Hamas plans ahead
Amid rising tensions between the newly formed Palestinian Hamas government and Israel, Erica Silverman in Ramallah interviews Hamas member and Parliament Speaker Abdul-Aziz Duwaik
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Palestinian Parliament Speaker Duwaik prays before a Palestinian Legislative Council session in the West Bank city of Ramallah
What is Hamas's short-term and long-term strategy for achieving Palestinian statehood?
The main strategy of Hamas is to succeed in fulfilling its obligations and its platform. Hamas is a real, moderate Islamic movement with a comprehensive platform in terms of the socio-economic aspects of Palestinian life. It also realises that it is still in the stage of resisting the occupation; resistance by all means, not just military. Its success is good for the Palestinians and for security, stability and peace in the region. The failure of this movement will invite, by all means, radicalism into this area that will usher in a new round of violence.
This is one aspect of Hamas: a combination of resistance by varied means, including arms if necessary. Since March of last year Hamas declared a truce, or a ceasefire, with Israel, with the Palestinian Authority (PA), and under the supervision of Mahmoud Abbas, our president. Until now the ceasefire is holding and since the elections were held on 25 January there has been absolutely no fighting. Yes, other Palestinian factions have conducted operations; most of them were in reaction to Israeli atrocities and the assassination of their leaders, the destruction of homes, and land confiscation.
So far, I believe Hamas has been working hard to fulfil the needs of the people.
Is there a phased plan of action for statehood, and how will you prepare the PA institutions?
Hamas has been given a four-year mandate by the Palestinian people. I think putting the Palestinians on the right terrain will be a process that will encompass these four years. We hope the people will be convinced that this movement is fulfilling its obligations and working for the betterment of Palestinians.
How will a Hamas-led government restore law and order to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank? What steps will be taken within the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) to resolve the security crisis? Last week Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh stated that security forces would try to "pull our civilian gunmen off the streets". Which armed civilians will be disarmed and how will their weapons be collected?
Ismail Haniyeh meant the following: any kinds of weapons used for resistance against the enemies of our nation are acceptable, but weapons that are being used against our institutions and our citizens are harmful to our society and our security. These arms, displayed on television, are harmful to the reputation of our people. When he spoke of arms he meant these weapons, which threaten the well being of our people.
Those who publicly display their weapons are harming the interests of our people and fuelling insecurity; this phenomenon must come to an end.
How would the determination be made regarding smaller factions, for example offshoots of Fatah and the Abu Reish Brigades, whether their weapons are being used against an occupying power or that instigate internal violence?
Frankly, disarmament should occur in a gradual manner. Haniyeh has just taken office. The public show of weapons is made by some of the warlords to tell the government "we are here and we have weapons." There are internal feuds within factions, and members would like to show they are armed and they can fight. I believe order will gradually be restored when national security assumes a role. Within a few weeks, everything will be resolved. We have a goal. We must convince the armed militants that what they are doing is harmful to their interests and the interests of the people.
Before this it will be necessary to achieve some economic progress. The ministers of economy and finance must meet the needs of the people. When the people are satisfied they will realise that justice is coming and that the old methods, of double standards within the PA, have come to an end.
Our people are well educated; they just need examples in the leadership; they need orientation and direction.
How will Hamas implement Islamic (Sharia) Law?
We began by implementing Sharia law in our own way, and we will continue. Eighty per cent of women have a cover on their heads according to the principles of Islam. We did not force anyone, we just preach according to the principles of Islam and the people accept it. Concerning alcoholism, it is forbidden in Islam, and even the West says it is wrong to be addicted to alcohol. Experience in Germany, the United States and Switzerland proves that what Islam taught us 1,400 years ago is still valid.
The majority of Palestinians do not consume alcohol. We will preach and give examples from a scientific point of view, and by doing so there will be diminishing demand. Even those who sell alcoholic beverages; I think they will find it is not good to continue with their business. But, it will be in a peaceful way that will increase the ethics of the people and their adherence to core principles, in a democratic manner.
We are not going to cut off the hands of thieves, even though they deserve it. We are not going to force any woman to cover her hair; women are doing this by their own choice. What is not known in the US is the appeal of Islamic principles, because it is intrinsic in the hearts of the people. A human being is born with these principles -- we oppose thieves and alcoholism by nature. Islam is the religion of the true and ideal human being. Islam prohibits adultery because fidelity is good for the woman and it is good for the man -- for his health, for her health, for their offspring.
The religion of purity; this is Islam and how we see it. In terms of moderate Islam, even the holy Quran called upon us to become moderate in our lives; whenever you push someone to act against his will, it brings injustice into his life.
When you use the term "moderate Islam", is there a particular model or school of thought that you are following?
I consider Hamas at the middle, if you have a circle. At the middle of Islam is Hamas; it is a real, moderate movement. Why? It is a comprehensive way of life and it does not go to any extreme, whether to the right or to the left. I believe this and I reject extremism, but we will not leave behind the principles of Islam in order to please others. We will apply Islam by setting an example; by preaching, by showing the greatness of the principles of this religion. This is what we do for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
This is the beauty of Islam; this is how we understand Islam -- no alcoholism, no adultery, etc. Even the West is suffering from so many afflictions stemming from alcoholism, gambling, usury, and so on -- all have been forbidden by Islam for 1,400 years.
