Palestinian Elections / Hamas No. 2: We Understand Politics; We'll Negotiate Better Than Others'

"We'll negotiate [with Israel] better than the others, who negotiated for 10 years and achieved nothing," Sheikh Mohammed Abu Tir, second on the Hamas national list for the Palestinian parliamentary election, told Haaretz recently.

Abu Tir does not dismiss future negotiations with Israel. He makes a great effort to explain to Israel and the world, which are attempting to come to terms with his organization's expected good showing in the elections later this month, that Hamas is playing by new rules.

According to Abu Tir, the movement's decision to enter the elections - as well as the decision to remove from its election platform sections in its constitution calling for Israel's destruction - are not only tactical measures. Rather, they represent a strategic shift.

"In the past, it was said that we don't understand politics, only force, but we are a broad, well-grounded movement that is active in all areas of life. Now we are proving that we also understand politics better than the others," Abu Tir said.

Abu Tir, 55, from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Umm Tuba, does not have a high media profile in either the West Bank or Israel. However, he is considered one of Hamas' most prominent individuals. He was released from an Israeli prison about six months ago, after spending most of the last 30 years in administrative detention or serving sentences for membership in a terror organization, weapons possession and directing the activities of the Hamas military arm, Iz al-Din al-Qassam. Following his release, Abu Tir was recruited by the Hamas leadership to head its national list after the group's Gaza leader, Ismail Haniyeh.

"The use of the word muqawama [resistance in Arabic, used by Hamas and many other organizations to signify the armed struggle] in the platform does not necessarily refer to weapons and the use of force," Abu Tir said.

When asked whether Hamas would negotiate with Israel after the elections, he said, "We will not give Israel the justification and the legitimacy to occupy our lands." But he immediately added that "we are not saying `never.' The question of negotiations will be presented to the new parliament and, as with every issue, when we reach the parliament it will be discussed and decided in a rational manner."