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Asharq Al-Awsat Interviews Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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(Asharq Al-Awsat) To what extent does the movement at the Rafah Crossing define your program?

(Zahar) The crossing is the program, because I find it difficult to get out at the right time to visit any country according to specific dates. The other thing is that the crossing opens an economic door that is completely different from the current situation when it is closed. Third, it is a means of communication among the Palestinian people inside and outside (the Palestinian territories), as well as communication between us and the Arab world. I believe that 90 percent of the policies can be implemented with respect to the crossing.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What countries your does current tour includes?

(Zahar) The tour includes the countries I have not so far visited, like North African countries, Lebanon, Syria, and Oman. I might make an Asian tour, for which I am currently preparing.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Have countries expressed reservations over receiving you?

(Zahar) No one expressed reservations. I visited Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and all the Arab countries. We do not have problems with these countries, except Jordan, which fabricated the now-famous story. To clarify things, I was scheduled to visit Mauritania and Algeria. However, in view of conditions related to elections in Mauritania, the visit was postponed. The Algerian president and foreign minister will be out of the country. I am saying this so that no one would come out to say that these countries refuse to receive me.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you not believe that the nature of the Hamas-led Palestinian effort is merely a remedy of the repercussions of the main problem (such as the crossing and the financial aid) without seeking to address the problem itself?

(Zahar) We believe that the crossing is a basic problem because it is under Israel’s control, which is preventing us from communicating with our Arab and Islamic depth. Therefore, when we talk about the crossing, I mean fulfilling our vision and facilitating the movement. This will be followed by changing the currency, the economic pattern, and the existing system of taxes between us and Israel. The crossing will contribute to moving the Palestinian economy to a better stage.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) You are talking about a foreign tour to explain your policy, and the world is talking about the formation of a Palestinian Government, which Hamas might not form?

(Zahar) Hamas will be strongly present; it is the decision-maker and it will name the prime minister. Hamas will also maintain its parliamentary power. This means that if it has two-thirds in the Legislative Council, it will get the same percentage in the national accord government. Therefore, it is not true that a certain country is not receiving the Palestinian foreign minister because Hamas will not be present in it (the government). This is incorrect, because Hamas is strongly present, and it is Hamas that will design the policy and the program.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What happened to the Palestinian accord program?

(Zahar) The policy will be within the framework of the national accord. We, however, ask: Does the accord program talk about the departure of Hamas from the government? Besides, we had negotiated with Fatah for 45 days to have it participate in the government.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What are the common denominators based on which Fatah can participate with you?

(Zahar) They are stated in the accord program, and they should be included in the government’s designation letter. These are: 1. The reform program. 2. Relying on the Arab and Islamic depth. 3. Achieving democracy. 4. Activating the role of the PLO within a specific period and according to identified mechanisms. 5. And if it is agreed to resume these negotiations, which would be conducted by President Mahmoud Abbas…the point of reference of these negotiations, however, will not be the PLO, because it does not exist. The point of reference should be the Legislative Council or a popular referendum.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, in a recent interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, talked about determinants for Hamas to form the next government. He called them six dimensions. What does this mean, and can they be considered conditions?

(Zahar) They are not conditions. Rather, (they are) the Palestinian national enterprise, lifting the siege of the Palestinian people, easing their suffering, preventing any internal infighting, and protecting the national unity. The fourth (number as published) dimension states that the formation of the national unity government should coincide with the launch of talks on the rebuilding of the PLO provided that they should take place before February 2007.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) How do you view the rebuilding of the PLO?

(Zahar) First, in order for us to know what this rebuilding process is, we should know what exists at present. We believe that the Palestinian national charter does not exist, and therefore we need a new charter. Second, the current Executive Committee is illegitimate, and the Central Council, which is supposed to meet every six months or year, has not convened since 1996. Third, the (Palestine) National Council has not convened since 1996. So far, there is no PLO. Moreover, the Executive Committee has 14 members, four of whom are dead and six are registered as independents, whereas they are leaders in Fatah. These include Zakariyah al-Agha, Fatah official in Gaza, Ghassan al-Shak’a, and Emile Jarju’i. After that, who is left in the Executive Committee? Do the representatives of the entire Palestinian people not exceed six?!

