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Horizons rising: Interview with Mohamed Ghazal

| 31 March 2005

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With Hamas consolidating its legitimacy in Palestinian society, Ian Douglas in Nablus speaks to Mohamed Ghazal, a key political leader of the movement in the West Bank
What is your view of Sharon’s disengagement plan?
It’s unilateral for the sake of the Israelis. Sharon cannot bear the consequences of the resistance in Gaza and he’s trying to look good internationally. Meanwhile, Israel will continue confiscating land and enlarging the settlements in the West Bank.

Is settlement expansion reason enough for Hamas to break the ceasefire?
Yes, and not only that; all kinds of aggression are reason enough to break the ceasefire. We have not seen a single positive gesture from the Israeli side. We’re being patient to prove to the world that the problem is Israel, not the Palestinians. We are not optimistic that the ceasefire will continue because Israeli aggression is intensifying and broadening, not decreasing. There cannot be a ceasefire from one side.

Is it realistic to hope that all West Bank settlements will be dismantled?
The West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem are occupied territories and everybody in the world knows it. If the Israelis want a ceasefire with the Palestinians they should withdraw from all occupied areas.

And the written understandings Bush passed to Sharon in 2004?
The US and the world should decide whether a solution is to be based on justice or the current situation. If the decision falls against justice there will be no truce, no ceasefire, and no solution. I think this would create a big problem for the West, especially the US and the Europeans, because they will look like hypocrites. They speak about democracy but they don’t believe it. They speak about freedom — freedom of expression, freedom of people, human rights — and do the opposite. They themselves sow the seeds of all kinds of hatred against them, the fruits of which spread throughout the world.

If integrated into the Palestinian political system, will Hamas move away from armed struggle?
Yes, under one condition: the Israeli occupation ends. Once the Israeli occupation ends we will not continue fighting as we will have no one to fight. Now there is occupation. We cannot be just a political party because ending occupation cannot come through political work alone: we tried all political avenues. We couldn’t do anything, and I think you are aware of that. When we resorted to armed struggle we were forced to do that. From 1948 until 1965 we did not shoot one bullet. We were waiting for the United Nations and other countries to help us. Nobody helped. When we give up hope of being helped we began fighting to achieve our goals. So it’s not that we like fighting, but we were forced to fight. If you know anyone in the world able to bring us our rights, please tell us and we’ll stop fighting, go to them, and ask for that.

What is your assessment of the current Palestinian leadership?
We don’t see a lot of changes. Many promises were given, still they are just promises, they are not tangible in real life. We don’t feel many changes and I think ordinary people feel no changes at all.

And Jericho and Tulkarem?
It’s a joke. It may be funny for those who are outside Palestine, listening to the news, “Oh good, it’s going well,” but if you live in these areas, the Israelis pulled out from the city centres and blockaded from outside. Nobody can enter or leave without permission. So what kind of pullout? They can sell these things to the world, but they cannot sell them to our people.

Would you respect a peace deal negotiated by Abu Mazen, even if it didn’t align with your own stance?
If it did not align with the Palestinian stance, nobody would respect it.

But there are differences among Palestinians.
We have a common strategy: that all the West Bank and Gaza, all the lands occupied in 1967, should be freed, with dismantling of the settlements and solving the problem of the refugees. This is agreed upon by everybody. Less than that, no one would agree — not Hamas nor the Palestinian people.

And the Geneva Initiative?
It was rejected by most Palestinians.

It was not rejected by the Palestinian Authority…
Well, they did not even agree upon it. They did not dare to agree upon it. And they would not have been able to agree upon it.

They didn’t scotch it either.
If they were afraid to announce publicly that they agreed with it they would not have been able to pass it. When Yasser Arafat was asked to sign at Camp David he said one thing to Clinton: “I can sign it but then you will be invited to my funeral.” No Palestinian can agree to what Yasser Arafat refused or agree to less than that, or maybe he will be having the same funeral Arafat was speaking about.

But Israel will never agree to UNGA 194.
Israel will not agree to many things. Israel is not thinking of returning the West Bank to Palestinians. Israel is not thinking of returning East Jerusalem to Palestinians. Israel is not thinking of stopping the killings. Israel has its own agenda. Our people will continue putting pressure on Israel until Israel will be forced to agree. We know in the end that Israel will be begging us to agree on things they don’t agree upon now.

