New Hamas policy distinguishes between political, military wings

Friday, July 25, 2003

The Bush administration has drafted guidelines to avoid the need to dismantle Islamic insurgency groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The U.S. proposal would seek to preserve Hamas as a political movement while eliminating its military wing, officials said. They said the State Department has argued that Hamas's welfare and political activities enable reform to take place without destroying the entire group.

"It is a clearly a change in the administration's approach and is designed to move the roadmap," a U.S. official said. "The president has been briefed, but has not formally approved this as policy."

Secretary of State Colin Powell first raised the prospect of preserving Hamas in an interview with the Lebanese Broadcast Corp. earlier this week, Middle East Newsline reported.

U.S. officials said the effort is meant to bolster the Palestinian Authority and its new prime minister Mahmoud Abbas while advancing an international plan to establish an interim Palestinian state by the end of 2003. The plan, termed the roadmap, has called for the dismantling of Palestinian groups deemed as terrorists.

U.S. officials said the State Department and National Security Council have discussed ideas that would allow Islamic insurgency movements to continue operating. They said the guidelines being drafted would distinguish between an insurgency group's political and military wings.

The discussions have taken place in an effort to ease pressure on Abbas to dismantle insurgency groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Abbas, scheduled to meet President George Bush in the White House on Friday, has told the United States that he does not have the power to confront such groups as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

In the interview, Powell also did not rule out the prospect that Islamic Jihad would be saved from destruction.

On Thursday, Powell elaborated on the plan to save Islamic insurgency groups from being disbanded. He told a news conference that Hamas provides "good works" for the Palestinians and could be reformed.

"Any organization that has a terrorist component to it and supports that kind of terrorist activity cannot have a place in the peace process," Powell said. "Now, if an organization that has a terrorist component to it, a terrorist wing to it, totally abandons that, gives it up, and there's no question in anyone's mind that that is part of its past, then that is a different organization. But right now, Hamas still has a social wing to it that does things for people in need, but, unfortunately, its good works are contaminated by the fact that it has a terrorist wing that kills innocent people and kills the hopes of the Palestinian people for a state of their own."

Officials said the guidelines on the reformation of Islamic insurgency groups might not apply to Islamic Jihad. They said that unlike Hamas, Jihad only has a military wing. But they said Jihad could be offered an option to turn into a political movement.

Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are expected to raise the issue of the reformation of Islamic insurgency groups during the visit by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the United States next week.

Officials said the administration is expected to argue that the release of Hamas and other Islamic insurgents from Israeli prisons could encourage the reform of these groups.

Officials said the reformation of Hamas and other insurgency groups would also ease U.S. pressure on Syria to close the offices of those listed on the State Department terror list. The Bush administration and Congress have demanded that Syria end support to and safe haven for a range of insurgency groups, including Hamas, Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad.

"There is one big question here and that concerns what these guidelines will do to the war on terrorism," another U.S. official, who has been involved in the discussions, said. "There is a concern that a policy that seeks to rehabilitate Hamas and Jihad will lead to a reduction in cooperation against other terrorist groups."

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