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Worlds apart
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 10 - 09 - 2009

While Cairo issues its ultimatum for inter-Palestinian reconciliation, Ismail Haniyeh speaks to Saleh Al-Naami in Gaza about the role of Hamas in the upcoming elections
"A recipe for separation." These were the words Ismail Haniyeh used to describe the plan to hold Palestinian legislative and presidential elections on 25 January. Earlier, Mahmoud Abbas said that the elections would go ahead even if Hamas refused to take part. Al-Ahram Weekly met Haniyeh in Gaza last week and heard that elections should be a two-way street.
"Although elections are the only way to rotate power, we believe that certain guarantees should be met in order for elections to go ahead in a healthy manner. A minimum of requisites should be met in order to avert a repetition of the recent elections, when everyone made a point of punishing the Palestinian people for their democratic choice." There is no guarantee that fair elections can be held under the present circumstances, Haniyeh stated.
"What kind of elections are they talking about at a time when the leaders and activists of Hamas are being detained by the security forces of [Prime Minister] Fayyad and Israel? How can elections be held under repression and fear?" he asked.
Haniyeh warned of holding the elections in the West Bank alone, describing the move as a "national crime". Certain people, some of them Palestinians, are acting with "no regard" for the national interests of the people, he remarked. However, he admitted that certain leaders in Fatah, as well as some Arab governments, are trying to dissuade the PA from going solo with the elections.
"There are some people who are trying to use the sessions of [inter-Palestinian] dialogue to trick the Palestinians... They think that they can outsmart the Palestinian people and their leaders. They think they can do things to harm the Palestinian national cause. But they are quite mistaken," Haniyeh stated.
The Gaza-based prime minister lashed out at what he called the "selectiveness and double standards" of those who want to hold legislative and presidential elections without the consent of Hamas. "Fatah and Hamas, as well as the rest of Palestinian factions, have agreed to restructure the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organisation] on a sound basis. We have agreed to hold new elections for the Palestinian National Council. We have agreed to re-elect the leaders of the PLO. Why are they not interested in holding the National Council elections?" Haniyeh said that the holding of elections for the National Council was a "primary condition" for rehabilitating the PLO.
Haniyeh, who has a reputation of being a level-headed man who shuns wild impulses, told the Weekly that the urge to hold presidential and legislative elections in January is related to the initiative US President Barack Obama intends to launch during UN General Assembly meetings this month. According to Haniyeh, the plan Obama is likely to propose subscribes fully to the Israeli point of view.
Haniyeh called on the Obama administration to distance itself from the Israeli vision of a solution. He said that the Obama administration must "through deeds and not just words introduce the changes it had promised in international relations. No US initiative to settle the conflict can succeed if it were based on Zionist views and guided by Israel's compass." Washington's belief that a temporary halt of settlement building should be rewarded by normalisation is unfortunate, he adds. Indeed, it is a sign that the Obama administration is not serious about resolving the conflict in an objective manner.
Haniyeh said that the restoration of domestic Palestinian unity is essential in the face of Israeli measures in Jerusalem. He added that Jerusalem is coming under brutal attempts to move settlers into it and "Judaise" it. The Hamas leader said that his government would not approve of any arrangement that squanders Palestinian national rights on Jerusalem. Hamas will not endorse any political solution that excludes Jerusalem.
With regards to Gaza, Haniyeh said that the ongoing blockade aims at forcing his government to its knees to make it turn a blind eye to flawed political settlements. "We intend to disappoint all those who want to force us, through blockade, to make political concessions. This is why my government places reconstruction at the top of its agenda, for we have to repair the destruction caused by the [Israeli] aggression."
Haniyeh said that the conference held lately in Istanbul to discuss the means of reconstructing Gaza has managed to collect $0.5 billion, which is now held in a special fund in Turkey. Haniyeh said he called Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and asked him to intercede with Turkey's friends, including Israel, to make sure that the funds reach Gaza.
Finding money is not the main problem, Haniyeh said. The biggest obstacle to reconstruction is the continued closure of crossing points. Haniyeh said that Israel is not interested in rehabilitating Gaza. In fact, it is trying to use the destruction it caused as leverage through which to blackmail his government and the resistance into making political concessions.
Meanwhile, a key figure of the PLO has voiced support for Hamas on the matter of elections. Asaad Abdel-Rahman, member of the PLO Executive Committee, said that the PLO would not be "complete" without representatives of both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad joining its ranks.
Abdel-Rahman wants the Palestinian National Council to be re-elected through proportional representation. Voting for the council should take place not only in Gaza and the West Bank, but outside Palestine as well. The signing of the Oslo Accords was the seed from which Palestinian dissent has grown, he said. Since signing, the Oslo Accords have served to divide the Palestinians and stunt their representative institutions.
At the moment, Abdel-Rahman admitted, both the PLO Executive Committee and the Palestinian National Council are of questionable legitimacy. "We need to reform both institutions in order to restore legitimacy and unity."
The Weekly has learned that representatives of the Egyptian government are currently drafting proposals to address all unresolved issues involving Hamas and Fatah, such as elections and political detentions. According to well-informed Palestinian sources, the Egyptian government intends to invite all Palestinian factions to a dialogue after Eid Al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan. Egyptian officials have told both Abbas and Khaled Mashaal, chief of the Hamas political bureau, that the next meeting should be decisive. If it fails, all attempts at mediation would be abandoned.
Hamas and several Palestinian factions have previously rejected proposals made by Egypt, some accusing Cairo of taking sides with Abbas. For now, all signs indicate that Hamas and Fatah are on a collision course. Abbas and his supporters are hoping that Hamas will crumble under the weight of the siege. And Hamas is hoping that Fatah will become popularly discredited. As things stand, the gap between the two biggest Palestinian groups appears unbridgeable.


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