On last day of campaigning, Hamas and Fatah signal readiness for alliance | VailDaily.com

On last day of campaigning, Hamas and Fatah signal readiness for alliance

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The gates of Yasser Arafat’s home sported the yellow flags of his ruling Fatah Party. Inside, the late Palestinian leader’s pencils and papers lay untouched since he last visited in 2001.Fatah invoked Arafat’s memory in a last-minute election appeal Monday, rallying in front of his Gaza City house to try to counter inroads by the Islamic militant Hamas organization as campaigning officially ended.Led by candidate Mohammed Dahlan, the chanting crowd pledged its commitment “to the blood of the martyrs, to the wounds of the wounded, to the suffering of the prisoners – and to vote for the Fatah list.”Arafat, who died in November 2004, spent the last three years of his life confined to the West Bank by the Israeli military and could not visit Gaza.With polls showing the Wednesday’s election too close to call, Hamas and Fatah signaled an interest in forming a coalition after the vote. Hamas officials said even if they win a majority, they would prefer lower-profile Cabinet posts and to let Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas deal with the Israelis.That would likely rule out a Hamas-run government, an alarming prospect for Israel and the West that spells trouble for future peace prospects.”We will not put obstacles in the way of Abu Mazen, but we want to correct his policy, to support him in how he can bring more rights for the Palestinians,” said Ghazi Hamad, a prominent Hamas ideologue and candidate in Gaza. He referred to Abbas by his nickname.Across Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinians plastered posters on walls and electrical poles, strung up banners and held large rallies to drum up support.”Don’t let anyone steal your achievements,” Fatah candidate Samir Masharawi told followers in Gaza City. “It’s not a shame to negotiate … It’s a shame to give up.”Thousands attended a Hamas rally in the West Bank city of Hebron, waving green Hamas flags and posters of leaders killed by Israel in a huge show of strength. In a sign of Islamic conservatism, men and woman stood on opposite sides.Hamas, known for its suicide bombings and calls for Israel’s destruction, has emerged as a formidable political force. It has attracted voters with a platform stressing clean government and an end to Fatah’s corruption, while pointing to its popular social and education programs.”The people of Hamas are close to God and their hands are clean,” said Abdel Khalim Amer, a 38-year-old resident of Nablus who plans to vote for the group. Hamas recently won municipal elections in the West Bank city.With many Palestinians weary after five years of fighting with Israel, Hamas has played down its violent ideology. But appealing to its hard-line core, leaders also say they remain committed to armed struggle.The mixed messages were evident Monday. Khaled Mashaal, the group’s exiled supreme leader, rejected negotiations with Israel.”What is the point of negotiations when your enemy does not acknowledge your rights,” he told the Al-Arabiya satellite channel. “We should escalate the resistance.”But in Gaza, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar, a parliamentary candidate, said the group might be willing to negotiate with Israel through a third party.”Negotiation is not a taboo,” he said. “If there is something from the enemy side to be offered, like stopping aggression, releasing our prisoners, we could find a way.”Zahar’s statements reflected the growing likelihood that Fatah and Hamas will seek to work together after the election. In a sign of Hamas’ pragmatism, the group has not carried out a suicide bombing in the year since a cease-fire was declared with Israel.Hamas officials said they will only decide whether to join the government after the vote. But if they do, it will be as a partner in a coalition with Fatah.”Fatah is the first choice as a coalition partner,” said Hamad. He said Hamas would demand service ministries, such as health and education, though it would want some say in diplomatic affairs as well.Fatah officials have said they expect to lead a coalition government, preferably with smaller parties, but also with Hamas if it agrees to allow peace talks.”We will be happy to see Hamas become more realistic, more pragmatic,” said Palestinian Cabinet minister Sufian Abu Zaydeh. “When you are in power, you understand the situation more – more work and less criticism.”To be sure, tensions remain. In a debate on Lebanese TV, Zahar criticized the Palestinian Authority for dealing with Israel, while Dahlan challenged Zahar to explain how Hamas would handle issues requiring Israeli intervention, such as crossings between Palestinian territories and Israel.”It’s time for you to discover the suffering of being in government,” Dahlan said.Hamas’ participation has created friction with Israel, the U.S. and the European Union – which all brand Hamas a terrorist group.Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday cautioned voters that it does not work to have “one foot in terrorism and the other foot in politics.”In a television interview, Abbas said he expects Hamas to accept peace talks and place its arms under government control once it joins parliament.”What we see is that Hamas may change its views,” he told Al-Arabiya. “It is not enough to come to parliament and say, ‘My positions are not changeable’ … This will not be acceptable.”Some Israeli security officials have privately said Israel should engage Hamas in hopes of moderating the group. However, the official line is that Israel will continue boycotting Hamas until it disarms and renounces its call for Israel’s destruction.The United States has said it won’t deal with Hamas members who join the government, and U.S. and EU officials have said millions of dollars in aid could be in jeopardy.”The United States won’t change its policies toward Hamas,” Rice said.Vail, Colorado

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