Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Dr. Musa Abu-Marzuq, Deputy Chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau spoke about the situation in the Gaza Strip, the prospects of inter-Palestinian reconciliation and elections. Musa Abu Marzuq also touched upon numerous other topics including Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Mursi in Egypt, the worldwide Muslim protests against the US film that insulted the prophet and the killing of the US ambassador to Libya.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There have been reports that Hamas is seeking to establish a diplomatic corps independent of the Palestinian Authority [PA] and Palestinian Liberation Organization [PLO]. What is the truth behind this issue?
[Abu-Marzuq] Hamas cadres taking part in diplomatic training courses does not mean that we intend to undertake independent diplomatic representation. Rather, all this means is that Hamas intends to train its cadres in all fields, including the diplomatic sector.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] President Mahmoud Abbas raised the issue of Palestinian representation at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran. What was the reason behind President Abbas’s objection against the participation of Ismail Haniyeh’s government?
[Abu-Marzuq] The recent speech by President Abbas referred to the issue of Palestinian representation. He spoke in an inappropriate manner on this issue, particularly as Haniyeh had not been invited in his capacity as the representative of the PLO. The invitation was clear, and he was only invited as a private guest to the conference, therefore we do not know why he [Abbas] was so angry. Haniyeh has visited many countries and Abbas was not angered then. Haniyeh is not a “nobody”, as Abbas said, particularly as Abbas refuses to recognize any other [Palestinian] party, even though this party won the elections. If we are speaking about the side that enjoys legitimacy now, it is Haniyeh who is head of an elected government. Therefore, Abbas cannot cancel and sanction according to his wishes. This is something inappropriate, and this is the reason why Abbas was angry with Egypt’s stance. When Egypt says that it is the same distance from all Palestinian sides, Abbas says that there are no other Palestinian sides. We believe that the man [Abbas] needs glasses to see that there are Palestinian parties that enjoy legitimacy after winning the last elections held in the country.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your view, why is Abbas so angry?
[Abu-Marzuq] What angered Abbas is that Egypt is now serious regarding the issue of neutrality toward the Palestinian parties and their files. The talk that Egypt is the same distance from all Palestinian factions is not new in Egyptian foreign policy and this was said over many years. Former President Hosni Mubarak and later [Intelligence chief] Omar Suleiman would always repeat this; however Abbas was not angered by this then because this talk was not in line with the reality on the ground. At that time, Egypt was 100 percent biased toward the Palestinian National Authority and used to deal with Hamas as a fait accompli. However Abbas is now, during the presidency of Mohamed Mursi, witnessing a new form of seriousness regarding Egypt’s neutrality toward the Palestine cause and its files. This is something that strongly angered him, although he has no right to be angered by this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you not consider Hamas delegations carrying out foreign visits to represent a kind of duplication in terms of Palestinian diplomatic representation?
[Abu-Marzuq] There are countries that deal with Hamas and do not deal with the PA. We do not encourage this because we do not want to have duplication of representation in any way. However, the presence of a Hamas representative in any country is not considered duplication in representation. The PLO is the representative, and we are not seeking to be an alternative to this. However, in many countries there is a Fatah representative and a PLO representative, and nobody has spoken about duplication in representation. Abbas should read contemporary Palestinian history, as more than one country contains both a Fatah official and a PLO representative. This is very clear and unambiguous; Abbas should be more accurate when he speaks.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] President Abbas has raised the issue of tax clearance between the PA and Israel. What precisely did he mean by this and what are the dimensions of this issue?
[Abu-Marzuq] Abbas has spoken for the first time about the issue of clearance, and the people do not know about the issue; therefore, many people have been surprised and are wondering just what precisely Abbas is speaking about. The Zionist entity imposes a tax on all commodities that enters the Gaza Strip. This tax is relayed to the PA on the condition that the PA is in possession of the tax documents. This is true, however there are some tax documents that the PA is not in possession of and cannot reach, and these are in the possession of the Gaza government. Therefore, there tax documents are present in Gaza, and they can be exchanged for money, which is the right of the Palestinian people in Gaza. Israel refuses to deal with the Gaza Strip, and Hamas, whilst Hamas, for its part, refuses to deal with Israel. Therefore the only way to restore the money is through the PA. Hamas is prepared to restore this money via the PA, but the PA does not have the sufficient sense of responsibility to return this tax money, which by rights should return to the Gaza Strip. This issue has recently been settled, and they [the PA] were given a sum of more than 30 million shekels to create a mechanism to restore this money. However, they took the money and have not done anything for the Gaza Strip. According to the agreement, the money should be spent in the Gaza Strip, not anywhere else. This does not represent bias for one area at the expense of another.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] However, hasn’t President Abbas claimed that most of the PA’s budget is being spent in the Gaza Strip?