(Asharq Al-Awsat) So Hamas sets conditions for rebuilding the PLO?

(Zahar) They are not conditions, but rather an agreement we reached in March 2005; namely, rebuilding the PLO. However, they, in Fatah, escaped from us. This agreement has been revived so that there will be a charter, that is, “a program and a mechanism for implementing it,” and so that the Palestinian people will have real representation. After that, we will embark on building an economy independent of Israel and rebuilding social institutions that were destroyed. In addition, there is a housing project (in compensation) for demolished houses, and a project for investment in the land on which there were settlements before. We removed from land those who seized the settlement land. We rearranged the land so that each piece will be rented out for $800 a year. This program will lead to an agricultural product, which we need to export. Therefore, we need to arrange conditions with Egypt and the Arab countries based on a vision that would help us to rebuild the Palestinian economy.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What is your vision of a settlement?

(Zahar) There is no settlement between us and Israel.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) We mean the settlement of the crisis between Fatah and Hamas?

(Zahar) It will be based on the national accord program. After that, we agree on the details of who the prime minister, the vice-president, and the ministers will be. What is important is for the project to continue to be there and to be implemented.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Is the disagreement between President Mahmud Abbas and Khalid Mishal over?

(Zahar) President Abbas came to Gaza Strip twice or three times after he had boycotted it. The situation between President Abbas and Mishal is not as some are trying to portray it.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Where has the issue of the Israeli soldier reached?

(Zahar) The Arab media made a mistake, which they should correct. This is because the issue is not related to the Israeli soldier, but rather to the fate of 10,000 Palestinian prisoners in occupation jails, some of whom have already completed their prison terms. These include women and children who did not exceeded two years of age. All previous attempts to get them out failed until the case of the captive soldier came up for us to negotiate on its basis. Once Israel responds to the prisoner issue, the problem of the captive soldier will be resolved. We do not trust Israel; we will not hand over the soldier unless after implementing the agreement, which is (the release of) 1,000 prisoners in two or even three batches. What is important is to have real guarantees for the release.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Has Hamas specified the names of certain prisoners?

(Zahar) We did not. We demand the release of those below 18 years of age, women, and those who should be released for health reasons.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Some repeat that the behavior of HAMAS has put the decision of releasing the Israeli soldier in Syria’s hand. How do you see that?

(Zahar) Whoever talks about an axis with Egypt or Syria in this regard is mistaken, because it is Israel that has so far foiled the prisoner file. When it responds to all of our demands, which have not changed, the problem will be resolved.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) There have been reports that it is the Palestinian side that in the last moment retracted a settlement to the prisoner issue. How do you comment on that?

(Zahar) What happened is as follows: First, I, as a cabinet intervened to preserve the rights of people. We met with the various sides, the Egyptians who are in Gaza, and with President Mahmud Abbas. We set a mechanism for implementation. We had wished to present these demands to Egypt, which would be the mediator and the side that undertakes implementation. Egypt would present these demands to the Israeli side. If Israel agrees to them, we will hand the soldier over to Egypt as a trust to guarantee implementation. Egypt and President Abbas were informed. However, we were later surprised by the PA president telling us: Offer your conditions and hand over the soldier at the same time.

Therefore, I took my hands off and said that the conditions should be first accepted, and after the agreement we hand the soldier over to Egypt to guarantee implementation.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Why did you not accept the proposal of President Abbas?

(Zahar) Why should we lose a pressure card for the implementation of our demands by handing the soldier over and offering conditions (at the same time) without an advance approval by Israel, especially since we do not trust it?

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Was the soldier handed over to Egypt as a trust inside the Palestinian territories?

(Zahar) This is a story like the One Thousand and One Night’s stories. What happened is that a media person asked the Egyptian delegation about that, and one of them, jokingly, said “yes”. Then rumors started to circulate about that.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Will Hamas respond to Egypt’s invitation to complete the Palestinian national dialogue?

