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Politics of Palestinian Resistance Pt.3 Souheil El-Natour: Armed struggle should not target civilians

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. We’re in Beirut in the Palestinian refugee camp Mar Elias. Now joining us again is Souheil El-Natour. He’s the executive manager of the Human Development Center and a member of the central committee of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). Thanks for joining us again. So we left off in the first segment talking about Fatah, Hamas, and the DFLP. This issue of strategy and tactics seems to be one of the main dividing lines between Hamas and Fatah, at least when you talk to them. Hamas says there needs to be armed resistance. Fatah is saying armed resistance has gotten nowhere; there needs to be peaceful, civil disobedience, more along the lines of the struggle in, they say, South Africa, or they point to India. What do you make of this division? And where is your organization?

DR. SOUHEIL EL-NATOUR, DEMOCRATIC FRONT FOR THE LIBERATION OF PALESTINE: Democratic Front adopted, since its formation until now, insisting on all the complex situations of the Palestinian resistance life that the national unity is one of the assets to victory. Without national unity, we can’t win and we can’t overwhelm against the occupation forces of our enemy, the Zionist enemy. In this sense, we adopted all the time a critical situation for those who are preaching only for negotiations without armed struggle to liberate, and for those who are only making suicide operations without having a political program for our people: we adopted that we have to struggle on the military level, joining all the military wings of the resistance, but targeting only the Israeli occupation forces and the settler colonialists who are armed, not the civilians. This is what distinguished the Democratic Front in all its operations. That’s why. And we don’t have enough capacities, big money to have a lot of weapons. We have enough cadres to work on the military level in this. This is our perception, and we are still doing this. On the other hand, for the political program, we’re saying that we cannot win in any political program if we are divided. So any enemy will benefit from the divisions of the Palestinians and will work on [inaudible] some privileges to this side who is not fighting militarily, or promising others by crushing and brutality and interpreting that I’m defending myself against, between brackets, “the terrorists”, which is now the actual situation of the Israeli extremist government, who is [inaudible] Gaza every day, but killing civilians, killing women, killing kids, and at the same time not giving anything to the Palestinians of the West Bank and Fatah administration, just promising of ameliorating the life without doing anything; on the contrary, implementing the creation of settler colonialism and expanding the Judaization of Jerusalem and the West Bank, creating the wall of apartheid, which is one of the symbolic things about the oppression of Israeli occupation against the Palestinians. So we are criticizing Fatah, but not using all the unity of the forces on one political program, and using all the capacities on the military also, capacities of our people, against the Israeli occupation forces, not against the civilians. And also, at the same time, we are with Hamas [in] saying that illusory negotiations will not lead us to get our inalienable rights. But at the same time, we don’t have to avoid the possibility of negotiations if the Israelis will recognize our rights.

JAY: So what happens when you have this kind of debate with Hamas? Because from an outsider it seems rather clear that the attacks on civilians unites the Israelis against the Palestinians. There’s practically monolithic opinion now in Israel in favor of the most aggressive kind of tactics. Popular opinion supported the attacks in Gaza. And it has a lot to do with both rockets hitting civilian centers and pizza parlors blowing up. So when you’d say to Hamas, you should confine the attacks to armed forces and not attack civilians, what do they say to you?

EL-NATOUR: I think now we have to go with the developments. Now Hamas is ruling de facto in Gaza. Who is fighting now? Hamas used this rockets, etc., and suicide bombs until they reached the point to compete with Fatah and to overwhelm on a part of the power which took and confiscated Gaza. But after that, Hamas now is forbidding the others to participate in any fight against [Israel], especially Islamic Jihad, Democratic Front, and the others. If we do now operations against Israel, because out of the retaliation and the punishment that Israel could, and those in power, will be inflicted many casualties, they don’t like to�and they want�now they are talking with the others about unifying the plans and the capacities for armed struggle to be directed against the Israeli army.

JAY: So go back to my first question. Fatah says the tactics that Hamas had been using haven’t led anywhere. Hamas says the same thing about Fatah, that these negotiations are going nowhere. So what do you think? What’s the next step?

EL-NATOUR: The solution is what is proposed in the negotiations for regaining�in the dialogues, inter-Palestinian dialogues in Cairo, to regain the unity. This is a solution. If we regain this, that means there is a plan. The plan is aiming to establish an independent state, and with Jerusalem as its capital. This plan will say about the exact attitude to be adopted from [inaudible] organization, whether politically, organizationally, in the election of instances of governing democratically in the Palestinian field, and at the same time to adopt a reasonable way of struggling militarily against the Israeli occupation forces. So Hamas is now talking with the others about the modalities to be adopted on the military section. And Fatah is now talking with other organizations about how to develop the common struggle. And they begin to realize this by the�what�you said it, about the civil strikes against the wall and in many protests against Israeli incursions in our Mosque of Aqsa. There are lot of joining points which were offered by the plan, and mainly this is our plan. That’s why we are now asking Hamas, ratify in principle the common plan of Cairo dialogue, and then, if we have in the practice some differences, we can go on continuous dialogue. But we have to continue and to regain the Palestinian unity in order to impose on the Israelis to withdraw from our land.

