Al-Ahram Weekly Online   23 February - 1 March 2006
Issue No. 783
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Hamas determined

While Israel talks of starving the Palestinians, Hamas continues its preparations for government, reports Khaled Amayreh in the West Bank

Click to view caption
Palestinian youth in confrontation with an Israeli army jeep during a curfew imposed by Israeli troops searching for militants at the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank town of Nablus

Defying brazen and frantic US-Israeli efforts to destabilise its upcoming government, Hamas has been holding intensive consultations with the leaders of various Palestinian factions in an effort to form the next government.

Mahmoud Zahar, the Hamas Gaza leader, met on Monday, 20 February, with representatives of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Islamic Jihad. He was expected to meet later with representatives of other factions, in the hope that a broad-based government, or government of national unity, would be formed in two weeks.

However, it is clear that Hamas's efforts to include Fatah into government will face significant hurdles. Some Hamas leaders have intimated that efforts are underway to woo some pro-Fatah independents in case "official Fatah" remains firm in its opposition to joining the upcoming Hamas-led government.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas was due to formally ask Ismael Haniya to form the next government. The political leadership of Hamas last week unanimously chose Haniya to be the movement's candidate for the prime ministerial position, dispelling earlier rumours that Hamas might choose a technocrat for the job.

Haniya, a 43-year-old veteran politician and former teacher of Arabic literature, is considered a successful communicator. The former aide to Hamas founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin is also considered a pragmatist and relative moderate. Last month, when asked about Hamas's goal of "destroying Israel," Haniya said: "We don't want to destroy anybody; all we want is to live in peace and dignity and above all in freedom from occupation and oppression."

Haniya has suggested on several occasions that Hamas would be willing to accept an extended peace with Israel in exchange for a total Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. He also favours the termination of all violence, especially against civilians, by Israel against Palestinians and by Palestinians against Israelis.

Meanwhile, the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) was sworn in simultaneously in both the West Bank town of Ramallah and Gaza City, Saturday 18 February. Israel refused to allow Gazan lawmakers, with the exception of some Fatah councillors such as Mohammed Dahlan, to travel to the West Bank for the ceremony.

Following a brief Qur'anic recitation, exhorting Muslims to be united, the Palestinian national anthem was played, after which everybody read the opening sura (chapter) of the Qur'an in honour of Palestinian martyrs who died for the enduring Palestinian cause.

Palestinian National Council (PNC) head, Salim Zaanoun, addressed the large audience of incoming and outgoing lawmakers, as well as civic leaders, PA officials and foreign diplomats. Zaanoun called for Palestinian national unity, especially between Fatah and Hamas. He urged Fatah to behave positively towards the next Hamas-led government, saying Fatah had no right to impede the government or place spanners in its works.

"Hamas is now the government, Fatah should accept this with serenity. This is democracy," he said.

In his lengthy speech before the council, PA President Mahmoud Abbas asserted PA commitment to the peace process and the Quartet- backed roadmap for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. "We will continue our commitment to the negotiation process as the sole political, pragmatic and strategic choice through which we reap the fruit of our struggle and sacrifices over the long decades," he said.

Abbas -- also known as Abu Mazen -- castigated Israel for trying to blackmail the Palestinians into giving up some of their rights. "Anybody who thinks that these kinds of policies would force our people to hoist the white flag and to give up is mistaken. He doesn't know the reality of this people, its faith, determination and perseverance towards obtaining its full fights."

Following Abbas's speech, Aziz Duweik, 58, was elected as speaker of parliament. Duweik received 70 votes out of a total 132, the total seats of the PLC. Forty-six deputies, mostly affiliated with Fatah, cast blank ballots. Fourteen MPs detained in Israeli jails couldn't vote, while two others were absent.

Hasan Khreishe, an independent, and Ahmed Bahr, a Hamas lawmaker from Gaza, were elected as first and second deputy- speakers. Mahmoud Al-Ramahi, a Hamas deputy, was elected as parliament secretary.

Following his election, Duweik told Al-Ahram Weekly he would seek to "create and consolidate genuine democratic traditions in -- or deepen democracy in -- parliament and government." "I will try to maintain the right balances; we will, God willing, strive to meet the expectations of our people."

For their part, Israeli leaders have been making convulsive and bellicose statements vilifying Hamas and vowing to strangle the Palestinian people as a punishment for electing the movement to government. Such statements, some observers suggest, should be viewed in the context of the vitriolic election campaign now underway in Israel.

One unnamed Israeli official, quoted by Haaretz newspaper said: "We will make them pay the price for electing Hamas."

Furthermore, on Sunday 19 February the Israeli government undertook a series of draconian measures against Palestinians, including "permanently severing" the transfer of Palestinian tax revenue returns to the PA. Dov Wiessglass, an aide to the now coma-stricken Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, was quoted as saying, "it is like speaking to a dietician. We will make them thin and lose weight, but we will not want them to die."

Regrettably, the brazenly callous statement drew no reaction from Western capitals and received little coverage in the international media. In addition to the financial and economic blockade, the Israeli occupation army has reintroduced other draconian measures against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank. The occupation army erected dozens of new roadblocks in many parts of the West Bank, seemingly for the purpose of tormenting and humiliating ordinary Palestinians for having elected Hamas.

Some of these roadblocks were erected in the heart of Palestinian towns and population centres where trigger-happy soldiers were seen training their guns towards civilian passers-by. Reacting to the repressive measures, Hamas accused Israel of carrying out a "silent genocide against our people." "Mass starvation is mass genocide. It is a silent holocaust," said Nayef Rajoub, a prominent Hamas leader who is likely to assume a ministerial portfolio in the new government.

Rajoub described the Israeli decision to stop transferring Palestinian tax revenues to the PA as "theft in broad daylight." "Israel is fully responsible for this legal and moral crime."

Rajoub responded angrily to questions on how Hamas would expect Israel to help the Palestinians when Hamas didn't recognise Israel. "Have you forgotten that Israel is the occupying power here? Do I need to remind you of an occupying power's obligations under international law?" he said.

"Besides, how come you people always ask us to recognise Israel but never ask Israel to recognise Palestine; are you all one-eyed when it comes to Israel?" he added.

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