(Zahar) If an agreement is reached on the formation of the government, we want that to take place under Arab sponsorship or in Egypt. We believe what we did in March 2005 was essential. We support this policy. We also want to rebuild the PLO as a source of power for the Palestinian people. The conference can be held in Cairo or the Arab League premises.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Did Khalid Mishal face pressure so as not to visit Cairo?

(Zahar) Do you think that the Hamas decision-making is in the hands of Mishal?

(Asharq Al-Awsat) In whose hands is it then?

(Zahar) It is in the hands of the movement inside the West Bank and Gaza Strip and abroad.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What are your conditions for recognizing Israel?

(Zahar) We will not recognize Israel, and we will not set conditions. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of Fatah when it recognized (Israel) and made concessions. The result is the tragedy we are living now.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What will happen if the international pressure on you continues?

(Zahar) Hamas will not change its position no matter how high the level of pressures.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) The Arab initiative recognizes Israel in exchange for a final settlement based on the land-for-peace principle.

(Zahar) We did not recognize the Arab initiative, and we ask: What is its value on the ground? The answer is “nothing,” because America rejected it, and so did Israel. Besides, we do not accept anything that recognizes Israel.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Even if a two-state settlement is reached?

(Zahar) I can establish the state of Palestine on one inch of the liberated land.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Will you not recognize Israel if there are solutions that guarantee the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 4 June 1967 boundaries?

(Zahar) We will offer a truce, but we will not recognize (Israel).

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you think that the other side will get out of the land in exchange for a truce?

(Zahar) Fatah recognized Israel and made concessions, yet the occupation and aggression continued. Therefore, we will not repeat unsuccessful experiences.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Since you are following the approach of fierce opposition, why do you not leave the government and go back to the opposition ranks?

(Zahar) This is a good question. If we choose this and go back to the resistance ranks, the government will come to collect the weapons of our resistance as illegal weapons. It will corrupt politics, economy, trade, and morals, and will cooperate with Israel in security matters. We would sit in the opposition to see how they are arresting us, how they are cooperating security-wise against us, and how they are disarming us.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Did you meet with Muslim Brotherhood leaders during your visit to Egypt?

(Zahar) I met with Muslim Brotherhood leaders, with political masses and forces, and with writers and intellectuals, including Muhammad Hasanayn Haykal. All these meetings aimed at pooling support for the Palestinian people’s rights.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Did you feel that Hamas’s victory in the last elections put the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in a crisis?

(Zahar) My task is to gather support for the unity of Hamas ranks inside and outside (the Palestinian territories). Therefore, there is no interference in the affairs of Egypt or the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the policy of the Arab and Islamic depth, which we adopt because we do not believe that our question can be solved in the US corridors.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Since you have mentioned the US corridors, the Americans have a vision of a solution proposed for discussion with regional and international sides, which involves the search for a new leadership, which will not be held by Hamas or President Abbas. The search is for new leaders.

(Zahar) (jokingly) Will they bring David Welch to rule Gaza?!

(Asharq Al-Awsat) They are looking for a Palestinian Mandela.

(Zahar) What happens in any part of the world cannot be repeated among the ranks of the Palestinian people. I believe that the alternative leadership they are looking for has not yet been born. No one was arrested or imprisoned as Mandela was.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) How do you conceive of the idea of a federal state that includes Palestine and Israel, similar to Al-Qadhafi’s idea of “Isratin (Arabic word coined by the Libyan leader to mean a Palestinian-Israeli state)?

(Zahar) Before giving an answer, Israel will reject this proposal.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Will you accept it?

(Zahar) We will not offer Israel free-of-charge stances. At any rate, until this proposal materializes, you can repeat the question at a later time, and I will study it and answer you on it because we do not answer questions in terms of principle.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) The Isratin issue has been proposed since the Amman summit?

(Zahar) The Arab league did not ask us our opinion on it. I believe that its proposal will revolve within the same framework of the Arab Initiative experience. In other words, we plant the seeds and America refuses to accept the fruit. Therefore, we will not deal with a luxury of ideas proposed by the media.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What is then your vision of a solution, and to what extent can it be implemented?

