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Hamas scholar Imad Al-Soos explains that Gaza’s isolation is not just physical, but also political

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. On Monday, the Hamas Prime Minister of Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, said that relations between Hamas and Iran are now repaired. This, despite a rift which had emerged when Hamas critiqued Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the current Syrian civil war. However, it seems that Hamas is not actually gaining allies here but losing them. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah Party ordered a series of measures against Hamas acts, which have detrimental effects on the people living in the Gaza Strip, whether they support Hamas or not. Negotiations between Hamas and Israel over prisoner swaps is faltering as have negotiations between Mohammad Dahlan, exiled Fatah member who tried to promote a solution to the Gaza power supply problem on behalf of the United Arab Emirates. This week, the general secretary of the UN, António Guterres, visited the Gaza Strip and gave a speech. Let’s hear what he had to say. ANTONIO GUTERRES: And I’d like to leave here two strong appeals. The first, an appeal for unity. Yesterday I was in Ramallah. Today I am in Gaza. They are both part of the same Palestine. And so I appeal for the unity in line with the principles of the PLO, the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The division only undermines the cause of the Palestinian people. SHARMINI PERIES: On to talk about all of this with me is Dr. Imad Alsoos. He’s a scholar of the Hamas Party and of Palestinian nationalism. In his recent piece in the Washington Post, Imad Alsoos suggests that Hamas need to prepare to abandon the armed struggle. Thanks for joining us, Imad. IMAD ALSOOS: Thank you so much for having me. SHARMINI PERIES: So Imad, let’s start with the statement that Yahya Sinwar made recently. Are relations with Iran really repaired? Has Hamas changed its position on Assad in Syria? IMAD ALSOOS: Political relations between Hamas and Iran are still totally not repaired, but they seem to go in this direction. A strong indicator was when Hamas sent a highly profile delegation to participate in Hassan Rouhani’s swear-in ceremony, the President of Iran. With regard to Sinwar’s statement, the newly democratic elected leader of Hamas in Gaza, I think there nothing changed happen because Sinwar is part of Hamas military wing, whose relation with Iran were intact even during the revolution and the civil war in Syria. But politically, the relation with Hamas and financially were cut after 2012 and 2013. Regarding Hamas position from Assad, Hamas never called for the overthrow of Assad. But what is good on the side of Hamas in the long term, that Hamas didn’t participate militarily against Assad. But it choose to commit to its promise that doesn’t use weapons outside the mandate Palestine. And maybe this will be on the side of Hamas in future relationship with the Assad regime. SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And as you know, recently there’s been a huge electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip. And by way of a solution, Mohammad Dahlan negotiated with Hamas to use UAE money to build a power plant that would actually be based in the Egyptian border with Gaza. And this is in order to provide electricity to Gaza without the risk of Israel bombing the power plant. But this offer was criticized as an attempt to get Palestinians to sell their soul, their political freedom to foreign powers. So first of all, who is Mohammad Dahlan? And why did this negotiation or solution to the electricity problem in the Gaza Strip fail? IMAD ALSOOS: First, Mohammad Dahlan is the founder and the former head of the Preventive Security apparatus in Gaza, which was basically founded in 1995 and cracked down on Hamas and dismantled all of its [military cells] between ’96 and 2000 before the start of the Second Intifada. So he is a historical enemy of Hamas. And in this context we can understand the relationship between Mohammad Dahlan and Hamas. Hamas is besieged in Gaza. And Mohammad Dahlan is offering an easing of the blockade by easing electricity problem, which is really a serious problem for Hamas rule of Gaza. Why they failed? I think they failed not because of technical reasons, but because of power relations. Dahlan want a power sharing in Gaza. And through Gaza, he want to enter to the PA as the successor of President Abbas, who is 85-years-old. And I think Hamas want concrete results before any power sharing in Gaza. I think this is where we can understand why the negotiations failed. And maybe they didn’t fail. They still in process, I think. SHARMINI PERIES: Meanwhile, Israeli negotiators have attempted to negotiate in secret with Hamas over the exchange of prisoners because open negotiations, apparently, didn’t work out. And this is not only prisoners, but also about corpses of Israeli soldiers who invaded Gaza. Now the Israeli chief negotiator, Lior Lotan, just resigned this week. First, give us some context as to why these negotiations have failed. So what’s going on? Why is this now happening in secret? IMAD ALSOOS: I think there are many reasons why the negotiation failed. But in my point of view and what you don’t find maybe in the media, that the impact will Hamas achieve or the effect Hamas will exert by any presumed swap might strengthen the movement and legitimize its role in Gaza as a resistance movement and a symbol of the Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation. Meanwhile, the regional powers like Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Israel, the occupation force, want to constrain Hamas and to weaken Hamas and besiege it in Gaza. Hamas came out regarding to the majority of the Palestinian regarding was that Hamas came victorious in the 2014 war. And a new prisoner exchange will give Hamas more power in this regard, given the experience of the prisoner exchange in 2011, which called Shalit prisoner exchange. Hamas empowered itself by this among the Palestinians and inside the movement when it put a new arteries in the blood of the movement. Like for example, Sinwar. He is one of the liberated prisoners from Shalit prisoner exchange. And they want a weak Hamas, not a strong Hamas, internally and externally. This is what I think. SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Now Imad, all of these new developments that are going on, these events we’re discussing today, are all happening just after Hamas published a new political document, which we discussed with you back in May, and after the mass protest that had taken place around the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. So where is Hamas now? Hamas supported the non-violence resistance in relation to the mosque. This seemed to indicate that Hamas is making every effort to become more pragmatic in order to gain recognition among Palestinians. Is this an act of desperation because Hamas is weak now? Or is it a sign that Hamas is now poised to replace Fatah as the ruling party in Palestine? IMAD ALSOOS: I think this, the Jerusalem protest, the non-violent protest in Jerusalem is a second indicator that Hamas support a non-violent popular resistance. It was during the Haba in 2015, Hamas also supported a popular protest. Another direction, another perspective to understand why Hamas is going this direction. If we take it from the Palestinian perspective as a whole, the Palestinians and Hamas as a Palestinian national movement too, they have two options. The First Intifada between 1987 until 1993 and the Second Intifada, 2000-2005. One is largely non-violent, the First Intifada. And another is largely violent, an arm. The first one achieved political achievements vis-à-vis Israel and keep the Palestinian unite. While the Second Intifada didn’t achieve any political goals. There was no, at the end, a Palestinian state, and Palestinian were disintegrate the movement. I think Hamas, in my opinion, as internally unite strong centralized movement, and not a fragmented, it can go in the direction of non-violent strategy. And it could lead the Palestinian protest, but maybe Palestinians will not be inspired by Hamas as the initiator of popular protest. But a popular protest where Hamas can jump in, it can be successful. Another example of the first Palestinian Intifada, largely non-violent Intifada. SHARMINI PERIES: Let’s hope so. I thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Imad Alsoos, and look forward to your further comment. IMAD ALSOOS: Thank you so much for having me. SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.

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Dr. Imad Alsoos wrote his PhD at the Free University of Berlin. He’s a scholar of the Hamas party and of Palestinian nationalism.