israelis fear for their safety with the establishment of such a state.

Also, Palestinians were not pleased with language in the Israeli-Jordanian treaty giving Jordan a "special administrative role" over holy sites in East Jerusalem.

Some who feel that "nothing else is working" are willing to go to extreme lengths to keep attention on their concerns, Gerner said.

A solution, she said, is for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to both deal with the root causes of the conflict and to institutionalize Hamas and other Palestinian groups now outlawed by Israel.

By institutionalizing, or legitimizing, those groups, Palestinian leaders like Yasser Arafat can gain better control on radical elements, Gerner said.

"If you have a true two-state solution you will have people on both sides who will be more secure," she said.

She said that as moderates from both sides begin to condemn the extremist acts of their own, "you undercut those who are doing the violence.

"When the bus was bombed there were many Palestinians who condemned that act, and when the massacre at the Hebron Mosque happened there were many Israelis who condemned it," she said.

She said a stumbling block continues to be Israeli and Palestinian wrangling over elections, which would turn various Palestinian "movements" into political parties. Israel wants local elections to be held first, while many Palestinian leaders initially want national, parliamentary elections, she said.

Also, some Israeli leaders insist that no Arab group seeking the destruction of Israel should be allowed to partake in elections. But Gerner said that's a contradiction because the right-wing Likud party says it will never allow a Palestinian state.

Gerner, who has been to the Mideast about 10 times in 10 years, recently completed the second edition revision of her book, "One Land, Two Peoples: The Conflict Over Palestine."

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