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Worn-out Palestinian leaders are plotting to get back to power

27. November 2006

Interview with Dr Ibrahim Hamami

Interview with Dr Ibrahim Hamami on the occasion of a public meeting in Vienna with William Izzara, long-time military companion of Hugo Chavez, the anti-imperialist president of Venezuela.

Q: The attempts to build a national unity government in Palestine failed so far. Why and who carries the responsibility?

We have two different sceneries, two different ideologies. One of them would like to take part in any sort of negotiations regardless of the outcome. They want us to recognize the right of the occupation to exist in our land, they want us to recognize all the previous agreements and they would like to denounce terrorism which is the legitimate resistance of the Palestinian people against the occupation.

The other side is basically saying we are not going to recognize the legitimacy of the occupation, we are not going to give up the resistance. Look at the Article 51 of the UN Charter: it is a right for all people under occupation to resist with all means. They are saying that previous agreements are going to be reviewed. What’s in the interest of the Palestinian people, we are going to accept it. What is not in our interest we are going to reject it.

So basically a common government is very difficult, because you have two different political views who are totally against each other. Don’t forget that 10-15 years of corruption, of failed negotiations, of failed policies but they are still insisting that they are the leaders of the Palestinian people, that they are the only people who can free the Palestinians. And they want to come back at any cost. I don’t exaggerate when I say that they are plotting to get back to power and to fail the Palestinian choice.

Q: What the Hamas-led government can do to overcome the embargo?

The current government came after clear, transparent, democratic, observed elections held on the 25th of January 2006. This is the opinion of the international observers, which were about 2000. We have to respect the choice of the Palestinian people whether we agree with them or not. That’s the principle.

From the first day, or even before the government was formed, the west in particular, and the rest of the world, decided that this is not good enough for them. Democracy is not what they wanted and they decided to take measures to collectively punish the Palestinians for their choice. They were almost saying that either you bring the government down or you are not going to eat, we are not going to feed you. We have to remember that the Palestinian situation is different from anywhere in the world: we living under occupation. The Palestinian people is depending on aid from donors outside. It is against all human nature, all human right in the world to put condition like if you don’t recognize the right of Israel to exist, you are not going to eat, if you don’t recognize the previous agreements you are not going to work, etc.

The government tried to compromise a bit by saying: well, we are willing to negotiate, we are willing to have a long term cease-fire. But this is still not acceptable. We have to give up literally everything before they even start to talk to us. But for the Palestinians to give up everything already before what would be left for them to negotiate?

Q: What do you recommend to achieve a solution?

The Palestinian people brought this group to power and the government should first of all not let the people down. They elected them on a certain program. The strength of the government and the parliamentary majority comes from the people. They have to keep their promises, they have to depend on the people, they have to empower people to say “no” to the occupation, “no” to the sanctions.

Secondly there is the duty of the neighboring Arab countries to refuse this embargo and to accept the Palestinian choice, to support their cause. Also humanitarian, non-governmental, civil society organizations in the world should stand firm and say this is against all laws, it is against religion, it is against humanity, it is against moral values.

Q: The west hopes that Hamas would soften their stance. But some in the Palestinian movement also fear that Hamas will do so in order to get rid of the sanctions…

In the past we had a ruling party which was prepared to give up almost everything for the return of nothing apart from their personal interests. On the other hand there was an opposition who was resisting the occupation and resisting these sorts of betrayals. Now the situation has changed. The opposition became the ruling party and the ruling party became the opposition. If Hamas gives up, that means that the opposition and the ruling party are giving up everything, so we are losing all our rights and there is no one to say No to the occupation. So it would be a nightmare if it happened.

Q: But do you think that there is a real danger for this to happen?

Let us assume that the current government led by Hamas has given up everything, and they decided to go with the west. In this scenario the old corrupt group would cease to exist. They would say: OK we have a partner to talk with and there is no more need for the people who failed badly and severely in the last elections.

I don’t think that this will happen because it is embedded in the ideology of Hamas that they cannot accept the occupation. This ideology is not just religious but also national, moral, everything. If it was going to happen, it would have happened in the last few month when the pressure was at the maximum. I think that the will of the Palestinian people is prevailing. The international community is recognizing that they cannot break this solidarity. If you look at the news you find that there are sorts of breaching of these sanctions. Just the talk of the unity government is a sign that the west is accepting that they cannot get rid of the current government.

Mahmoud Abbas, who is the Palestinian Authority’s president, thought at some stage that he has choices to get rid of the government or to call for any elections or a referendum. Actually by the Palestinian constitution he has no power to do that. He can’t say off you go and I am going to get another government. This requires the acceptance and agreement of the legislative council which is led by Hamas. He cannot call for a referendum because it is not in the constitution. He can call for an emergency state. Even if he does so it has to be led by the current government according to the constitution. He has no choice to overcome the choice of the Palestinian people.

That’s why I cannot see any why that this is going to happen, because they are in a very powerful position with regard to the constitution, with regard to the popular support, with regard to the ideas and the ideology. They are saying that we are not going to give up our rights for which we will fight for all means: political, social, educational, military.

Q: Are you advocating a two or one state solution?

