The following Interview was conducted on November 1 2006:
(Asharq al-Awsat) What are the results of the contacts and meetings held so far as part of the efforts to form the national unity government?
(Haniyeh) The dialogue has made great and concrete strides and the government that will be formed will be a nationally unified one and aims to strengthen national unity, lift the blockade off the Palestinian people, and protect the Palestinian national program……….
(Asharq al-Awsat) Will a government of national unity be formed or a government of technocrats? President Mahmoud Abbas believes that events have bypassed the national unity government.
(Haniyeh) There is a consensus inside the Palestinian society to form a national unity government but it is left to each faction to choose the person it believes suitable to represent it in the government. On one hand, this government will be made up of representatives of all the factions and at the same time the factions will choose their representatives in the government on the basis of specific criteria.
(Asharq al-Awsat) Will this government be led by a Hamas figure or will an independent figure form it?
(Haniyeh) There is agreement to leave it to the largest bloc in parliament to choose the person who will form the next government.
(Asharq al-Awsat) Will the person who forms the government be from Hamas?
(Haniyeh) Hamas will choose the person who will form the next government due to the fact that it is the largest bloc in parliament.
(Asharq al-Awsat) Will the next prime minister be from the Hamas movement or someone close to it?
(Haniyeh) The next prime minister will be either from Hamas, someone close to it, or someone the movement names. In other words, the Hamas bloc will have the decisive voice in determining the identity of the next prime minister.
(Asharq al-Awsat) According the Palestinian constitution, President Abbas has the right to choose the prime minister. This means that President Abbas will not be bound to appoint the person nominated by Hamas to form the next government.
(Haniyeh) This is true. This is President Abbas’s constitutional right. But besides this, the complexities of the Palestinian situation should be taken into consideration.
(Asharq al-Awsat) In your view, will the formation of this government solve the problems that the Palestinian people are facing and will the blockade be lifted? Will the presence of Hamas in the new government mean recognition of Israel since this is the condition imposed by the United States, the Quartet, and Israel?
(Haniyeh) Hamas’s stand on these issues is clear and decisive. But in view of the talk about a national unity government, the talk is about political formulas that establish common denominators which enable each party to understand what it wants.
(Asharq al-Awsat) What will make President Abbas back down and accept a national unity government? Do you not fear that such a step will not lead to lifting the blockade off the Palestinian people, especially as the United States wants to bind the government to the specifics that President Abbas insisted upon for forming the government and which talk about accepting the Arab initiative and the international legitimacy resolutions?
(Haniyeh) President Abbas is talking about guarantees to lift the blockade once the national unity government is formed within the framework of the understandings that have been formulated at present.
(Asharq al-Awsat) Can it be said that Hamas has backed down on its stand and accepted these specifics?
(Haniyeh) These specifics have stopped being the basis for the ongoing dialogues to form the government.
(Asharq al-Awsat) So what is the dialogue’s basis?
(Haniyeh) The National Dialogue document is the dialogue’s basis. On the part of Hamas, there are six things that the new government should carry out. The first one: That the government should protect the Palestinian national program. The second: This government is concerned with lifting the blockade off the Palestinian people and easing their sons’ suffering. The third: The prevention of any internal fighting and consolidation of national unity. The fourth: The formation of the national unity government to be simultaneous with the launch of talks to rebuild the PLO. The fifth: That this government is formed on the basis of respecting the democratic choice and the results of the democratic elections. The sixth one: Any government must end the chaos and lawlessness, particularly as part of the lawlessness has political dimensions. If any government has these six dimensions, then it will act and succeed, God willing.
(Asharq al-Awsat) The fact that the Hamas bloc will choose the next prime minister does not mean that he will be from Hamas and might be someone close to it?
(Haniyeh) This is possible and he might possibly be from the movement’s leaders. HAMAS might re-nominate Ismail Haniyeh to form the government….
(Asharq al-Awsat) Ismail Haniyeh might be the next prime minister. Or is this unlikely?
(Haniyeh) It is possible. Nothing is ruled out. But the issue is not connected to persons but to the Palestinian national plan, lifting the blockade off our people, strengthening national unity, and proving that the people respect democracy’s choices.
(Asharq al-Awsat) Does Hamas now recognize the Arab initiative, the condition laid down by President Abbas for accepting a national unity government or a technocrats one?
(Haniyeh) This issue is not propounded anymore. Hamas stresses the respect for the international and Arab legitimacy and Arab summits resolutions.
(Asharq al-Awsat) Will the government program ignore the Arab initiative issue?
(Haniyeh) The next cabinet’s government statement will take all these issues into consideration but will at the same time pay attention to our people’s issues, rights, and constants.
(Asharq al-Awsat) Meaning that Hamas is willing to make some concession in order to form this government?
(Haniyeh) Hamas will not make any concessions at the expense of the national rights.
