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'We Do Not Wish to Throw Them Into the Sea'

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Since Hamas won control of parliament in the recent Palestinian elections, policymakers in Washington and Jerusalem have been faced with a dilemma: how to deal with a democratically elected government that is also on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations. Last week, Newsweek-Washington Post's Lally Weymouth interviewed Hamas's new prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, by phone in his home in the refugee camp where he lives with his wife and 12 children in Gaza.

Were you surprised by the size of the Hamas victory?

Hamas entered the elections planning to be victorious.

Was the victory due to corruption in Fatah, the social services you provided or the general agreement of most Palestinians with the Hamas program of armed resistance?

The victory of Hamas is not only based on the corruption of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas has a vision and a program, and this is the reason why the Palestinian people chose Hamas. However, there is no doubt that the corruption helped Hamas's victory.

What percent of the people voted for Hamas because of your call for armed resistance?

Resistance is one of the reasons for Hamas's victory, but Hamas works [also] in the political, educational and charitable fields. All these activities helped it win.

Palestinian President Abu Mazen and the international community have put forward conditions for dealing with Hamas: 1) recognize Israel; 2) recognize existing agreements with Israel made by the Palestinian Liberation Organization; 3) renounce violence. Will you agree to these conditions?

We are surprised that such conditions are imposed on us. Why don't they direct such conditions and questions to Israel? Has Israel respected agreements? Israel has bypassed practically all agreements. We say: Let Israel recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinians first and then we will have a position regarding this. Which Israel should we recognize? The Israel of 1917; the Israel of 1936; the Israel of 1948; the Israel of 1956; or the Israel of 1967? Which borders and which Israel? Israel has to recognize first the Palestinian state and its borders and then we will know what we are talking about.

Israel has agreed to a two-state solution, signed agreements with the PLO and withdrawn from Gaza. So will Hamas accept any of the agreements that the PLO -- starting with [Yasser] Arafat and continuing with Abu Mazen -- made with Israel?

Number one, the withdrawal from Gaza was based on a unilateral decision and a unilateral plan. It was not [done] out of the generosity of Israel. Has Israel committed itself to all these agreements? We are not war seekers nor are we war initiators.

We are not lovers of blood. We are not interested in a vicious cycle of violence. We are oppressed people with rights. If peace brings us our rights, then this is good.

Do you accept the Oslo agreement signed by Yasser Arafat?

Israel has stopped completely committing itself to Oslo.

I am not asking about Israel. Are you, as the new Palestinian prime minister, committed to Oslo?

How do you want me not to pay attention or care about what Israel says? Oslo stated that a Palestinian state would be established by 1999. Where is this Palestinian state? Has Oslo given the right to Israel to reoccupy the West Bank, to build the wall and expand the settlements, and to Judaize Jerusalem and make it totally Jewish?

Has Israel been given the right to disrupt the work on the port and airport in Gaza? Has Oslo given them the right to besiege Gaza and to stop all tax refunds from the Palestinian Authority?

So you will not abide by past agreements made by the Palestinians and Israel?

I have not said that. I have said that Israel . . .

But you are not the prime minister of Israel. Will you abide by past agreements made by the Palestinian governments and Israel?

We will review all agreements and abide by those that are in the interest of the Palestinian people.

What agreements will you honor?

The ones that will guarantee the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital with 1967 borders -- as well as agreements that would release prisoners.

Would Hamas recognize Israel if it were to withdraw to the '67 borders?

If Israel withdraws to the '67 borders, then we will establish a peace in stages.

What does that mean?

Number one: We will establish a situation of stability and calm which will bring safety for our people -- what Sheikh [Ahmed] Yassin [a Hamas founder] called a long-term hudna .

Does a peace in stages means the ultimate obliteration of the Jewish people?

We do not have any feelings of animosity toward Jews. We do not wish to throw them into the sea. All we seek is to be given our land back, not to harm anybody.

Do you recognize Israel's right to exist?

The answer is to let Israel say it will recognize a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, release the prisoners and recognize the rights of the refugees to return to Israel. Hamas will have a position if this occurs.

So will you extend the present ceasefire?

I will not say yes or no. The problem is with Israel. If Israel gives us a quiet period and stops its incursions and the assassinations, then we will be able to convince our people to continue with a state of quiet.

How is Hamas going to run its government with the United States cutting back funds and the Palestinian government having a deficit of $700 million? Will Iran make up the difference?

We have an economic plan for self-sufficiency based on rationing and protection of public money. Number two: Our relationship with the Islamic and Arab world has shown indications that these people will support us. Number three: The liberals and free people of the world will not like to see the Palestinian people living under siege. We have received indications from the international community that they will not stop their aid.

I ask the American administration not to participate in any resolution that will double the suffering of the Palestinian people. I am convinced that the American people would not want to see the Palestinians suffer the way they do.

You must offer Americans some kind of assurance that you agree with President Bush's two-state solution, that you oppose violence and suicide bombings, that you favor peace. Can you?

All the Palestinian people would like to stop the bloodshed and take the civilians away from this vicious cycle of violence. The problem is not with us but with the Israelis.

Will you recognize Israel?

If Israel declares that it will give the Palestinian people a state and give them back all their rights, then we are ready to recognize them.

Israel does not have a charter calling for the destruction of the Palestinian state.

Our only position will be declared once Israel recognizes our right to exist.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accepted a two-state solution as did President Bush. What do you say about the two-state solution?

It all starts with Israel.

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