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The Palestinian Political Situation

Seven Questions: Ismail Haniya on the Future of Palestine

It’s no secret that the Bush administration wants Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya out of power. Last Friday, it almost got its wish: Haniya offered to resign if the international embargo of the Palestinian territories were lifted. But even if Haniya steps down, he’ll still call the shots for Hamas, the government’s ruling party. FP recently sat down with the prime minister to ask how he intends to weather the current storm.

Erica Silverman is the Gaza City correspondent for Cairo’s Al-Ahram Weekly.

Ismail Haniya is prime minister of the Palestinian Authority and political leader of Hamas.

Erica Silverman
Foreign Policy
November 15, 2006

FOREIGN POLICY: Will a Palestinian national unity government that includes Hamas recognize Israel? If so, does that indicate recognition by Hamas?

Ismail Haniya: Hamas agreed to the formation of a new Palestinian government based on the “national reconciliation document.” This plan seeks the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, but it does not mention the recognition of Israel.

Ismail Haniya talks on a cell phone.
Stuck in the middle: Haniya may call himself a moderate, but all the Bush administration sees is a member of Hamas. (Credit: Abid Katib/Getty Images)

Hamas has the right to select the next prime minister, who will only speak for the national government. He will not necessarily express the official position of Hamas.

FP: What is your plan to address the economic crisis in the Palestinian territories?

IH: The economic crisis in the Palestinian territories is growing, especially the high unemployment rate and the number of Palestinians living below the poverty line. The embargo has paralyzed the economy. We are trying as hard as possible to break the siege. We have succeeded in soliciting funds from abroad, but the United States and other nations are preventing these funds from reaching the people.

We have serious intentions to revive the Palestinian economy, but the continuing occupation places obstacles in front of all of our attempts. If we can break the siege, the borders will open, we can import and export goods and basic supplies, and we can create an environment conducive to economic progress and investment.

FP: How do you plan to rein in the rival security forces in order to prevent civil war?

IH: It is in Hamas’s interests that Palestinian factions unite peacefully without disputes and internal conflict. The communications between Fatah and Hamas are continuous and have on several occasions reached an understanding to end all forms of internal violence.

It is quite clear that the Palestinian security apparatus is suffering from problems. But despite all the bitter conflicts that have occurred, we will not end up embroiled in civil war, because every Palestinian is interested in keeping the Palestinian front united.

FP: Do you plan to disband the special Hamas security force created this year?

IH: This force is not affiliated with any faction or organization and was established by legitimate, legal means. It was endorsed by President Mahmoud Abbas. It is part of the official security apparatus and functions legally. This force has worked in several domains to enforce law and order, and it has never been recorded that this force has abused its authority.

FP: Can the decisions of the prime minister be vetoed by Hamas?

IH: No. There is a separation between the government and Hamas. When Hamas wants to make a decision, there is consultation between Gaza and the West Bank, and the leadership abroad. There is no veto; all decisions are made via consensus. Sometimes prisoners participate in the decision-making process. Brother Khaled Meshal is the president of Hamas’s political office. He is an important presence within the movement and has great influence over Hamas’s political vision. But no member can make a unilateral decision.

FP: Your deputy, Ahmed Yousef, recently proposed a long-term truce with Israel. Can Hamas control all the factions necessary to such a truce?

IH: We offered a truce to Israel for a limited time in exchange for establishing a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, the return of refugees, and the release of prisoners and detainees. Israel refused this truce and insists on continuing its aggression against the Palestinian people.

All factions and powers had already agreed to accept the truce and were committed. But Israel violated it.

FP: Would Hamas agree to decommission its arms?

IH: Hamas, like all Palestinian factions, believes in the right to resist the Israeli occupation. Hence, it utilizes the resistance in an effort to liberate Palestinian land and to defend itself from the attacks of the occupation forces.

It is our right as Palestinians to defend ourselves and to protect our people. We are not the aggressors. We are the victims of a brutal occupation.

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