Hamas will oppose any attempt to transfer authority over the Palestinian security services from the government to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Hamas' parliamentary slate told Haaretz yesterday.
Ismail Haniyeh, who stressed that Hamas would express its opposition via "dialogue and understanding," noted that Abbas, who once served as prime minister under then-PA chairman Yasser Arafat, resigned his position over this very issue.
"We don't think Abbas will reverse his previous position, which was that the security services should be subject to the government and the interior minister. If he does reverse himself, we will remind him of his previous stance when he was prime minister."
On Saturday, Abbas informed the security service chiefs that they answered directly to him. But Haniyeh views this as a temporary situation that will last only until the new government is formed.
The interview with Haniyeh took place at his home in the A-Shati refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. There were no signs of armed men anywhere in the vicinity. "We are political activists," Haniyeh explained, "and we live among our people. We have no fear, and our relationship with our people is one of trust."
Like other Hamas officials, Haniyeh promised that current employees of the security services will not lose their jobs under the new government, even if they are affiliated with the rival Fatah movement.
"What is important to us is how the security services function, not who its members are," he said. "We want the security services to operate with a Palestinian outlook, not to intervene in people's affairs and in the citizenry's daily lives. We intend to reform these organizations, but nobody will lose his salary or his position. ... Anyone who serves will remain in his job, but anyone who harms the Palestinian people will be dealt with as we said" [i.e. with "dialogue and understanding" - A.H.].
Haniyeh said Hamas' new cabinet will be composed of experts, and therefore might include some Palestinians from outside the territories. "Various kinds of experts and businessmen who live abroad have contacted us and expressed willingness to help," he said, adding that he expects the process of forming the government to take "several days."
Haniyeh declined to say what the new government's first moves would be, but stressed that they would relate to "domestic affairs, because many problems require a solution: poverty, unemployment, the siege, internal security."
Asked what, in practice, Hamas plans to do about the siege, for instance, he stuck to slogans: "Our people is not afraid of the siege, but we will invest all our efforts at the domestic and the pan-Arab level to ease our people's suffering."
Q: Nevertheless, more concretely, what can you do?
A: "We want to hold a broad national convention to determine a detailed plan and raise the necessary funds."
What effect will a halt to international financial assistance to the PA have?
"A halt in aid will complicate the situation and might also lead to regional instability. How will a hungry nation act? But we will not let our people go hungry, we have alternatives. Proper financial management will enable us to meet our needs ourselves. ... There are [also] forces in the Arab and Muslim world, businessmen and parties that have contacted us and expressed willingness to help."
In other words, if a halt in aid is meant to pressure you, for instance, to change your stance on not recognizing Israel ...
"They will not succeed in pressuring us. We want the Palestinian people's rights."
Who makes the decisions in Hamas? You or the Muslim Brotherhood?
"Hamas is a Palestinian movement and it makes the decisions."
You've promised your people that you will operate transparently. Doesn't this promise contradict the fact that your organization's elected institutions are secret?
"We're a secret organization because of the occupation, but on the political level, we operate openly. All our contacts are known and there is nothing secret about them."
But the key decisions are made by a secret organization?
"Hamas' decisions are always in harmony with the Palestinian people, and the results of the elections proved that our people trust us."
What do the people want? Armed resistance?
"The people want to improve their situation, and they want an independent state, they want their rights."
And how will you realize those goals?
"Using all available options. We will mobilize popular, pan-Arab, regional and international support."
It sounds very easy.
"We're very optimistic. The occupation is gone from Gaza, and today they are talking about leaving a large part of the West Bank. These are steps on the way to realizing the Palestinian people's rights. The situation is better than it was, and that is due to the armed resistance."
Gaza is more cut off from the West Bank than ever; the West Bank is divided into several separate, disconnected units; the settlements are expanding; Israel's diplomatic position in the world is better than ever. Where's the improvement?
"We are not powerless. The people want some relief in their lives. We will insist on our people's rights and on the connection between the West Bank and Gaza."
What practical steps will you take to succeed where others failed?
"We've said that we won't give in to this situation. We conducted an intifada that lasted five years en route to obtaining our rights."
But the situation worsened.
"Not true. And even if it were true, the situation in Israel is also difficult: economically; from the standpoint of the crisis in Likud and [Ariel] Sharon's departure from it; the lack of security. All this is due to the stamina of the Palestinian people and the costs of the occupation."
The Palestinian people is tired of the slogans that Fatah mouthed. It expects more than slogans.
"These aren't slogans. We are talking about things that happened. Why is the occupation gone from Gaza? Was it not the stamina and the resistance; did these not cause losses to the occupation?"
In other words, that is how you will get the occupation out of the West Bank, with Qassam rockets?
"I'm not talking about Qassams, but about Palestinian rights. If calm will get us our rights, we'll agree."
Will you arrest people and groups if they use weapons against Israel in defiance of your government's policy?
"Our relationship with all our people will be one of dialogue and understanding."
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