Arafats dangerous message

Most analysts agree that Hamas is unlikely to accept Yasser Arafat's invitation to join his Cabinet. Why, they say, would Hamas want to join what many Palestinians view as a sinking ship?

In fact, the invitation itself may speak to the rapidity with which the Arafat ship is going down.

Arafat's growing weakness, it has long been said, could create a potentially dangerous Palestinian power vacuum, and could leave much in the air in terms of Israeli security.

Facing a crisis of legitimacy among his own people as a result of the flailing economy in the territories and the faltering peace process, Arafat may, with his Hamas invitation, be seeking to broaden the tent of his government and enhance Palestinian unity.

Of course, asking Hamas to participate in Palestinian governmental activity sends a discouraging, and potentially dangerous, message to Israel. The avowed terrorist group explicitly opposes peace.

In fact, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, is about to return from an extensive Middle East tour, during which he raised some $50 million for his organization and promoted its anti-peace stance among leaders of Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Iran.

The Hamas message appears to have broad-based support, and may serve to further weaken Arafat.

Israel, needless to say, was far from pleased with Yassin's tour. He had ostensibly left Gaza to seek medical treatment, not to raise funds and whip up anti-peace sentiment.

Israel is equally displeased with Arafat's invitation to Hamas. The Netanyahu government charged that inviting a terrorist group to participate in Palestinian governmental activity without demanding that it renounce terrorism makes a mockery of the Palestinian Authority's promises to uproot the terrorist infrastructure.

It's hard to argue with that.