(Asharq al-Awsat) Concessions like conceding some ministries in the government?
(Haniyeh) As soon as there is a national unity government, this means that there will be representatives of the other parties and factions in it.
(Asharq al-Awsat) Will Fatah participate in this government?
(Haniyeh) Yes, it will.
(Asharq al-Awsat) Contrary to what is said, some are saying that the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip is the one most inflexible in the negotiations to form the unity government and that the Hamas leadership abroad and in the West Bank is more flexible?
(Haniyeh) There are no hard-line stands and non hard-line stands in Hamas. There is an institution that governs all and no one can deviate from this institution’s decisions, whether he is in Damascus, Gaza, or Ramallah. We present Hamas’s vision to President Abbas as the movement’s unified vision. Accusing Hamas in Gaza of inflexibility is aimed at achieving political objectives. They might accuse the West Bank and abroad tomorrow. We do not pay attention to these descriptions. We represent a single movement that has an organized and unified vision. Our decision is taken through consultation.
(Asharq al-Awsat) We have followed the initiative of Dr. Mustafa al-Barghuthi, secretary general of the Palestinian Initiative. Are there positive messages to you from President Abbas?
(Haniyeh) There are positive messages exchanged between the two sides, from us to him and from him to us. Therefore a meeting is expected to be held between him and me soon (Note: the meeting took place the night before yesterday and yesterday) because this meeting is necessary for putting the final touches on the general framework of the government that leads to forming the government.
(Asharq al-Awsat) Some are saying that President Abbas is acting as the leader of an organization and not as the head of a state because he does not take government ministers to accompany him on his foreign trips, which President Abbas denies?
(Haniyeh) He did not host ministers even in his meetings with officials who visit Ramallah. He has not attended a single meeting of the Palestinian Government.
(Asharq al-Awsat) But President Abbas says you affronted him after you backed down on the specifics for forming the unity government as you had agreed with him on them?
(Haniyeh) President Abbas did not take any minister with him since the government was formed, that is, before the recent problem arose.
(Asharq al-Awsat) Did you discuss this issue with him and tried to know the reason for not taking your ministers with him?
(Asharq al-Awsat) And what was his response?
(Haniyeh) He said that some countries made it a condition that there should not be ministers from the Hamas movement. All right, if we accept that some European countries do not accept, what about the Arab countries? The relationship between the government and the president was supposed to be normal and constitutional. We hope that it will be so in the next government.
(Asharq al-Awsat) Do you expect Ismail Haniyeh to submit his resignation soon?
(Haniyeh) There is no talk about resignation. We are talking in general terms. We want guarantees that the blockade will be lifted off the Palestinian people once the unity government is formed. There will be no problem in forming the next government once there is this guarantee.
(Asharq al-Awsat) The Americans are saying that they will not have contacts with a government that includes Hamas?
(Haniyeh) I believe that the stands have changed. Some are expecting the government to fall within two months. Things have changed. They have also changed at the internal level in that the Palestinian public does not want the strikes to continue. It is the parents who are pressuring to stop the strikes in the education sector (Note: the government agreed the day before yesterday with the Teachers Association to stop the strike that has been going on since the beginning of the year, particularly in the West Bank, and to return to work).
(Asharq al-Awsat) What is your assessment of these strikes?
(Haniyeh) The Palestinian citizen has the right to strike to demand his rights, but these strikes ought to have been directed against the parties imposing the blockade on the Palestinian people. Moreover, they should not be for this length of time so as not to affect the education process, health conditions, and life in general.
(Asharq al-Awsat) Some are saying that employees close to Hamas are getting their salaries at the end of each month while the others do not get theirs?
(Haniyeh) The prime minister received only half the salary that is paid to all the employees in addition to a single loan of 1,500 shekels ($350).
(Asharq al-Awsat) President Abbas considers the Executive Force formed by the Interior Ministry an illegal one and should not exist?
(Haniyeh) This force was established four months after the formation of the government and after the interior minister (Sa’id Siyam) despaired of the security organs’ cooperation with him. This government became one without a security arm while part of the security establishment was creating problems for the government, either through the direct clashes or the disruption of the government’s decision in addition to the protests they staged. The security establishment’s vision should be based on a specific concept since it is formed exclusively from one faction. At the same time, the establishment of this force was based on a decision by President Abu-Mazin under a presidential decree. Moreover, the elements in this force have obtained financial allocations from the Finance Ministry legally and it is now an acknowledged force within the framework of the Palestinian police establishment.
(Asharq al-Awsat) But President Abbas says it is illegal, so how does he finance it?
(Haniyeh) This is not true. This force was established by a presidential decree and acknowledged financially and administratively by the Authority’s establishments. I will hand to you the presidential decree that organizes this force’s work.
