Senior Hamas official to Haaretz: Palestinian unity government won’t be dismantled

Amira Haas — Haaretz July 12, 2014

Israeli air strike on Gaza City. Click to enlarge

Israeli air strike on Gaza City. Click to enlarge

Palestinians both for and against Hamas are saying that the Islamist organization is gaining in stature from the latest military confrontation with Israel, which its al-Qassam Brigades have dubbed “Operation Ramadan the Tenth.”

This assessment completely contrasts with the opinion of Israel’s security establishment.

The price Gaza residents are paying is particularly heavy – in lives, injuries, and without an end in sight. Every family that is almost wiped out by the Israel Defense Forces’ strikes amplifies – at least at this bloody stage of the conflict – the general appraisal of Hamas’ achievements, as they are perceived in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The ability to continue firing rockets at Israel while under attack is considered an accomplishment. The Palestinians – both pro- and anti-Hamas – assume and hope that the achievement will be translated into political capital.

A senior Hamas official of the political apparatus told Haaretz on Thursday that in due course the entire Palestinian leadership will hopefully embrace a change in how it manages the conflict, as he defined it.

“The reconciliation government will not be dismantled and Hamas has no intention of returning to a divided Gaza Strip and West Bank, or to a split in the two main political movements,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “When Israel attacked our people in the West Bank we could not remain silent. We had to show we’re one people and one nation and must protect our people,” he said.

When asked whether this should be at the cost of Gazans’ lives he replied:

“You think we don’t thirst to live in peace and prosperity and not suffer? We didn’t start this war, during which most of the casualties so far have been Palestinian citizens, including many children and women. The war was forced upon us, and we are protecting ourselves.”

Asked whether Hamas didn’t know Israel would strike at civilians when it escalated the rocket fire, he said the rockets came in response to Israel’s assault on West Bank homes, widespread arrests and re-arrests of former prisoners released in the Shalit deal. “The oppression lasted 14 days, even though Hamas denied being involved in the abduction of the three settlers,” he said, referring to the three teenagers kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank.

“When Israel started attacking so wildly, people lost their patience and wanted to react to the crimes in the West Bank,” he said. “They couldn’t remain silent. We know what Israel is capable of, we knew Israel would attack fiercely,” he said.

“But Israel thought Hamas would be silent for longer, they wanted the West Bank to be completely cut off from Gaza. We must change this attitude and prove the Palestinians are one people and cannot be separated,” he said.

The official said everyone knows Israel would strike hard, but that the Palestinians are not afraid. “We won’t put our hands up and let it do what it wants, anytime, anywhere and without any response.”

Referring to the cease-fire that ended Operation Pillar of Defense, he said, “We want calm but on condition that Israel respect the agreement from 2012 – to end the aerial attacks against us and the targeted assassinations, to let the fishers fish and the farmers work their land, to allow open borders and the entry of raw materials, and to honor the prisoners’ release deal. We are not afraid and we will not raise the white flag.”

In response to a question about Hamas’ rockets targeting civilians as well, the official said everyone knows the rockets from Gaza are primitive and lack the destructive power of Israel’s weapons. “How many have they killed? You can’t compare with an Israeli bomb that can destroy a 12-storey building,” he said. “It’s just a sort of defense. We want to defend ourselves. Like I told you – before the killing of the settlers, the situation in Gaza was under control, no problem. Afterward, when Israel started operating against our people – some decided it was time to act and show that we are one people and one nation that must defend our people in the West Bank.”

Asked whether Khaled Mishal’s speech from Doha meant Hamas was no longer a governing-party and returned to being a purely “resistance movement”, as one Hamas-affiliate commented, he said: “Even though we were in the government eight years, we proved we were still a resistance movement,” he said. “The Palestinian Authority is also under occupation. It cannot decide anything serious, like commerce, travel or construction because it is under occupation. The struggle against the occupation must remain the top priority for all of us, using all the legal means available.”

The official questioned why firing rockets is illegal. “We are under occupation, and Israel is the occupying state, and we have to fight,” he said.

He did not think the rocket fire would adversely affect reconciliation with Fatah. “Now Hamas is outside the government, we are interested in reconciliation working,” he said. “We are outside the government, but that does not mean we want to cause it problems. We want to keep supporting it. We are a positive force in the process. Let no one conclude that because we are outside the government we wanted the war. We are still at the beginning (of the reconciliation government). After seven years (of the Hamas-Fatah rupture) – it isn’t easy. We have to demonstrate patience and act wisely. We won’t go back to the disunity period. It’s a decision – no one in Hamas or Fatah will return to division and separation.”

Senior officials from the PA in Ramallah have called him (during the last days of fighting), the official said, and the two sides remain in contact.

At the same time, he said, he is dissatisfied with the PA’s position. “I expect the Authority to do more for the people in Gaza and the West Bank. It must make creative decisions and not hide behind agreements, after it became clear that Israel is not interested in peace,:” he said. The Authority has to think seriously how to change its position and strategy. I spoke about it with some (of the senior officials).”

There is no point in negotiating, and it’s impossible to wait endlessly for the international community to act and for there to be changes in the Israeli government, the official said. “What’s happening on the ground is a tragedy, and the Palestinian Authority must be more in touch with the people and reexamine ways to struggle,” he said. “This is part of the reconciliation, which has to include everyone to see how to liberate our homeland.”

He preferred not to respond directly to the question whether that liberated homeland would be alongside Israel. “I told you years ago,” he said. “We cannot award recognition, after Israel didn’t meet its obligations for 23 years. We Palestinians must reopen the debate how we manage this conflict. We set up a reconciliation government to prepare a national, not factional, platform.”

He said one option was operating under the umbrella of the PLO. “It’s impossible for Hamas to operate one way and Fatah to operate another way. There will always be contradictions and disputes between them. We must unite and operate together because it will garner us more Palestinian support. Some are against negotiation, and others oppose (armed) resistance.”

The official rejected the proposition that Hamas is imposing its military strategy on others. “It’s not only Hamas. Other organizations also fired, and they started (firing), including Fatah” he said. “As reported in the news, a Fatah group also fired (rockets). Fatah also says it believes in armed resistance.”

He said that while there are differences of opinion, all Palestinians believe in all forms of resistance, including armed struggle. “I would rather our cause be solved in peaceful ways, but when Israel for 20 years only destroys the dream of peace through settlements, showing lack of respect for its partner, Abbas and the PA, what’s left? Israel hasn’t made any positive signal that it wants peace,” he said. “So we need to think about other ways.”

Just prior to the military escalation with Israel, there were demonstrations in East Jerusalem and by Arab-Israelis. A week of rocket fire, it seems has ended the talk about Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the murdered Palestinian teenager. In response to the question whether the escalation caused these demonstration to end, he replied:

“No one asked them to stop demonstrating,” he said. “We and they need it, and perhaps they will resume demonstrating after a few days. What’s happening now doesn’t mean we will stop other ways of struggling against the occupation.”

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