Hamas Turning Away From UN Towards Arabs

Erica Silverman interviews Hamas Deputy Foreign Minister GHAZI HAMAD

HAVANA TIMES, Sep 22 (IPS) — In the face of the moves by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for recognition of an independent Palestinian state, the Hamas-led foreign ministry in Gaza is forming a new diplomatic strategy that looks to Arab countries in the region such as Egypt and Turkey to apply political pressure on Israel.

The move by Abbas has run into warning of a U.S. veto. But he is going ahead. Palestinian factions Fatah (in control of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank) and Hamas (in control of the Gaza government) have yet to implement their latest reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo. Abbas sidestepped the Hamas-led government in his move to the U.N., although potential economic sanctions against the PA could directly affect Gaza’s 1.6 million residents.

Gaza remains under a strict Israeli blockade, tightened in June 2007. Unemployment is one of the highest in the world, and over half the population is food insecure, according to the UN.

IPS spoke with Ghazi Hamad, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Hamas-led government in Gaza:

Q: Why has Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made his decision to go the UN this September, seeking recognition of a Palestinian state?

A: President Abbas took this decision unilaterally; he did not consult any Palestinian factions, especially Hamas. Hamas believes a national consensus and a national decision is the best strategy.

Abbas said that he will continue negotiations with Israel, and that recognition of a Palestinian state will change the dynamic of the negotiations in that a Palestinian state will be negotiating with an Israeli state.

We are unsure if the U.N. will be able to resolve this issue, because the U.N. has failed in different efforts to mediate conflicts.

It’s a political maneuver that may not bring change. It may face an American veto before the Security Council. Israel may continue building settlements or may not be serious in the process – nothing is tangible or can be translated to the reality on the ground.

Q: Is the PA now fully prepared for statehood?

A: It is very difficult to build a state under occupation. Palestinians are unable to access over half of the West Bank due to Israeli restrictions and many areas are isolated by the settlements. How can we build a state when geographic connections between major West Bank cities, like Nablus and Jenin are restricted?
There are 500,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank.

Q: Palestinian statehood could open potential avenues to internationalize the conflict – for example, asking the International Criminal Court to investigate Israeli military operations in the occupied territory, inviting UN rapporteurs to visit the area, and perhaps even attempting to invite peacekeepers to the area.
Options could include UN or Arab League peacekeepers. Would the Hamas government support such options?

A: We need Israel to implement the U.N. resolutions and decisions. There are several U.N. resolutions for the Palestinians related to refugees, settlements, the Wall (in the West Bank), but none have been implemented.

There is an international consensus that the settlements are illegal, but no one can pressure Israel to stop building settlements. There is an International Court of Justice decision declaring Israel’s Wall illegal and discriminatory, but the Wall is now almost complete.

Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations all said clearly they support a viable Palestinian state, but nothing has happened.
Abbas’s decision to go to the U.N. illustrates the failure of negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel. This is the failure of the U.S. administration, after 20 years, to bring an end to this conflict.

Q: If Hamas does not support negotiating with Israel or the U.N. bid – what do you support?

A: If Abbas wants to change the dynamic of the situation with Israel, especially in the midst of the Arab spring, we need to formulate a new strategy. We (Hamas) are looking to other nations in the region to pressure Israel to end its occupation. Israel acts as if it is above the law, but they must be held accountable.

The U.S. supports Israel, and has not been a fair mediator. The U.S. told us (Palestinians) to negotiate with Israel and we did, directly and indirectly. The U.S. is also upset and frustrated with Israel, and has blamed them many times for the breakdown of negotiations. Now, when we decide to go to the UN, the U.S. tells us we must return to negotiations – this is illogical.

The U.S. is not the only power that can mediate negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel. We can look to the international community, including the UN, to ask for an end to the occupation. There is a U.N. resolution that the Palestinians deserve a state within the 1967 borders. Israel must comply with international law and must withdrawal from all Palestinian territory.

We are looking for support from Arab nations, like Turkey and Egypt, and other countries that believe the Palestinians deserve a state.

Q: Does Hamas now support using diplomacy to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, in conjunction with ‘resistance’?

A: We have to create a new strategy and we should not exclude any means. Abbas has solely pursued a strategy of negotiations for the almost six years he has been in power, and what are the political achievements? We have to create new connections with Arab countries.

Q: Is there a democratic system of governance in Gaza, and will Hamas agree to hold new elections May 2012?

A: Political factions and parties are allowed to engage in political activity in Gaza, although there are some limits placed on Fatah. Fatah prevents Hamas from engaging in any political activity in the West Bank, and so we have the same policy for Fatah in Gaza.

People are allowed to criticize the government, and if you read the newspapers here you will see that.
There are no political prisoners in Gaza. There is freedom of thought and speech here. Hamas has agreed to hold new elections, if reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is achieved.

Q: Do you anticipate potential economic sanctions implemented by the U.S. and/or Israel will worsen humanitarian conditions in Gaza?

A: The U.S. administration and Israel may try to pressure the PA to stop their attempt to gain membership as a state at the U.N. The U.S. congress may sanction the PA, and halt funding.

The operating budget of the Hamas-led government will not be affected, since we do not receive funds from the U.S. or EU countries. We are paying salaries for our 30,000 government employees – sometimes there is a delay, but they are made. However, if Israel enforces closures on the borders and crossing to Gaza this could directly impact people. Imports could be further restricted.