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Hamas leader: Abbas-Netanyahu meet serves US

Sept. 22, 2009 10:55 A.M. (Updated: Sept. 24, 2009 10:12 A.M.)
Gaza – Ma'an Exclusive – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama is part of a policy that serves US, not Palestinian interests, senior Hamas official Ayman Taha told Ma’an on Friday.

“Unfortunately, what is actually happening is only an attempt to impose the US vision by making repeated attempts to launch negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and this is unacceptable,” said Taha in an extended interview in his office in Gaza.

Taha said that US pressure on Israel to halt settlement activity as weak, biased, and non-binding. Instead, he said, the US should pressure Israel to end the entire occupation.

Asked what he meant by the word “occupation,” Taha said, “We were occupied twice, once in 1948 and again in 1967, and in Hamas we have a vision to end the occupation and go back to 1967 borders, and the American administration should work at least to end the occupation of 1967, which until now it has not done.”

’We don’t want another Mecca Agreement’

On the subject of Hamas’ broken relations with the rival Fatah movement, Taha confirmed that there will be another round of negotiations brokered by Egypt after the end of the current Eid Al-Fitr holiday. He did not specify a date. The next round of talks will include all the Palestinian factions, not just Fatah and Hamas, he said. Bilateral dialogue, he said, “has ended.”

Taha, who has personally been involved in several rounds of negotiations with Fatah, said that Hamas is studying Egypt’s recently-released blueprint for an end to the Palestinian political rift. He said Hamas would give its specific reaction to the proposal when it has finished examining the paper.

“We hope that the dialogue will be successful. We seek an end to the division because the current reality is not comforting, even if the situation is difficult,” he said.

The Hamas official said that the Mecca Agreement that formed the Hamas-Fatah unity government in early 2007 was not a good model for future accords, because it was not implemented. The dialogue that will take place in Cairo, he said, should not imitate the Mecca talks: "The Mecca agreement was only the foundation of the building. The solution has to be the whole package."

Taha also called on Fatah to give up what he said was an “impossible” demand that Hamas recognize Israel and meet the conditions of the international Quartet (renunciation of violence, acceptance of past PLO agreements). Instead, he said, Fatah should deal with Hamas as an equal.

’We don’t have political prisoners’

Asked whether a decision by the Hamas government in Gaza to release 170 prisoners (120 “common criminals” and 50 “security prisoners”), was a gesture of political goodwill, he said that Hamas does not release prisoners in order to prove good intention to the authorities in Ramallah.

"We arrested those who deserved arresting, and we release prisoners because we are also convinced that they deserve their release," he said.

He confirmed, however, that some of the “security prisoners” released on Wednesday were arrested in connection with Hamas’ deadly shootout with ultra-Islamist Salafists in Rafah in August

According to Taha, the Fatah-backed Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is holding nearly 1,000 prisoners for political reasons. He was also skeptical about President Abbas’ decision to release 200 Hamas prisoners, which was only partially implemented. The fact that only some of the prisoners were ultimately released, he said, was evidence that there has been no decision by the PA to end political arrests.

Gilad Shalit

Taha dismissed reports of progress toward a prisoner exchange with Israel, involving the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit from Gaza. These reports, he said, do not serve the interests of the Palestinian prisoners whose fate is at stake. “There is nothing new on this file,” he said, referring to the proposed prisoner swap.

Deal first, elections later

Taha also refused to discuss the prospect of new elections in January, which were agreed upon with Fatah in early 2009, but now seem increasingly unlikely. In keeping with Hamas’ previous pronouncements on the issue, Taha said there will be no elections in the absence of a political agreement with Fatah. He said Abbas will be responsible for a deepening of the political divide if he pushes for elections.

Asked whether Hamas would win an election if it were held today, Taha was confident. “In the Hamas era, there is no financial or administrative corruption and there is no partisanship among families,” he said.

“The party that is surrounding Hamas [Israel] knows that the Strip is better off now than before, and that if it were not for the blockade, Hamas and Gaza would be stable and open to the world.”

Hamas is one unit

Taha also dismissed the suggestion that Hamas, as a movement, is divided between its political leadership in exile in Damascus, the government in Gaza, and the movement in the West Bank.

"What is said about the existence of differences within Hamas is incorrect. The recent [internal] elections won by Khalid Mash’al, the President of the Political Bureau, is the evidence of that.”

The West Bank

Asked about the status of Hamas in the West Bank, Taha said that movement still exists there, though it is persecuted both by Israeli occupying forces and the Palestinian Authority security forces. "Hamas is there and no one can destroy it,” he said.

Gaza reconstruction

With regard to the project of rebuilding Gaza from the Israeli offensive, Taha said that the Hamas government is incapable of rebuilding because of Israel’s ban on construction materials entering the Strip. Nevertheless, the Hamas movement has tried to find homes for the displaced.

During the Gaza war, Hamas was resisting and helping the people at the same time under the motto of “one hand reconstruct and the other resist.”

’Hamas is stronger’

“Of course, Hamas is stronger than it was before and this strength is a result of the embrace of Palestinian masses and the Arab world around it," Taha said, noting that “everyone” from Arab leaders to European politicians have been meeting with the group since the end of the war. He said this amounted to a recognition of Hamas’ importance.
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