Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Israel should not prevent the Islamic militant group Hamas from participating in Palestinian elections in January, but it must insist that the group disarm before doing so, says the deputy mayor of Tel Aviv-Yafo.

Yael Dayan, the daughter of the late Moshe Dayan, one of the founders of Israel, said it is also in the interest of Palestinians to ensure that Hamas disarm. “You cannot have your own army and arsenal, and at the same time claim to be democratizing society,” the Tel Aviv-Yafo official told an audience at a Washington think tank on Monday, referring to Hamas.

Yafo, the former Arab port city of Jaffa, existed before the building of Tel Aviv and was absorbed by the current Israeli capital in 1950 to become a single city.

Palestinian elections are scheduled for January. Hamas made considerable gains in recent elections, raising the possibility of an Islamic militant administration in the future Palestinian state.

Mrs. Dayan warned the Israeli government against undermining the Palestinian Authority, saying it needs Israel’s support to be able to check Hamas. “It is very tempting to mock the Palestinian Authority, but in doing so we are undermining ourselves,” she said.

She criticized Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s “unilateralist plan” that evacuated the last Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip on Aug. 22 and said this must not serve as a model for dealing with the West Bank. “Bilateral and multilateral negotiations are the way,” she said.

Israel also forcibly removed Jewish settlers from four settlements on the West Bank last month.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another prominent Islamic militant group, have claimed the Israeli withdrawal was a result of their five-year “intifada,” or uprising against the Jewish state.

A “huge majority” of Palestinians want to believe that the withdrawal is proof that violence can succeed, Mrs. Dayan conceded. She said this was “perhaps the most dangerous result of the evacuation that is being cultivated by some in the Palestinian leadership. Not by Abu Mazen, but by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is better known as Abu Mazen.

She said that a campaign of terrorism by Islamic groups would produce the opposite result of what they want. “Now is the last opportunity — not ‘a window’ or ‘a door,’ but a crack in the wall — in which circumstances have enabled an Israeli prime minister to give Palestinians a point from which that they have something to lose,” she said.

Mrs. Dayan criticized Israel’s construction of a barrier between the Jewish state and Arab villages. “The barrier’s contribution to peace is contradictory … If nuclear bombs don’t make us feel secure, I doubt a five-foot high wall with barbed wire will help,” she said.

“If I want security, I need peace. If by building a wall I create difficulties in everyday lives [of Palestinians], the wall turns into a violent occupation,” she said.

She voiced hope that the Palestinians see the evacuation of Gaza as a “turning point” from which to improve their lives. “They deserve a Palestine as much as we deserve an Israel,” Mrs. Dayan said.

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