(Asharq al-Awsat) There are signs of a civil war in the Palestinian territories. The assassinations, killings, kidnappings, and the destruction and burning of houses are continuing. How can this be avoided?
(Haniyeh) The Hamas movement was and remains faithful to the policy it has followed, which is to stay away from the route of civil war. It is true that dangerous incidents had taken place but all loyalists and patriots will not allow the Palestinian situation to deteriorate further. There is no better proof of this than the agreement recently reached between Fatah and Hamas under Egyptian sponsorship and Palestinian accord to stop the manifestations of tension. There is calm. The more we can bolster the political accord the more we avoid the possibility of the internal conflicts blowing up. The more we prevent foreign interferences in the Palestinian decision the more we prevent the civil war from breaking out. But generally speaking, civil war does not exist in the Palestinian culture lexicon.
(Asharq al-Awsat) The Israeli press published before few days reports that the American Central Intelligence Agency, “CIA”, is training elements from President Abbas’s presidential guards so as to prepare them for a likely confrontation with Hamas. What is your comment?
(Haniyeh) The Americans and Israelis aspired and continue to aspire for an inter-Palestinian conflict for the aim of securing the occupation and providing security and protection to it. The Americans will not refrain from using any means to achieve this aim. The step is represented by the possibility of any Palestinian party’s response with these schemes. I personally do not believe that there will be such a response. On the other hand, anyone who thinks that establishing some forces to decide the confrontation with a large movement like Hamas is definitely mistaken and very mistaken.
(Asharq al-Awsat) What is your comment on the demand to bring the Badr forces that are in Jordan to the Gaza Strip?
(Haniyeh) Every Palestinian’s return to his homeland and land is a sacred and welcomed right. But they surely want a return so as to explode the internal situation. Hence we hope that their return will be to strengthen the Palestinian situation.
(Asharq al-Awsat) How true are the reports there are camps for Palestinian parties in the Khan Yunus area for the purpose of creating confrontations and provoking the internal situation?
(Haniyeh) Yes, there are names mentioned in this connection and there are the names of leaders. But I am fully convinced that those planning these schemes will be the losers.
(Asharq al-Awsat) What is the stand on the kinds of resistance being followed at present against the occupation, particularly the firing of locally-made rockets? Some believe that this is only giving the Israelis the justifications for raising the level of repression against the Palestinian people. Do you not believe there is a need to reassess the means of resistance?
(Haniyeh) Firstly, the Israelis do not need justification to carry out their aggression against the Palestinian people. Secondly, the aggression to which the Palestinian people are subjected has political dimensions related to thwarting the democratic experience, bringing down the government, and influencing the ongoing dialogues to form a new government and ongoing dialogues to release the prisoner soldier Gil’ad Shalit. On the other hand, a principled one this, we believe that self-defense is a legitimate right for the Palestinian people. But the mechanisms of this resistance are certainly left to the resistance factions. The stand here requires observing two fundamental principles: Protecting the Palestinian people’s right to resistance and protecting the Palestinian people’s higher national interests. We have given calm several times and the resistance movements stopped their operations but the Israelis ignored these understandings every time.
(Asharq al-Awsat) President Abbas called these rockets fired from Gaza “ridiculous and will do nothing” while more than 350 Palestinians have been killed since Shalit’s abduction. How do you justify the death of this large number of Palestinians in return for rockets that might or might reach their targets?
(Haniyeh) This is true. But the same policy is also used in the West Bank even though there are no rockets there. There are no tunnels in Khan Yunus’s eastern area and yet they (the Israelis) rush to carry out attacks on it. On our part, we are unlikely to call the Palestinian people’s resistance any name that could harm our people’s morale and this resistance’s legitimacy. There will certainly not be a Palestinian initiative to carry out operations if the Israelis stop their acts of aggression.
(Asharq al-Awsat) Israel is talking about Hamas moving toward forming an entire army in the Strip and is preparing to launch war on it.
(Haniyeh) Israel exaggerates everything in order to justify the continuation of the aggression.
(Asharq al-Awsat) What about the Shalit issue, is there any progress?
(Haniyeh) There is something tangible in the negotiations. The framework brought by the Egyptian brothers was accepted by Israel. But we need details so as to close this dossier.
(Asharq al-Awsat) Are there direct contacts between you and the Israelis, especially in view of the visit to London by Ahmad Yusuf (the prime minister’s political adviser)?
(Haniyeh) Ahmad Yusuf went to London to meet some British officials in response to a British invitation.
(Asharq al-Awsat) British invitation?
(Haniyeh) Yes, British invitation.
(Asharq al-Awsat) Were there Israelis?
(Haniyeh) He did not meet them.
(Asharq al-Awsat) Is Hamas serious in its demand to revive and build the PLO?
(Haniyeh) We are serious and waiting for the practical step to start the dialogue aimed at restructuring the PLO.