THE recent arrest of Musa Abu Marzuk, the political leader of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, a faction of the Palestinian Islamic movement known as Hamas, may prove harmful to both United States interests and the cause of peace in the Middle East.
Mr. Marzuk, who grew up in Gaza and received his undergraduate and graduate education in both Egypt and the US, is not the terrorist that Israel claims him to be. He comes from a well-respected family that has long had a role in Palestinian politics - a role he would not be likely to jeopardize by plotting various acts of terrorism.
His brother, Brig. Mahmoud Abu Marzuk, is the chief of civil defense in Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Brigadier Marzuk describes his brother as "one of those who pushes political dialogue as an alternative to the violence of some factions within Hamas."
Marzuk's record during his stay in the US is that of a law-abiding individual. He has been living in Virginia for the last 14 years, and two of his children are American citizens. In 1990, he obtained his permanent resident status and was scrutinized by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Had his name been associated with any criminal conduct, he would have been denied legal residency in the US.
Although Israel claims that Marzuk directs Hamas's operations in the occupied territories, Israel has yet to provide evidence to support this charge. Furthermore, since he is a legal resident of the US, he should be tried according to American law. If there is evidence linking Marzuk to criminal conduct, no one could object to his trial.
In a criminal complaint unsealed in federal court in New York Aug. 7, prosecutors said Marzuk raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Palestinian militant movement and authorized the use of some of that money to buy weapons. If the judge determines there is enough evidence against him, the State Department can surrender him to Israel.
Will opposition to the Israeli-Palestinian peace formula become a basis for arrest? Many Arab-Americans oppose not peace itself, but the current terms. They see the "peace process" as a pacification process reminiscent of the colonial powers' strategies for retaining control: The ruling power would select a native surrogate who would carry out the policies of the colonial power while quashing internal dissent among his own people. This was the case, for example, when Egypt was a British protectorate.
Adding to the problem is the Clinton administration's double standard. Like Palestinian Islamists, there are many Israelis on the right who opposes the land-for-peace formula, namely the Likud. In fact, many Likud supporters engage in illegal appropriation of Palestinian land and the evictions of Palestinians from their homes. Other right-wingers, members of the Israeli settlers movement, hailed Baruch Goldstein as a hero for gunning down Palestinian worshippers in Hebron in 1994. Yet the US administration doesn't characterize these Israeli groups, whose members sometimes violently oppose the peace process, as terrorist organizations, nor does it arrest their supporters in the US.
This position is echoed in the mainstream American news media, which refers to the right-wingers as elements of "Israeli public opinion." But then that same news media turns around and labels the right wing of the Palestinian spectrum, represented by Hamas, as "Islamic terrorists."
It is misguided to think of Hamas as a monolithic movement. The organization has its hard-liners as well as its moderates. The Brotherhood wing of Hamas, headed by Marzuk, like its counterparts in Jordan and Egypt, is willing to work within the political process.
However, it is easier to arrest moderates such as Marzuk than it is to apprehend violent radicals, since moderates express their opinions publicly and travel to exchange views with other political strategists. Real terrorists keep their views and activities secret.
Jailing those who are interested in the political process within the Palestinian Islamic movement will leave the field open for the radicals and violent fringe groups.
Such self-defeating policies can be only the result of misinformed, ad-hoc decisions. It may very well be that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin wanted to quiet public opinion in Israel by this "big catch." In the long run, however, this move could prove fatal for the cause of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
THERE is a solution. If the US finds cause to rescind Marzuk's legal rights in this country, a good political compromise might be to deport him to an Arab country instead of to Israel. To keep the fragile peace process moving, Arab countries should cooperate with the US in accepting Marzuk. Otherwise, the moderate wing of Hamas will go down in defeat.
If Marzuk is put on trial in Israel, outrage among Palestinians will test Mr. Arafat's ability to maintain order in the self-rule areas. And that could be the final blow to the peace process.