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Q & A with Hamas's Mahmoud al-Zahar - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Q) Is the recent story published about Musab Hassan Yousef true?

A) Israel is trying to distort Hamas’s image and weaken and reduce its popularity by promoting the idea that there are many examples like Musab Hassan Yousef. We do not rule out that there could be some rot [in the organization]. The case of Hassan Yousf’s son putting aside his religion does not discredit his father who has sacrificed a lot for his religion and country.

Q) How close are you to reaching an agreement on a prisoner exchange deal with Israel?

A) I have nothing to say in this regard.

Q) There has been new talk recently about German Chancellor Angela Merkel appointing a new mediator in the indirect negotiations on the prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel. Does this mean that we can expect to see a breakthrough in the negotiations?

A) As I previously said, I have nothing to say in this regard.

Q) Recently there was a lot of optimism about the chances of ending the internal Palestinian division and signing a national reconciliation agreement, but this quickly dissipated as a war of words broke out between Hamas and Fatah. How close are we to seeing a national reconciliation deal?

A) Unfortunately there are several obstacles to national reconciliation. Firstly there is the official Arab position; the Arabs are dealing with the Palestinian cause as if this is something that does not concern them, therefore the Arab countries do not have a genuine desire to end the state of Palestinian division. Some Arab countries are more interested in exploiting the Palestinian parties in their disputes than they are concerned with fostering reconciliation between the Palestinians. With regards to the official Arab parties, the disputes between them with regards to the Palestinian issue are surface disputes, rather than substantive ones.

Q) Can you give us any examples of these disputes?

A) Take, for example, the issue of the convening of the Arab Summit, and the dispute over Palestinian representations at this summit. There are parties that propose that the Palestinian delegation to the conference include Hamas representatives, and there are others who object to this, particularly Abu Mazen [President Mahmoud Abbas]. To my great regret, there is a dispute between the Arab parties over including the issue of the Palestinian division on the [summit’s] agenda, while there are Arab and Palestinian parties who see the need of raising this issue, there are other states that reject this saying that raising this issue would threaten the success of the summit as a whole. Unfortunately in light of the current Arab reality, there is no hope that a solution to the internal Palestinian division will be reached and reconciliation will be achieved, this is a conclusion that can easily be reached by anybody who is monitoring what is happening on the ground.

Q) What about the Palestinian element with regards to the failure of the Palestinian reconciliation?

A) The Palestinian element can be seen in the curse of independent Palestinian decisions, and the translation of this is the arena being granted to Abu Mazen and the Fatah movement as they can act as they want without any moderation by the Arab world. At the same time this predicament has served Arab parties, as it has relieved them from the burden of being concerned with the Palestinian issue, as this is not considered an integral part of Arab affairs. However at the same time some Arab parties stand behind Abu Mazen and the Fatah movement because this intersects with their programs and positions, and this in itself constitutes an obstacle to achieving reconciliation. When Abu Mazen believes there is support for his open position, he becomes intransigent and takes hard-line positions with regards to the reconciliation, as is the case now.

Q) What about Hamas’s position? Even some of those close to the movement have criticized it for refusing to sign the Egyptian reconciliation agreement, and there are people saying that Hamas should have signed this agreement and discussed their reservations about it later?

A) We do not want a repeat of the Mecca agreement experience, where our excesses with regards to some of the issues were used in order to thwart the implementation of the agreement. We do not want to return to internal conflict after the signing of the reconciliation agreement; we must not fail our people once again.

The whole issue is that Egypt and Hamas have reached an understanding on paper about the terms of the reconciliation agreement, however we were surprised to find that the final version of the agreement contained points that were not agreed upon, and we believed that these points represented ticking time bombs that threaten the opportunity for genuine reconciliation, particularly in relation to the Joint Factional Committee that is scheduled to oversee the Gaza Strip, as well as the powers of the [Palestinian] president with regards to all matters relating to the commission on the presidential elections. Some of the points related to these issues were modified in order to become a source of danger which threatens the chances of reconciliation. The tragic experience with regards to the implementation of the Mecca Agreement has caused us to be concerned with the necessity of adhering to what has been agreed upon.

Q) Is this position with regards to the Egyptian Reconciliation Agreement adopted by all levels of the Hamas leadership?

A) Everybody abides by the movement’s decision, but this does not mean that there are not multiple opinion within Hamas with regards to this issue, as is the case in all Palestinian factions, but multiple points of view does not in any way mean not adopting the movement’s official positions reached by the movement’s official parliamentary body. There is no reason for sensitivity in the event of a particular perspective not being adopted as long as the final decision was taken in the right manner…

Q) This means that the Palestinian division will continue?

A) Unfortunately in the current circumstances the division will continue not just because of the Arab position and the Palestinian positions, but more as a result of the pressure being exerted by Israel and the US. For Tel Aviv and Washington are publicly threatening to boycott Abbas in the event that he agrees a reconciliation agreement with Hamas…they are imposing impossible conditions on the reconciliation from requiring the next Palestinian government to meet the quartet’s conditions, which includes recognizing the state of Israel, committing to all agreements signed with Israel, and renouncing the resistance as terrorism. However they are silent when Netanyahu announces that Israel will retain its West Bank settlements forever, and also when he [Netanyahu] confirmed that the Israeli army will remain stationed on the border between Jordan and the West Bank. This is international hypocrisy in its most visible form.

Q) However in the meantime isn’t this division affecting the people’s motivation in the face of the occupation?

A) On this point, the division affects people’s willingness to engage in the struggle against Israel. However here we must express ourselves clearly. Since the signing of the Oslo Accord the Fatah movement and Abu Mazen have been moving towards peace resistance represented by negotiations, and they even consider demonstrations and sit-ins as being non-peaceful. Look… [Salam] Fayyad’s government [in the West Bank] restrict people and prohibit them from taking part in demonstrations against occupation in the city of Hebron where a protest was arranged against the judaization of Islamic archeological sites, they are harming the resistance and openly conducting security coordination with the [forces of the] occupation, this behavior is an integral part of the positions of the Fatah movement, therefore this is more than the division can bear.

Q) Does Israel’s decision to claim Islamic archeological sites in the West Bank strengthen the division?

A) By implementing this step Netanyahu wishes to achieve a number of objectives, on one hand he wants to maintain his ruling coalition even if this comes at the price of harming Israeli security, and there are many signs in the past and present that confirm this is something that he is wiling to do in order to ensure his political future. Netanyahu is aware that there is a majority inside his own party and in the parties that form the coalition that support the judaization of Islamic religious sites, therefore he has moved towards bringing together everything from the Ibrahim Mosque and the Bilal Mosque onto the list of archeological sites that are intended for judaization. On the other hand Netanyahu plans to divert attentions away from the resounding failure of Mossad after it was revealed to be pulling the strings of the assassination of martyr Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. This is a well-known Israeli technique, for Netanyahu wants to distract Israeli public opinion with claims that he is completing the judaization of these archeological sites. The Palestinian people do not accept this decision; therefore they are rising up against this despite the restrictions imposed by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah against movement in the street.

Q) Other than the protests and the sit-ins, where is the Palestinian resistance with regards to this Israeli move?

A) This is a good question, but it should be directed at Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad, there should also be questions about the hundreds of Hamas members that the security apparatus of the Ramallah government have imprisoned. In light of the unprecedented Israeli escalation, is it possible to continue security coordination with the forces of the occupation? Does Salam Fayyad believe that he has done everything that he has to after merely praying in the Ibrahim mosque on Friday? He must release the detainees and stop security coordination and allow the resistance movements to operate freely in the West Bank.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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