The first step is to give the Palestinians their rights within the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to start with because there is a humanitarian need now to do something about it. And I think every faction agrees to do that: helping the Palestinian people, getting aid and money in. So we can actually say No to all the current plans to cancel the Palestinian rights.

If we are looking for a long term solution, who has the choice is the Palestinian people inside Palestine and in the Diaspora. I can understand that there are people who are choosing the two state solution. But I would say that the region there cannot tolerate two states. We have settlers in the West Bank and we have Palestinians in the 1967 borders of Palestine what is called Israel now. It is so integrated that two states are not workable. Especially now with the West Bank being divided into 68 isolated cantons and with 1.3 million Palestinians living in the 1967 land. So I think that one single state is still the best solution.

Q: The old Palestinian national charter did not only call for one state, but for a democratic secular one. Today it seems as if those defending the one state solution tend more towards an Islamic state.

The Palestinian charter consists of 33 different articles. Under the Oslo agreement 12 articles were cancelled completely 16 were changed. So 28 out of 33 articles either don’t exist at all or they have changed. So the charter doesn’t exist anymore. There is a need for a new charter that all Palestinians agree on. It should not be imposed by any party. It will be a democratic process through a referendum, through elections or whatever whether the results will be secular, Islamic, non-Islamic, atheist. As far as we believe in democratic means we have to give the people the right to say what they believe in.

Q: What do you think of states created on religious grounds?

In the 20th century in the two states that were created on religious bases, whether it is Pakistan or Israel, are the hottest spots in the world with the Cashmere and the Palestinian problem. Because you are creating artificial borders moving people from one side to another. When Pakistan was created millions of people moved across the boarder and a lot of them were killed. Until this moment you find that the migrants who moved from what is called India now to Pakistan are still treated differently and they have their own parties. So creating states on religious basis without having the geographical entity which can justify that, you create long term problems.

The same applies to Israel where they insist on preserving the Jewish characteristics of the state when you have 1.3 million Arabs – Muslims and Christians. There was a study that said that in the year 2025 the Arabs will exceed the number of Israelis inside Israel. How can you preserve the identity or the characteristics of the state without either an ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people there, or by bringing immigrants from outside the country. So creating a state or an entity on religious basis, especially when it is based on false claims, causes problems and doesn’t solve them.

Q: How do you view Hugo Chavez’ call for an anti-imperialist front, which would include movements from very different backgrounds including Islamic and leftist ones.

It is a natural progression that when people feel oppressed by external powers they get together. What the Venezuelans are suggesting is a united front to say No to external interferences, no to changing the culture of the people under different names, no to implementing so-called democratic regimes which don’t suite the people. In Latin America the countries that are going to the left are standing together to say No to all that. The same happens in different parts of the world. Actually the external powers dominated by the US are expanding their rule in the world. The anti-imperialist, the anti-American resentment will grow and it will not obey because the more you expand the more people are against you. These dominating powers do not understand the characteristics, ideology and culture of the different regions. There is no “one” democratic system that is good for every part of the world. You cannot implement the American or the British system just by copying it, without taking into account other factors on the ground. Each part of the world should define their own system that suites them within the generally agreed principles.

Q: Even inside the Islamic world there are fronts of resistance which are not compatible between each other. How you can overcome these conflicts?

There is an analogy with democracy. Democracy cannot be one model fitting in everywhere. They have different ways also because of the different cultures on the ground which cannot by stereotyped away. But we have to put these differences aside, to agree to common targets which unites us like the struggle against occupation, injustice or the robbery of our resources. But differences remain and I don’t think that we can get rid of them completely – this is human nature.

Q: Such an example is Yugoslavia. What do you think both sides – the Muslim one, as well as the Serb one – could have done to avoid the war and to let prevail the common interest against the western intervention?

The nations there were living in harmony, they were integrated, families were completely mixed. And until this conflict broke up the Muslims in Bosnia were Muslims just by name. They practiced western life style, they were not observing any of the religious duties. Despite that when the conflict broke out each side just took one side of the equation steered up the national or religious movements completely dividing the country. When the conflict was at the very beginning, it could have been solved easily, because the blood wasn’t that much.

The external powers could have intervened then to stop it from happening. They kept observing, they kept watching people dying day and day. And then, when they did it, they did it in a way to say “we are helping the Muslims, so you cannot accuse us of turning a blind eye on Muslims”. Every single time when the Palestinian issue comes up or we claim that these powers are against the Muslims they respond that they helped the Muslims in Yugoslavia. I think it was just an excuse to get into the country.

Both sides were losers and the consequences are still happening now. They are still divided, they still haven’t solved the problem and I think it might erupt any minute. But the main leaders who were involved are now out of the game and it is possible for all parties to sit together and get to an agreement.

Q: Do you believe that Islam and socialism are compatible?

There is a say about an excellent companion of the Prophet – peace be upon him -, his name was Abu Thar Al-Ghafari. I remember a few of my university colleagues who were saying Abu Thar was the first communist in Islam. The first person to implement social security systems like pensions, giving people who are unemployed, was the second successor of the prophet, Omar Ibn-Al-Khattab. Yes, they can live together but you have to remember that Islam is not just a religion how to preach or worship God. It’s a religion about day to day activity. It tells about marriage, divorce, how to clean, how to sleep, whatever.

Vienna, November 3, 2006