Gaza, Asharq Al-Awsat- Bassem Naeem, Palestinian Minister of Health in the deposed government of Hamas, emphasized that the Palestinian people do not beg, but rather want the passageways to be opened in land, at sea, and in the air so that they may live in a dignified way.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Gaza, he expressed readiness to hold dialogue and achieve reconciliation with the Fatah Movement. He said committees could be set up to have the blockade lifted and achieve reconciliation without linking the two issues. He also called for continuous action between the Palestinian people’s leaders in the interest of all their issues.
Commenting on the effect of Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa’s visit to the Gaza Strip on the nature of Hamas’s relationship with the Arab League, Naeem said: “The Arab estrangement has ended.” He expressed his hope that Musa’s visit will open the way for other Arab officials to visit the strip.
Naeem reacted to Israel’s agreement to allow a number of commodities, including mayonnaise, into the Gaza Strip and to the United States’ approval of this step. He said: “We have a lot of it [mayonnaise] that came from Egypt through the tunnels. We have 40 commodities. If Obama wants them, we can export them to the United States for nominal prices.” He added: “This is what troubles Israel because we used to import bad vegetables from it.”
Turning to dialogue with Fatah, he said that the movement, which is led by President Mahmud Abbas, has not taken a stand “to encourage the continuation of the dialogue.” He added that Hamas always proposes “initiatives, but we receive no reply.”
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has the estrangement between Gaza and the Arabs ended, as you stated during the reception of Amr Musa in the Palestinian part of Rafah?
[Naeem] The estrangement must end and it has ended. We hope that Amr Musa’s visit to Gaza will open the way for other Arab officials to visit Gaza to remove the Palestinian public opinion’s impressions and interpretations that cause confusion about the official Arab stand. This is the people’s view, not my stand because I consider the visit a positive and correct step.
Albeit belated, it is an important step because Musa came in his capacity as a representative of the Arabs and as secretary general of the Arab League. In addition, it is a step that shows dissatisfaction with the blockade of Gaza. This is not a sheer humanitarian and economic blockade, but mainly a political one.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you explain the sense of pessimism about the official Arab stand?
[Naeem] Perhaps, it is the result of past experiences. We have resolutions that have not been carried out. We need action on the ground, not words and humanitarian and political steps. People have lost confidence in the official regimes.
Therefore, new measures have to be carried out to redress the balance in the political stands that have to be taken out of conviction, not because of pressure from the street.
For example, the residents of Gaza watched a report on a satellite television channel as Musa left the residence of [deposed Hamas government leader] Haniyeh without holding a press conference. This gave an indication that the Arabs hesitate to deal with the Haniyeh government. Yet, we hope that Musa’s visit will be followed by steps to achieve rapprochement between all parties and end the political division.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But what are the proposed formulas to break the blockade and end the division? Is there any connection between the two cases?
[Naeem] There must be no connection between them. In other words, each issue must be dealt with separately. Since we are in agreement that the blockade is unjust and humanitarianly unacceptable to us as Arabs and to the world, a committee made up of both Fatah and Hamas could be set up to break the blockade.
Therefore, we must sit together to think how to end the blockade and agree on ways to open the crossings, including the Israeli crossings, the Rafah Crossing, and the seaport. However, when Fatah participates in the blockade of Gaza, this is a difficult situation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, in what way has Fatah imposed the blockade on Gaza?
[Naeem] We do not want to engage in the blame game. Rather, we seek to deal with each other through sincere intentions in the interest of the Palestinian people and cause. For instance, only 2 percent of the medicines that have been allocated to us reach us from Ramallah. Originally, 44 percent of the medicines were allocated to us, with 7 percent to Ramallah.
The medicines that have been allocated to us are held in the government’s warehouses, and Israel does not refuse to allow them to enter Gaza. Therefore, good intentions are needed, so that many creative ideas may heal the rift between the two sides.
Earlier, [Fatah Movement’s] Muhammad Dahlan ruined everything that existed in the so-called liberated settlement areas. However, we lately managed to rebuild all of what was destroyed under the blockade. We distributed lands for agriculture and are currently self-sufficient in vegetables and fruits. We can even export eggs, chicken, vegetables, and 40 more commodities, including roses. The Netherlands sought to import roses from Gaza, but everything has come to a standstill because of the blockade.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] As Amr Musa mentioned in Gaza, Israel decided to release four commodities, including mayonnaise, after a US approval. What is your comment on this move?
[Naeem] We have a lot of it [mayonnaise]. It came from Egypt through the tunnels. We also have 40 commodities. If Obama wants, they can be exported to the United States for nominal prices. This is what troubles Israel because we used to import bad vegetables from it.
Besides, Gaza was a profitable marker for Israel because it used to export goods to Gaza in half an hour without cost. Currently, we do not want any goods from Israel, because the youths used the blockade to invent and find substitutes for everything.
The Gaza society consists of youths who recycle all the leftovers of the war to use them in construction. In addition, we perform open-heart surgeries in Gaza, and I work hard in the health sector to liberate part of the health sector from the occupation in order to gain independence and liberation from Israel.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So, as I understand from your statement, what is needed is not aid, but action to open the crossing and the Gaza Seaport and Airport before launching a development process?
[Naeem] The Palestinian people do not beg. The Palestinian youths are full of resolve and work in various vocations. They lack only raw material in order to begin to export after achieving self-sufficiency. We recall that a type of clothes that Israel exported was made in factories based in Gaza. The label “made in Israel” was printed on these clothes.
In this respect, we must note that the Gaza youths have created a commercial reputation for themselves under the difficult circumstances from which they suffer. This is what made Israel ease the blockade.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] For its part, will Hamas take positive steps, as is demanded by other parties?
[Naeem] Let us begin with the work of joint committees in the health, education, and services sectors before dealing with the political issues. Let us devise organizational rules for work free of emotions. Let us work on what has been agreed upon in order to resolve the points of disagreement. Everything is subject to discussion and resolution.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So, where is the problem?
[Naeem] We listen to what Fatah says through its delegations that visit us, including the visit by Dr Nabil Shaath, and then things come to a standstill. Fatah has no one to authorize to take stands that would encourage the efforts to continue the dialogue and reach a solution. We always propose initiatives but receive no reply.