JAY: So when I say that to the representative of Hamas, they say this agreement, that there was a draft agreement, then it got redrafted by the Egyptians, they changed some of the language, and they want to go back and have a substantive renegotiation to come to some agreements. So you don’t see how this ever gets resolved.

EL-NATOUR: No, no. We have to differentiate between the pretext, or tactical pretext, in order to continue the de facto overwhelming of the power in Gaza, and the main thing of the big ambitions. Hamas wants to be an integral part of PLO. Until now, it’s not accepted, because they didn’t recognize all the ratifying agreements of PLO. So they have to go one step forward towards what has been done by PLO. At the same time, PLO has also to go one step towards recognition of Hamas as a integral part of the society of the Palestinians. We cannot say that we are monopolizing the power as Fatah and letting the others and negating their presence and their capacities. So Fatah must also develop its conception of Palestinian unity by giving all the factions a relatively presence in the high instances, and the only way: by having election democratically for the legislative in Gaza and West Bank, for the PNC, National Council.

JAY: So when I talk to Hamas, they say, we want the elections. And you talk to Fatah, they say, we want the elections. And they say, the document, it’s just change some words in the document, then we can sign. But then you talk to the same people off camera, and Fatah tells me, well, Hamas doesn’t really want it, because Iran wants to keep this thing up in the air because of the conflict with the United States, so the Iranian pressure on Hamas doesn’t allow them to sign. And then Hamas says Fatah’s too under the influence of the Americans, and they don’t�the Americans really don’t want Hamas as part of the process, and so Fatah doesn’t really make the agreement. Is there truth in all of this?

EL-NATOUR: What we are struggling from 1945 until ’74, to be recognized as the sole legitimate representative, independent from the willingness of the interference of the Arab regimes in our affairs, is vanishing, is weakened because of the divide between the two poles of the Palestinian field, Hamas and�. Now we have to recognize that Fatah is influenced a lot by regional affairs and international affairs, because also, the system of the PA, which Fatah has a majority of it or confiscating power, is financed by EU and the Americans and the others, so they have to take into consideration a lot of the imposing political willingness of these regimes. On the other hand, Hamas is getting a lot of money from the sheiks of the Arab gulf and from Iran. So that’s why the regional interference and the influence on Hamas. Frankly, they talking about the elections because they need�this is an objective need for our society, and the people are convinced of it. They cannot escape from it. But to work hardly for the election, no, while the other organizations, on the contrary, they see their interests with the common interests of the people to impose. So there is polls. That’s why recently, in the last six months, the Democratic Front, the Popular Front, and the Party of People [People’s Party], which was the Communist Party, are trying to join the efforts as a leftist-center, to create some room for our people, that there are a lot of other organizations who are seeking and to be implementing what is considered, in the plan, the high interests of our people.

JAY: Now, Hamas has one fairly legitimate issue to raise, which is they participated in the last elections, they won, and then the Americans and Israelis didn’t want to recognize them, and Fatah seemed to go along with pushing them out. I mean, it’s not a fair complaint?

EL-NATOUR: No, but this is history now, because the time�the mandate of the president, the mandate of the legislative finished. And in order not to lose the presence of the leadership continuously until the election of others, they said, okay, de facto power in Gaza, de facto power in West Bank, and de facto continuous presence of Abu Mazen as leader. So Palestinians, they don’t have now legalized elected people with the mandate, they have legalized elected people in the past mandate, and continuously until a new mandate to be by another election. And the law for the election was adopted on reciprocity. This is the way to go on. This means only the ratification of Cairo agreement, which Hamas is hesitating and creating a lot of trouble in the problem of unity for the Palestinians.

JAY: Okay. In the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about the prisoners agreement and what that means to the Palestinian struggle. Please join us for the next segment in this series of interviews on The Real News Network.

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Dr Souheil was born in Acre, Palestine, 1947, where his family was expelled from by the Israeli occupation forces. He and his family have been refugees in Lebanon, where he remains at the Mar Elias Refugee Camp.

After his studies in Arabic Literature and Law, Dr Souheil joined the staff of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Beirut in 1964. In 1965, Dr Souheil was transferred to the PLO Research Center where he worked as co-editor of the "Shu'un Filistiniah"" (Palestine Affairs) periodical. In 1975