U.S.-PALESTINE: Marzook Case Places New Challenge for Washington

NEW YORK, Jan 31 1997 (IPS) - The decision by the political leader of Palestine’s Islamist ‘Hamas’ organisation not to fight U.S. extradition proceedings is both a victory and a dangerous hot potato for the White House.

On the one hand, Musa Abu Marzook’s decision this week to end his 18-month effort to appeal a New York court decision to extradite him to Israel, where he is wanted as an accused terrorist, closes what promised to be a long, politically charged courtroom drama.

On the other, the possibility of Marzook’s extradition puts President Bill Clinton’s administration in the unfortunate position of having to choose between pleasing Israel, and placating Palestinians who fear repercussions from Hamas.

“This is a situation that nobody needs,” argued Jim Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute, a Washington-based group representing Arab causes. “I do not believe it is in the interests of Israel, the Palestinians, or the United States to let this extradition proceed.”

The U.S. State Department must now decide whether it is in Washington’s best interests to let the extradition go through, or whether to send Marzook to a third country or to the fledgling Palestinian National Authority (PNA). That decision risks either offending Israel by snubbing its extradition request, or offending Hamas by accepting it.

The State Department has declined to comment on what decision it will make. But it did respond to worries of Hamas retaliation by releasing a statement Thursday advising caution for all U.S. citizens travelling to the Middle East. “Although…Hamas has no prior history of targeting U.S. citizens or facilities, we cannot discount the possibility of random acts of anti-American violence,” it said.

Hamas, in a statement from Palestine Wednesday, warned that the United States could “bear the whole responsibility of the status of unrest which will emerge” if it extradites Marzook.

PNA President Yasser Arafat — who sent depositions defending Marzook as a political leader uninvolved in Hamas’s military work last year — has asked the Clinton administration to transfer the Hamas leader to a PNA-ruled zone. Lawyers for Marzook also suggested Syria or Jordan as third countries potentially willing to receive him.

Some U.S. groups supported the call to halt Marzook’s dispatch to Israel.

“It is a fact that Dr Abu Marzook will not get a fair trial in Israel, and he will be tortured in prison,” the Illinois-based Islamic Association for Palestine said in a statement. “So we call on the newly confirmed Secretary of State (Madeleine Albright) to stop the extradition process — this will serve the American interest in the area (and) also will serve the peace in the Middle East.”

“(Former U.S. Secretary of State) James Baker always said to keep your eyes on the prize,” Zogby said. “Abu Marzook is not the prize. The prize is peace. The situation of Hamas is currently under control, but I believe an extradition would inflame the situation.”

In a blow to U.S. diplomatic interests, Marzook explicitly made his decision to cut short his legal challenges to extradition because he has lost faith in the impartiality of the United States.

“Regrettably, it seems that the United States has set aside all of its standards of justice in order to join with Israel in the political purpose of putting me in jail, for no other reason than my leadership position of the political bureau of Hamas,” Marzook said in a taped statement released by his lawyers Wednesday.

“The political bureau of Hamas is completely separate from the military wing,” Marzook insisted, denying any involvement in terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, Marzook, a 16-year resident of the United States, has been in detention since his arrest in July, 1995, on charges of violating his immigration status.

Last May, U.S. Justice Kevin Duffy ruled Marzook “was a member of the conspiracy known as Hamas” and thus could be extradited to stand trial for the Islamist movements’ terrorist actions in Israel. Marzook’s activities during his lengthy residence in Virginia, Duffy ruled, included fund-raising that helped Hamas undertake its bombings and related violent activities.

This month, Marzook finally became convinced that he would not be able to reverse Duffy’s decision, although he was still entitled to several appeals. “It has become apparent that my continued incarceration serves only the political interests of the Israeli government,” he contended.

The Hamas official’s decision, although questioned by some of his lawyers, shared the opinion of at least one of his U.S. attorneys that he would never obtain a fair hearing here. “I don’t think Abu Marzook stands one chance in a million of getting justice in an American court,” Stanley Cohen, an attorney for Marzook, told IPS when Duffy made his decision to allow extradition.

At a time when Washington must play “honest broker” in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the judgment by a leading Palestinian politician that it is biased in its treatment of him is potentially wounding.

Marzook’s wife, Nadia al-Ashi, took note of the contradiction. “The world watches as the United States claims the role of a fair and honest peace broker,” she said here this week. “What message will my husband’s case send? Is there justice in ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’?”

Cohen claimed that only a handful of the roughly 200 people detained for extradition in the United States are accused of any political acts. Most, he said, are detained because of crimes committed in this country.

Yet Marzook was denied any opportunity for bail as his stay in immigration detention lengthened. “I don’t think Israel wants him (to stand trial there), but it wants to see him neutralised as a political force,” Cohen said. “I think denial of bail is part of that policy.”

Significantly, Israeli President Binyamin Netanyahu’s government has been silent on the Marzook case this week. There are signs from Israel that the Netanyahu government itself has disputed the validity of the evidence against Marzook, and is worried about repercussions during a fragile time for Israeli- Palestinian peace.

“I believe the last thing the peace process needs is a show trial in Israel,” Zogby said. He noted that even Israeli newspapers have begun to air arguments that the case against Marzook is flawed.

“(The case) will probably end up being settled politically in the Middle East, as part of a deal,” Cohen contended.

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