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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Patient Hamas Movement Awaits End of Yasser-Fever

AZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- On the block walls here, spraypainted in a reflection of the turmoil in this troubled city, the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas has weighed in with uncharacteristic sweetness, calling for "the unity of the Palestinian people." With crowds giving Yasser Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization chairman, an enthusiastic send-off Tuesday after his four-day visit, the first to his homeland in 27 years, there is little else they can do. Hamas, bitterly opposed to the autonomy agreement Arafat signed with Israel, has put up no posters mocking the PLO leader. It has mounted no demonstrations against his return. The movement's leaders are biding their time and waiting for Arafat to fail. "We are not going to stand in front of these emotional crowds who are welcoming Arafat, because some people like him. But at the same time, we will not let anybody say that we quit or stood aside. We are keeping silent, because we know this agreement will fail," said Mohsen abu Ayta, a Hamas leader in Gaza. "We must let the people enjoy these emotional times. Let us bide our time." Hamas is keenly aware of the dilemma Arafat faced in returning to the Palestinian autonomous zones with relatively little to offer. The PLO chairman had delayed his return for weeks. He had hoped to negotiate to have cash on hand from $42 million in commitments to support the new Palestinian areas; he had wanted to negotiate with the Israelis some dramatic breakthrough, such as the release of more Palestinian prisoners. Instead, in his first Gaza speech, and subsequently, he apologized that the peace agreement was not better. He fumed at the World Bank for holding up aid; he demanded futilely that Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin be released; he called on Palestinians to begin relying on themselves. Meanwhile Hamas has struck an alliance of sorts with the police, allowing them to go after alleged collaborators with Israel instead of Hamas assassinating them. Hamas is quietly waiting for the first Palestinian elections, tentatively set for October, when it can begin capitalizing on the shortcomings of the autonomy plan. By then, Ayta said, Palestinians will be very aware of the reality of the plan.