In the strange world of palestinian politics, Sheik Ahmad Yassin was known as a moderate. Though he advocated violence and praised suicide bombers, he did not put faith in a military solution to the conflict. He often spoke of 100-year truces between Israelis and Palestinians, or of a temporary cessation of hostilities that would grant de facto recognition of Israel. These views pitted him against the hawkish side of the Hamas leadership in Gaza. Leaders such as Dr. Abd al-Aziz Rantisi are dead set against any concessions or recognition of Israel and believe that if victory will not be achieved in their generation, it will come in future ones.
Yassin's death, on the heels of the assassination of Ismail Abu Shanab last August, leaves the Hamas leadership in the hands of these hardliners who preach violence as the only way to solve the conflict. Abu Shanab was the most pragmatic of the Hamas executive and openly accepted an Israeli state. With both of them gone, no one will preach moderation in Hamas's inner circle.
Some analysts believe that Yassin's restraining influence guided Hamas's suicide bombing strategy. Cadres captured by the Israelis claim that each attack has been strategically planned as a response to Israeli incursions or killings. In contrast, leaders such as Rantisi advocate bombings at every opportunity, regardless of the prevailing political conditions.
Yassin not only grappled with the Hamas leaders in the Palestinian territories, (but) he also clashed with the external leadership in Damascus led by Khalid Mashaal, who wanted the organization to take a more aggressive stance against the Israelis. In February 2002, after Yassin embraced a cease-fire declared by the ruling Palestinian Authority (PA), a Hamas cell attacked an Israeli patrol in the Gaza Strip. Hamas officials believe the order for the assault came from the external leadership, who wanted to torpedo the truce. On other occasions, Mashaal wanted Hamas to kindle the flames of violence while Yassin wanted to douse them.
Yassin's killing will certainly bring retaliation, but the targets of an unleashed Hamas may extend beyond Israelis. For years, Mashaal and his underlings have advocated the use of violence against the ruling PA. They harbour the belief that killings can create a state of anarchy that will strengthen Hamas and allow it to overthrow the PA.
While Yassin lived, his stature and firm resolve stood as a barrier to Palestinian civil war. With his death, Mashaal now has the upper hand, and his external leadership may now seek to drown the Holy Land in blood and chaos.
Sheik Ahmad Yassin was no advocate of peace. He launched young men equipped as human missiles to kill women and children and then boasted of it. But he understood the limits of violence. His successors recognize no such limits. They view violence as a tool to bleed Israel, foment hatred and undermine the Palestinian Authority. And that is what to expect in the wake of Yassin's death.
Copyright© 2004 Agence Global