God is unique and He is just. I am very much an optimist.
Will actual legislation be implemented that is in accord with Sharia law? If so, how will the interpretation of the laws be determined? Will Waqf (PA-appointed Islamic religious authority) be involved or other religious leaders local or abroad?
We will implement Islamic law by democratic means; if the majority of people will accept we will go ahead, if they will say "no", we say no.
Would these decisions be made by referendum?
Yes, it might be through a referendum. If we wish to develop our community in terms of sustainable development, we have to implement the rules of democracy. There should be -- and must be -- grassroots participation all the time. People must go to the polls for every election so that we can understand what the people want.
What are the drawbacks in refusing to negotiate with Israel, and in turn, what are the benefits?
Negotiating with Israel since the Madrid Conference has undermined our position. For our people, a parallel has been drawn between concessions and negotiations. So far, Israel has not given the Palestinian people anything.
The Israelis can come here and imprison the speaker of the Palestinian parliament. They can bombard this building and no one will stop them. The Israelis have not shown the Palestinians anything in the way of a sincere intention to negotiate.
If you look at the map since the Madrid Conference -- 14 years ago until now -- Israeli policies have been unilateral; gaining time, confiscating land, and enhancing Israeli settlements while building the separation wall and implementing the "Judaisation" of Jerusalem. Israel has imposed de facto borders on the ground. So whenever we come to negotiations with Israel we have nothing to negotiate with them over.
Yitzahk Rabin once said, "we are the citizens and the Palestinians are our guests." In 1922, Zeev Rabotinsky, after the Balfour Declaration, said the land is for a Jewish state and the state will have control over Palestinian civil affairs.
I am calling for Israel to take any steps to show the Palestinians that Israel intends to respect Palestinian national rights and to respect international law, and to put an end to its ugly occupation.
I define the Palestinians as freedom-seekers, and we know that we must be free of the slavery of occupation. We continue to call upon our Arab and Muslim brothers, and upon those in the free world who are friends, to free our people from occupation. The slavery of occupation is the worst kind of slavery in this world.
Is there a way to recognise Israel and recognise its right to exist, while asserting that Israel has not abided by previous agreements?
Which Israel do you want us to recognise? I am ready. Which Israel, just tell me, with what borders? Why don't you ask Israel to recognise us? We are the victims. We are the people whose land has been taken by force and Israel did not even bother to implement any international agreements, not even the ruling of the International Court of Justice [declaring the "separation barrier" illegal] determined two years ago. Israel did not even bother to read it, let alone implement it.
Who is supposed to recognise the other? I think Israel is supposed to recognise us.
How will Hamas manage the PA budget after the United States and Europe have decided to withhold aid funds?
The West in general -- the US and the EU in particular -- wanted to promote democracy in this region and we accepted. To their amazement the Islamic movement within Palestine accepted the rules of the game and we entered the elections. Our people, who are the most educated in this area of the world, chose their representatives. To the astonishment of the world, the EU and the US did not accept the final results of democracy. They wanted democracy, but a designed democracy, not free elections.
Our people read the political map, saw the practices of the PA, of Hamas, and cast their votes. We have not heard a word of congratulations. Those who promoted democracy promoted hypocrisy; they turned a blind eye to transparent elections. By punishing the people for their democratic choice, I think the West is increasing the hatred of Western values.
Despite this, I am laying the groundwork for enhanced democracy because it is a practice that will bring betterment to the life of our people.
Why has the Bush administration decided to cut links with a Hamas-led government?
Bush is causing the United States a great deal of harm; first of all, to its reputation all over the world. Frankly, in my opinion, Bush is the worst president the US has ever had.
Republicans will lose in the coming elections because of the behaviour of Bush. I am not the one to judge his behaviour; I will leave it to the American people who I know will not accept it.
Instead of sending congratulations to the Palestinians, saying, "we are ready to cooperate with the representatives of the Palestinians," he is trying to punish the Palestinians. Why is that? If he really believes in democracy he should have a dialogue with us.
I am ready to explain our position to him in frank terms and to Congress. Violence is a term that is not in, and would never enter, our dictionary. Why? Because we are the victims of violence. He would say "recognise Israel," and I would say, "why doesn't Israel recognise us? We recognised Israel for the last 15 years and what has Israel given us?"
The results of the 25 January elections showed the world that we are not convinced with this so- called "peace process". We would like to change the rules of the game so that our national rights are recognised, our well-being is recognised, and our basic human rights recognised. Israel -- since its establishment until now -- has turned its back on international law. Why are you demanding that we have to recognise international law and you did not ask Israel to fulfil the requirements of hundreds of UN resolutions? Israel even turned its back on the Geneva Conventions.
We want the world to understand our suffering and to reflect upon our suffering. We consider occupation as slavery. I am calling upon the free world for help to put an end to this slavery.
Have you articulated your position in Washington?
They did not give us the chance. I am the speaker of the parliament and people -- not only in Palestine but also all over the Middle East -- listen to me. We understand the rules of the game, we know where we are and we are reasonable and civilised. So many Israelis have said for so many years, "they are going to throw us into the sea." What sea? We do not even have access to the sea. We do not even have the ability to import medical supplies. We do not even have access to the Grand Mosque in Jerusalem. What are they talking about?
We respect human life; at the same time we would like to see others respect our basic human rights, not only our lives. This is the whole issue.