(Zahar) The problem is that the Israeli side does not want the solution. It had earlier rejected the road map and Oslo, and it does not have a peace plan. We, therefore, cannot talk about illusory solutions.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What is Hamas’s plan for a solution?

(Zahar) Our plan is known. We believe that the historical right is not annulled with the passage of time, and that if we cannot make victory now, then we should not make defeat. Consequently, the resistance drives the occupation out of any part (of land), and we build on this part a government without giving up our right to the land and to repatriation. However, if the world asks Hamas (for solution) based on the interest of the Palestinian people, we might offer a truce, but not recognition (of Israel).

(Asharq Al-Awsat) The establishment of the state requires a people, land, authority, and international recognition.

(Zahar) Who said so?

(Asharq Al-Awsat) We mean the international approval of the state.

(Zahar) This is not a condition. For example, who recognized Cuba?

(Asharq Al-Awsat) All the Non-Aligned Movement and the Eastern Bloc countries, except the United States and some Latin (American) and Western countries.

(Zahar) Now who is refusing to recognize us, as a Palestinian Authority?

(Asharq Al-Awsat) You are not the Palestinian Authority. You are the government, whereas the PA is headed by President Abbas. Is that not true? There is a difference between the PA and the Hamas government. If this were not the case, there would not be a crisis?

(Zahar) The Hamas government is recognized by Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Pakistan, Iran, and all Arab countries. This is in addition to European countries, which met Hamas and which I do not want to name. Russia met with Hamas leaders. Our relations with South Africa are good, (we are preparing to visit it soon) and so are (our relations with) the Latin American states. No one stood against us, except some European countries and America.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) No one is standing against you except those who control 70% of the world trade volume and 70% of the size of political influence in international relations. Is that not right?

(Zahar) That is not right. Our predecessors had agreed to all the required conditions, and the result was zero. We ask: What did America and Europe give the Palestinian people in proportion to the 70% you talked about? We will not repeat unsuccessful experiences.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) You are talking in a political affair about the absolute right. What are the limits of the possible for Hamas?

(Zahar) We leave the absolute right to history. The possible is what I am currently making and dealing with.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Does Hamas have a road map for this possible?

(Zahar) There is no road map, and I am not required (to offer one). I do not want this possible. We have a program, and we do not want to start naming things. I had visited Libya, and they talked with me about Isratin as an idea. No one asked me my opinion on it at the time.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Does Hamas have an agenda for negotiating with the United States about peace in the Middle East?

(Zahar) What kind of peace?

(Asharq Al-Awsat) A just and comprehensive peace that gives the Palestinian people all their rights.

(Zahar) We do not deal with this terminology. The just and comprehensive peace has become known; it was suggested by Oslo (accord). I ask: Where is the agreement? Israel destroyed it.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you accept the partition resolution?

(Zahar) It is unacceptable.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you accept Resolution 242?

(Zahar) It is unacceptable.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you reject international legitimacy, which recognizes the existence of an occupied territory?

(Zahar) We will not be slaves to international legitimacy, which used against us around 31 vetoes in favor of Israel. At this moment, 23 people have been killed (the Bayt Hanun massacre last Wednesday). Where is the international legitimacy you are talking about? Did international legitimacy protect the blood of our children? When Bush comes out and says that Israel is defending itself with the murder of our children, is this the legitimacy I should respect?

(Asharq Al-Awsat) How then will you deal with this international legitimacy?

(Zahar) Through the program of resistance until Israel is convinced that if it kills children, the response will be the same.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) You are acting as a resistance movement, not a government?

(Zahar) How do countries fight? Does every government that resists become a resistance movement? Do we reduce governments that wage wars into resistance movements? Was Egypt, which launched a liberation war against Israel in 1973, called at the time the Egyptian resistance movement, or was it Egypt that launched the war to restore its occupied land? This is the Palestinian Authority that should defend its land. The Palestinian interior minister and all the security forces received an order, issued one and half months ago, to confront the occupation.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) There is no arms balance, so how do you fight?