Why did Hamas refuse to field a candidate for the presidency while it will run in the Legislative Council elections?
That was a political decision. We’re not looking for that position. But our people are demanding we run for the Legislative Council. We have many things that we can do through the council that we cannot do through the presidency. We’d like to have complete saturation, and complete saturation begins from the bottom up.

Is the Islamist trend in Palestine merely a reaction to Israeli abuses in the context of the current Intifada, or is it a deeper current?
It’s a deeper move not only in Palestine; it’s all over the world. People have tasted communism, secularism, nationalism, they tasted American democracy — especially that of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. They began to return to Islam. More now believe in Islam than any time before, at least in the last century. Take a poll of the Palestinians: 80 per cent would like to have an Islamic state in Palestine.

Apart from military means, what other means of pressure can be put on Israel?
We are not limited to military pressure. That’s why we talk to people; we’d like to make a coalition with people all over the world who refuse unjust acts. We are open to everyone in the world who believes in human values. Europeans consider Israel and the United States as the main violators of human rights in the world; the majority of people do not like the policy of Israel, the policy of the United States and I don’t think that they respect Sharon or Bush. We’re working on all levels and in the future we will achieve more.

The propaganda machine you’re confronting is very intense.
It’s not so much that they are working well. The problem is that we are not working well enough. What I mean by “we” is the Arab governments. Every debate we have with the Israelis we win. So it’s not difficult to convince people all over the world that Israel is the source of the problem.

But can you convince even Arab governments of this?
Arab governments have a different strategy. They will be convinced. They will be convinced or changed. In 1989, I was asked by US Congressmen why people in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe could demonstrate against their rulers and change them while Arabs could not change theirs. I told them it’s because the Americans were supporting the people in Eastern Europe against their rulers. In our case, America supports our rulers against our people.

But increasingly US pressure is bearing on Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria.
Sooner or later our rulers will understand that they are no more than puppets in the hands of the Americans. Once their role ends, the US will kick them out without any tears. Maybe they will understand that.

The US is supposedly working towards democratisation in the Middle East, yet democratisation, if it meant anything, would be a problem for Israel.
That’s right. That’s why Israel and the United States are against democracy in the Middle East and the Islamic world.

But they sure talk about it a lot.
Well, Israel is talking more than anyone else about human rights. This is a dilemma that the United States must solve, because they cannot support dictatorship and speak about democracy. The result is that people do not trust American foreign policy.

How do you view the separation wall?
The separation wall is designed to eliminate any possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank. It’s like knowing the final score at the beginning of the game. It’s not a security wall. It’s a wall that decides borders that should not be decided now. At the same time, its effect on our people is criminal. Continuing with the wall, or leaving it like this, I don’t think there can be any peace with the Israelis. We cannot agree on having a state of zones. This is what the Israelis are proposing to give us. And they would agree that we call it an empire, the great empire of Palestine. But it is zones. And they cannot sell us this kind of joke.

It is ominous that it is Sharon who is doing this. Is he ready to give the Palestinians a state because the last thing he wants is a bi-national solution?
The Palestinian state is a need for the Israelis. But it’s not a state that we think of; it’s a state that they think of. It’s a state of zones. An area here and an area there that is surrounded by the Israelis: a state that controls less than 40 per cent of the West Bank. And that’s not the state we are looking for.

My fear is that a state will be established only to be destroyed by another war…
That’s good for us. It is not a state that we will shed tears over. That will increase the armed struggle and it will increase the problem with the Israelis. There was a great Soviet Union, where is it now? History does not stop. Neither Israel nor the United States will continue for long to be great powers in the world and to do what they want. So we are not in a hurry. Once I told the Israelis they waited 2,000 years to return back to their homeland, as they say. Well, we have struggled less than 70 years. We can wait another 10 or 20 years. But every Palestinian knows that the Israeli problem will be at an end soon — sooner than anybody thinks.

The interviewer is visiting professor in political science at An-Najah National University, Nablus, Palestine.

This article was first published by Al-Ahram Weekly, 31 March-6 April 2005, Issue #736: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/736/re5.htm
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We negate and we must negate because something in us wants to live and affirm — Friedrich Nietzsche