The polemics of peace: Hamas has shown it has the power to sustain violence but might its influence be used to attain peace?

Author:Seymour, Richard

In the 19th century, American gun manufacturer Colt produced a .45 millimetre handgun, which became affectionately known as the Peacemaker. An ironic title for a weapon designed to kill, perhaps, but cognisant of the fact that he who possesses a means of destruction has it within him to choose the peaceful option.

Hamas, however you regard them, may represent an odd place to begin looking for a peaceful solution to what the United Nations still refer to as "the Palestinian Problem", but such is their influence in the politics of the region that a peace without them may now never be possible.

Consider the harsh realities. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon believes Yasser Arafat is an irrelevancy. Despite Arafat's Nobel Peace Prize and his latest in a long line of incarnations as a statesman, he has proved powerless to stop the suicide bombers.

Closer inspection of the outcome of the recent Israeli elections indicates that the single overriding factor determining the results were the bombs that exploded within Israel during the preceding weeks. Amram Mitzna, leader of the Labor Party; proponent of negotiations with the Palestinians and concessions for the sake of peace, saw his election chances devastated by a series of suicide attacks that left dozens of Israeli citizens dead.

While Sharon's return to power was never seriously in doubt, the size of his victory, and Labor's greatly reduced representation in the Knesset, had once seemed unlikely. In forcefully influencing the result of the election, Hamas have sent a vital message to the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli leadership--that they wield tremendous power in the region and both sides would do well to take notice.

Recent meetings in Cairo between Hamas and the Fatah movement failed to reach any conclusions regarding a cease-fire. Such a step would see Arafat's political position strengthened while marginalising Hamas. A situation the militant Islamic organisation simply refused to allow. By maintaining the Intifada, Hamas have assured a central role for themselves in upcoming months.

But what do they intend to do from the platform they have built themselves? The formation of a Palestinian state and the damaging of Israel's has long been their aim, but pragmatism has forced a leading Hamas figure, Dr. Abdel Aziz Al Rantisi, to concede that they simply do not have the military might to achieve such a lofty goal. However, though Hamas's ideology absolutely rules out the possibility...

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