London, Asharq Al-Awsat- In a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat from his headquarters in Damascus, Abu Marzuq Deputy Chairman of the Hamas politburo talks about Khaled Mishal’s recent visit to Riyadh, the issue of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah and Egyptian mediation, the Arab role in the reconciliation process, the deal to release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Was Khaled Mishal’s visit to Saudi Arabia not the first of its kind by a Hamas official since the Mecca Agreement was concluded in March 2006?
[Abu Marzuq] I believe that no such visit has been made to Saudi Arabia for more than a year. However, there is usually one visit by Hamas to this country every year.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] During this visit, did Hamas succeed in clarifying certain vague points to the Saudis?
[Abu Marzuq] Without doubt there have been some unanswered questions connected to regional events, notably Hamas’ relationship with Iran and the incidents in Yemen, in addition to the reconciliation issue and the prisoner exchange deal with Israel. During the visit Hamas’ position and its views on the issues were clarified. Without doubt there has been some confusion about certain matters but this was cleared up.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us talk about the reconciliation issue. Are the two parties making serious efforts to achieve reconciliation?
[Abu Marzuq] They are trading accusations. Fatah says that it signed the Egyptian reconciliation document. Hamas claims that the text of the document was altered and is now demanding its amendment. In other words the issue is getting lost amid contradictory claims by both sides.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How can this disagreement be solved?
[Abu Marzuq] We are being asked to put our signature on a document from which some provisions had previously been reached but subsequently deleted. Fatah should have reminded the Egyptian sponsor that we agreed on certain matters that should be honored. It should not have hastened to sign whilst knowing that some parts had been deleted and others replaced. You cannot agree to something and then allow the sponsor of the agreement to come and change what has already been agreed. This is unacceptable. We are not asking for miracles. We are merely asking that what we sign on what we reached an agreement on.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In his last interview Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that nothing was changed in the agreement and that he signed it despite having many reservations about it.
[Abu Marzuq] As usual Mahmoud Abbas makes statements that are surprising coming from someone of his position and age. There were no reservations on what had been signed or on which agreement had been reached. Hamas and Fatah agreed on most of the provisions. We accepted the Egyptian document that was proposed last September, which included compromises regarding some issues that neither we nor Fatah had accepted one hundred percent. However, the Egyptian document excluded some points that had been agreed on during eight months of negotiations. For example, when we talk about the security services, the original text calls for rebuilding and restructuring them. In the final version the word “rebuilding” was dropped. The document now read “restoring and restructuring.” This is not the only point that Mahmoud Abbas raises. He brings up something new and unreasonable every day. He says that we officially asked for extending his term and the term of the Palestinian Legislative Council for 10 years, but he declines to say who made this request. Another time he says that Hamas’ leaders had hidden in Sinai for fear of the Israeli war. Mahmoud Abbas needs to revise this discourse of his, which sees Hamas as the basic enemy and Israel as an ally and friend.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, who is responsible for changing the text in the agreement to which you refer?
[Abu Marzuq] Egypt of course, as sponsor of the reconciliation process, bears a certain responsibility. Fatah is also claiming that it is not the culprit. Fatah should have scrutinized the document carefully before signing a document that had been altered.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You and Fatah agreed on the issues. Which side conveyed the agreed text to the Egyptians?
[Abu Marzuq] The Egyptian sponsor was present at all the negotiation sessions. After all, Egypt was sponsoring the talks and its representatives recorded the minutes of the meetings.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So what is the way out of this impasse?
[Abu Marzuq] The way out of this impasse is for each side to shoulder its responsibility. It is illogical for me and you to agree on something and then for the host to come out and submit a different paper.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If this is the situation why don’t you look for another sponsor?
[Abu Marzuq] This is another issue. It is a question that draws reactions from every concerned party in the region. There is a unanimous understanding that Egypt should be the sponsor of this agreement.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If Egypt refuses to make the alterations that you demand and you refuse to sign without these alterations being made, and Fatah threatens to withdraw its signature if any alteration is made then what is the solution?
[Abu Marzuq] The Arabs should shoulder their responsibility. They need to act to back this sponsorship and clear the air.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Was Khaled Mishal’s visit to Saudi Arabia carried out in this context?
[Abu Marzuq] Part of the visit was certainly devoted to discussing the Arab role in the reconciliation process and how to support the Egyptian efforts, and remove the impasse.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Regarding the case of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, has there been any progress regarding this issue or has it been postponed indefinitely?
[Abu Marzuq] Israel has withdrawn from an earlier advanced position but the German mediator is continuing its efforts to finalize this deal.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is this position that the Israelis backed down from?
[Abu Marzuq] I cannot go into detail. This issue is being handled far away from the eyes of the media. We will talk about this issue at the right time. I do not think that the time has come.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] At first there was talk about seven names that were hindering the deal, then it was said that one name was obstructing the deal and then a hundred names. It was also said that some released prisoners would be deported to another country or expelled from Gaza. What are the facts behind all this speculation?
[Abu Marzuq] There have been many leaks. When the leaks end, there will be no more confusion.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How accurate is the report that there is a disagreement between Hamas’ leadership in Gaza and its leadership in Damascus? According to Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas’ leaders inside the Gaza Strip want to finalize the Shalit deal but the leadership in Damascus objects to this?
[Abu Marzuq] If you meet Mahmoud Abbas again, tell him to say something good or nothing at all. The claim that there is a disagreement between Hamas’ leadership in Gaza and its leadership in Damascus is repeated at every turn. This is not true.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you think of the Palestinian Authority’s threat to halt its security coordination with Israel after Israel killed three Fatah cadres in Nablus two and a half weeks ago?
[Abu Marzuq] The PA would not dare halt its security coordination with Israel or even stop its security actions against the resistance fighters. Its hands are tied. It became clear during our dialogue with PA officials that they are incapable of making any decisions or any changes in the security situation in the West Bank because of the presence of other parties, namely US and British parties. They used to tell us frankly that they are unable to fulfill everything that we agree on. If, however, they find the courage to do it – and this is a good thing because it would really serve the national interest – the security coordination should be halted. There should be no security coordination at our people’s expense; this was made absolutely clear by the killing of Fatah cadres in Nablus. The PA first takes away their weapons and then Israel comes and executes them in front of their children. What kind of coordination is this? Does anyone in the world engage in security coordination against his own people and people who share the same religion? This coordination should not have occurred in the first place. It needs to stop.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But they are bound to carry out this security coordination in accordance with the agreements they signed. This means that even the entry or exit of any Palestinian official, including Mahmoud Abbas himself, requires security coordination with Israel.
[Abu Marzuq] Security coordination comes in various forms. Communications regarding security facilities are one thing and security coordination against the resistance to defend Israeli security and protect the settlers is another. It is this form of security coordination that we are talking about, not the security facilities pertaining to the entry and exit of Mahmoud Abbas or anyone else.