Cairo, Asharq al-Awsat- The Palestinian Minister of Information Youssef Rizka warned of the dangers of a referendum to recognize Israel set for 26 July and said it will sow discord in the Palestinian arena. He predicted the government will be dissolved and a state of emergency declared, should the referendum take place. He explained that the Hamas government rejected the referendum and, consequently, would not be allowed to oversee it. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority could then dissolve the government on the pretext it is not cooperating with his presidency. The issue would then be raised in parliament, where Hamas, who holds the majority will reject it and consider the referendum unconstitutional. This will usher in a constitutional crisis that could paralyze the Occupied Territories , in addition to the US-Israeli ongoing blockade.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq al Awsat on a visit to Cairo earlier this week, Rizka said the Palestinian prisoners’ document was no more than an excuse and a justification to dissolve the government. He also noted that members of the former cabinet wanted to hold early elections. Azzam al Ahmad, head of Fatah’s parliamentary bloc, Yasser Abd Rabo, member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s executive committee and al Tayyib Abdul Rahim, the president’s advisor, had all called for early elections.
According to Rizka, the current Hamas government has clarified its position; it believes the only way to achieve unity amongst Palestinians is to hold a dialogue. The proposed referendum, he cautioned, would sow discord instead of cementing national unity and would be a waste of money.
The Palestinian minister noted that financial sanctions imposed on the current government were connected to its position on the referendum. The objective, he added, was to starve ordinary people and make them vote with their stomachs. Yet, he remained convinced that despite suffering from financial difficulties, the Palestinian people were aware of the facts and intentions of different political groups.
He predicted the blockade will disintegrate from within because it was unfair and corrupt and its only aim was to break the will of the Palestinian people. The current government, he added, was doing its utmost to ensure all employees receive are paid. Russia had succeeded in transferring $10 million through the presidency and more Arab money could be on it way. “We do not differentiate between the presidency and the government,” he said.
Rizka expressed his surprise at the fact that Russia succeeded in transferring money to the Palestinian territories but Arab and Muslim aid was not forthcoming. Is the United States blocking Arabs and Muslims funds, he asked?
The Palestinian official urged the international community to deal with the Islamic movement because it reflects the moderate vision of Islamic ideology and was flexible enough to deal with the Arab and western worlds in a pragmatic manner.
He also expressed his conviction the blockade will fail and that the European and Americans will have to deal with the current government. Asked whether Hamas was worried about the possibility of losing the referendum, Rizka said, “This is a political opinion which has nothing to do with reality.” He denied the Palestinians had changed their views on Hamas and said that, if new elections were held, Hamas could win more seats or even the presidency.
“For ten years, [late Palestinian President Yasser] Arafat did not achieve anything. In the end [ Israel ] said he is not a partner. [ Israel ] also weaken [Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen when he was prime minister and didn’t give him anything.”
The Hamas official attacked Israel for wanting the Palestinian people to acknowledge Israel ’s right to occupy their land and accept to live as second-class citizens under a so-called autonomous rule with limited authority.
Rizka accused “President Mahmoud Abbas’ entourage” of seeking to enflame tensions between the presidency and the Hamas government. He described such individuals as an influential group with private interests.
In response to allegations the Hamas government had assumed power although it was not ready or prepared to govern, Rizka said “We decided to take part in the elections out of conviction that the Oslo agreements were finished. Our program was the resistance and how to protect it, by participating in official organizations and the political system, so that it becomes a strong and constructive opposition to corruption and inefficiency. We didn’t expect to gain more than 40 or 50 seats. But, we were surprised to discover that the Palestinian people wanted Hamas in government and not in opposition.”
He also rejected the accusation that Hamas had assassinated Fatah officials. “Hamas believes that killing a Palestinian or a Muslim is a greater [evil] that demolishing the Kaaba. It’s not easy for the Palestinian people to accept that a negotiator or a team accuses Hamas of killing members of Fatah.”
Rizka indicated that a group of Palestinians were firing on Fatah supporters and Hamas supporters and accused them of being agents of the occupation and a fifth column in Palestinian society.
Asked about the force that was established by the Palestinian ministry of interior, Rizka said the Palestinian president had given his verbal approval on the subject. He also attacked the previous government for failing to curtail the deteriorating security situation. He also welcomed Yemen ’s invitation to host a Palestinian national dialogue and said, “We are waiting for the president’s acceptance.”