Hamas scores publicity coup in U.S.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Shunned by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization, the Islamist group Hamas scored a publicity coup this week by defending its policies in Gaza with opinion pieces in two of the country’s most influential newspapers on the same day.

The New York Times and The Washington Post gave space to Ahmed Yousef, a senior Hamas figure, on Wednesday to argue that the United States should not interfere in Gaza, where Hamas took control after six days of bloody fighting against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah fighters.

Yousef is senior political adviser to Ismail Haniyeh, who became Palestinian prime minister after elections last year. He is now contesting his dismissal by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who formed a new government in the West Bank after Hamas took over Gaza.

Hamas leaders rarely have access to major U.S. media to express their views unfiltered, and getting an opinion piece into the Times and the Post on the same day appeared unprecedented.

Both Fred Hiatt, the Post’s editorial page editor and David Shipley, the Times’ deputy editorial page editor, said they would not have carried the articles had they known of the other paper’s publishing plans.

In The New York Times, Yousef objected to the Western portrayal of the bloody events in Gaza as a Hamas coup against Fatah. “In essence, they have been the opposite.

“Eighteen months ago, our Hamas party won the Palestinian parliamentary elections and entered office under Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh but never received the handover of real power from Fatah, the losing party.”

Yousef also complained that recent news coverage had failed to mention that Hamas had offered a 10-year ceasefire to Israel and adhered to a unilateral ceasefire for 18 months.

“Nor has it been evident to many people in the West that the civil unrest in Gaza and the West Bank has been precipitated by the American and Israeli policy of arming elements of the Fatah opposition who want to attack Hamas and force us from office.”

In The Washington Post, under the headline “Engage with Hamas,” Yousef said President George W. Bush’s administration had never intended to honor the outcome of the January 2006 Palestinian elections.

“Those who warn of ‘failed states’ and ‘Hamastan’ as a breeding ground for terrorism forget where blame for the failure belongs - at the feet of the American administration which has chosen to isolate, rather than deal with, the elected government.”

The U.S. lifted its aid embargo to the Palestinian government last Monday after Abbas swore in a new 13-member emergency Cabinet without Hamas members.

Neither op-ed piece mentioned what the United States, Europe and Israel see as the key obstacle to dealing with Hamas: its refusal to recognize Israel and a world view of Jewish conspiracies and domination laid out in the organization’s charter.