(Zahar) We do not have (as published), and we fight with our own capability.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What about the PA’s decision to collect the weapons?

(Zahar) No one will be able to take one rifle from a Palestinian as long as the occupation exists.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What are your demands of the Security Council, for which you want the Arab foreign ministers to make efforts?

(Zahar) Halting the Israeli aggression.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Why do you not ask for international protection.

(Zahar) It eventually turns into tools for protecting Israel. When they brought observers to the Rafah crossing, they were among the reasons for closing it, because they support this (as published).

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you believe that the model of Hasan Nasrallah’s war encouraged the resistance inside Palestine?

(Zahar) We have our own model, and we will not cancel the history of Hamas’s struggle and sacrifices.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Is there cooperation between you and Hezbollah?

(Zahar) How?

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you have Hezbollah’s capabilities, and do you exchange expertise with it to fight a war to liberate your land?

(Zahar) We liberated Gaza. If we have Hezbollah’s capabilities, the world will see what we will do to Israel.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Western reports are talking about coordination between Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and HAMAS to export crises to Israel instead of receiving crises, especially after the assassination of Al-Hariri.

(Zahar) Is that meant to say that we are an axis of evil? And how can we export crises to Israel, which is exporting crises to the entire world? It is present in Iraq; it is tampering with Iran via America and encouraging the latter to attack the Iranian nuclear reactor. It had threatened to attack the High Dam. Nevertheless, we wish we could export crises to Israel to become what the reports claimed we are.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What about the Iranian support for you?

(Zahar) We use it to pay salaries. We do not receive military aid from it, because simply it cannot reach us.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Once again, what are the limits of the possible for Hamas?

(Zahar) I am making it (the possible), but will not raise it. The limits of the possible are a real reform program with an Arab and Islamic help. This is what I am implementing on the ground. Do you want us to give up our land before Israel recognizes us so that that will be the possible for us and to hold negotiations only for the sake of negotiating as a strategic option? I am not one of these unsuccessful experiences, and I will only offer what I make on the ground.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Does Hamas have a working program for what it is doing?

(Zahar) How did we win in the elections? It is because we have clear answers in politics, economics, sociology, and art.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Is Hamas still enjoying the same support, through which it won in the elections?

(Zahar) I wish we could hold the presidential elections now so you can see how we will win.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Are you calling for presidential elections?

(Zahar) I do not accept this booby-trapped question.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) You can answer in the context you want.

(Zahar) I had earlier said it, and I am not afraid of anyone. If presidential elections are held, HAMAS will win, and this is something known. This is because when we call for demonstrations, tens of thousands of people take to the street. This is not self-praise; it is the reality. If we ask the Palestinian people whether they agree to recognize Israel or not while our program says that we will not recognize Israel, what do you expect? At least 70% percent of the people will say they will not recognize Israel. (As Al-Zahhar was speaking about this point, satellite channel screen were full of footage of dead Palestinian children in Bayt Hanun. Commenting he said: This massacre happened after the Israeli defense minister said he stopped the operations)

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What is required as long as this battle is continuing?

(Zahar) Resistance.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Did you ask for Arab support?

(Zahar) We asked the Arab League to lift the siege, and this is one step.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) To what extent do you think the Arabs can achieve that?

(Zahar) Amr Musa has the answer.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you expect a breakthrough in the US position after the US elections?

(Zahar) I think that the political map will change. In my opinion, the American people will not remain silent. We have seen the first manifestations of change in the Congress elections.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you wager on this change?

(Zahar) We only wager on ourselves, and we do not pin hopes on the defeats of anyone.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Are you waiting for the (absolute) historic solution?

(Zahar) Some ridicule the historic solution, (saying that) the diplomat should have a strategic vision. The historical experiences are clear before us, as happened in Algeria and Egypt. This is the context of the respectable history. Consider us a point in this historical context. The Koran talks about the end of the state of Israel. Only God knows the unknown.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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