[Abu-Marzuq] This is untrue. The whole of the PA’s budget is spent in the West Bank, and nothing is spent in Gaza except salaries, which are estimated at 100 million shekels. This does not stand for more than 25 or 30 percent of their budget, not 48 percent as brother Abbas claimed. Furthermore, most of this money comes from the tax money collected from the Gaza Strip.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the latest developments regarding the issues of inter-Palestinian reconciliation and elections?
[Abu-Marzuq] Abbas said that no one can reject the elections as a means for the people to choose their leaders. This is the civilized way that is followed these days, and nobody can ignore it, whilst nobody has legitimacy without the legitimacy of the elections. However, this has nothing to do with restoring cohesion and ending the inter-Palestinian division. To be clear, this means the unity of the presidency. We have agreed that Abbas, who is president, would be the head of the Palestinian Government. However, he is the one who does not want to move forward and form this. We agreed to restore the Legislative Council and to work out a single budget and plan. These are the most important headlines related to the geographic and political unity between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
We believe that elections are unfeasible. This means that many questions are going to be raised, particularly as comprehensive elections would demonstrate the unity of the Palestinian people more than independent elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This would mean the renewal of the responsible Palestinian leadership that represents the Palestinian people. This also means electing a Palestine National Council, which is better than separate elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The second thing is would President Abbas be pleased to hold elections that exclude Jerusalem? This issue has yet to be resolved, and until this moment, Israeli rejects holding [Palestinian] elections there. In addition to this, there must be political freedom in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, to ensure that any elections are free, honest, and transparent. This is something that has also not been achieved. The question that remains is: what if elections are held and Hamas wins, will we be allowed to operate politically or are obstacles going to be placed in our path, as happened following the 2006 elections when Hamas was deprived of its legitimate rights after people chose it?
Therefore, I believe that this is a pretext that should be set aside and people should go for direct talks, ignoring all the sensitivities and preconditions in order to end the Palestinian division and turn over a new page. I must also take this opportunity to note that we, in the national Palestinian arena, need to carry out a comprehensive review of the political track as a whole because Abbas has undoubtedly reached a dead end in terms of political settlements. Israel does not believe in the two-state solution at the present time, and it is simply waiting for the opportune moment to carry out a unilateral withdrawal. It will therefore leave the Palestinians in part of the West Bank, and they will not be able to do anything due to the influence of the [Israeli] security services, whilst they would also prevent any form of resistance in the West Bank.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your assessment, what is the real crisis in the Palestinian arena?
[Abu-Marzuq] We have a problem regarding the national project…we need to work according to an agreed-upon national project, and I think this task will be the priority following the formation of an elected or agreed-upon Palestine National Council. The second task is to resolve the problems related to the clash of programs, particularly since we have tried all the existing programs and the political settlement option is powerless and cannot lead the Palestinian people to what they want. We are facing a Palestinian Spring, and this spring will be a good omen for the Palestine Cause in the future. The Palestinian arena should be prepared to receive the results of the Palestinian Spring in a unified and strong manner, as well as a political vision through which we can achieve the national objectives that we have decided for ourselves.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that Hamas’s relations with Egypt improved after President Mursi took office?
[Abu-Marzuq] Egypt acts on the basis of its national interests, and I believe that in the most recent period, the tunnels [between Gaza and Egypt] have been closed in a manner that they were not during the Mubarak era even. The [Palestinian] people have been clearly harmed by the closure of these tunnels, and this means that President Mursi is working – day and night – to serve his own country and its national security. Whilst it is true that he takes the Palestine question into consideration, his main concern at present is to solve the domestic problems that Egypt is facing. Thus far, and since President’s Mursi’s election victory, Egypt has not hosted any dialogue or reconciliation meeting. As for the halting of the operations of the Palestinian Election Commission, we took this decision before Mursi won the elections.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about Egypt’s investigations into the killing of 16 officers and soldiers along the Gaza border? Has anybody in Gaza been implicated by this?
[Abu-Marzuq] Thus far, Egypt has not informed us of the involvement of a single Palestinian in that operation. Whilst DNA tests could not be performed [on the attackers] because the corpses were burnt. Furthermore, [the people in] the Gaza Strip are known, and if any person is missing for one or two days, everybody will notice his absence. As for the Palestinian security services, which are closely monitoring this case, we informed the Egyptian side that we have thus far not discovered any suspicious absences in the Gaza Strip since the incident, and the whereabouts of all those who left are known.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you tell us if Egypt is seeking to promote any Palestinian reconciliation initiatives between Hamas and Fatah in the near future?
[Abu-Marzuq] We welcome Egypt playing a crucial and strong role in restoring Palestinian national unity and ending the state of division. This is something that we would welcome. Abbas should feel the same way, and so we are waiting to see what will happen. However, we believe that President Mursi will be very busy with foreign visits in the forthcoming period, and we believe that any Palestinian vision must be redrawn and redrafted in a way that serves the Palestinian cause and the future of Palestine as a whole.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is hope in a Hamas – Fatah reconciliation dwindling, particularly following the increasingly divergent positions of the two parties?
[Abu-Marzuq] For the Palestinian people, reconciliation is a must. The Palestinian people cannot live whilst they are divided, politically and geographically. I believe that some minor issues will be overcome and Palestinian national unity will return as it was in the past. I only hope that this takes place within its wider framework, which is the framework of the PLO and its establishments.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, why is Washington continuing to support Egypt and its new president, despite his different political and religious tendencies in comparison to his predecessor. In other words, why are they supporting Mursi, even though he is an Islamist?
[Abu-Marzuq] The Americans are pragmatic and cannot ignore their interests in any way, shape or form. However, they are trying to contain, absorb, and pressure, utilizing soft power, to reach their objectives. They are fully aware of what they are doing and where they are going, and they know that they must deal with the forces that are present on the scene. For them, relinquishing Egypt would be a great strategic loss for the United States. As for the Palestinians and the presence of the Islamists, this issue involves the Israeli side, so it is completely different.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that the United States’ support for the Muslim Brotherhood is part of a strategy to support the Sunnis to confront Iran?
[Abu-Marzuq] Iran is a geographic reality that cannot be ignored or bypassed, and the Arabs – in their ethnic capacity –can only deal with the Persians as an ethnicity. The ummah [worldwide Muslim community] has no choice but to deal with all its components. Israel should remain the enemy, and there is no other enemy for the ummah. We should deal with others in accordance with an intellectual and strategic perspective.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is Hamas’s position on the amateur film that insults the prophet, peace be upon him? What is your stance on the killing of the US ambassador to Libya, which was said to be in retaliation to this?
[Abu-Marzuq] We strongly condemn and denounce the production and showing of the movie “Innocence of Muslims” in the United States, which insults Islam and the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. We consider this an attack on our holy images and symbols, and an insult to our religion. I call on the US administration to bring the producer of this film to account, and I call on the Organization of the Islamic Conference [OIC] and Arab League to adopt a firm and tough stance against this and file a law suit against those that produced and financed this film. This is because they are harming humanity as a whole by insulting the prophet, peace be upon him. However, and at the same time, we condemn the killing of the US ambassador and a number of US embassy employees in Benghazi because they were under our protection, and Islam prohibits attacks on ambassadors and those who are our guests and under our protection.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has the problem regarding the Palestinian refugees who fled Syria and who are trying to return to Palestine been resolved?
[Abu-Marzuq] We have secured the entry of many of the Palestinians who fled Syria for Egypt into the Gaza Strip. A limited number remain in Egypt due to certain problems and issues, such as studying. They may remain in Cairo for up to one year, and then we will work to secure their entry into the Gaza Strip following this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why is senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Zahhar visiting Iran?
[Abu-Marzuq] Dr al-Zahhar’s visit to Tehran and his meetings with Iranian officials is part of talks on a number of issues, and he has been assigned this role by Hamas.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] When will the elections for the post of head of the Hamas Political Bureau be held?
[Abu-Marzuq] This will take place soon, and anyone in the [Hamas] Shura Council has the right to nominate themselves or anybody else for this position.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You made a statement recently regarding the disturbances taking place in the West Bank and the possibility that they could spread to the Gaza Strip? What is your view of the situation now?
[Abu-Marzuq] I clearly stated that what is going on in the West Bank, in term of injustice, should not be restricted to the economic dimension, since the West Bank is under occupation, and this is the worst forms of injustice. The demonstrations should be staged against Israeli occupation, particularly as this is the cause of high prices, the lack of security and much more. The situation in the Gaza Strip is different since it is under siege. Therefore, the problems in the Gaza Strip are different from those in the West Bank, and if the residents of the Gaza Strip revolt, they will revolt against those who besiege them and not against those who are in government, particularly as the sides that are controlling the problems facing the people of Gaza such as water, electricity, and sewage are neighbouring countries, in addition to the enemy state, which used to supply the Gaza Strip with electricity, oil, and diesel directly. However, let it be known that we believe that citizens’ have the right to take to the street and express their views openly regarding what is happening in the political arena.