Contextual Content

Most Palestinians want a national unity government

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: But it’s hard to understand how any real talks can happen without including Hamas. Hamas, to all reports, has established a real government, with real infrastructure, a police force. If they’re not talking to Hamas, what can be done?

OSAMAH KHALIL, JOURNALIST: Not much, quite frankly. And I think that was again demonstrated with the destruction of this wall, that Hamas is ignored essentially at the peril and at embarrassment of those who are opposed to it. They are and they were elected to represent the Palestinian people. And what most Palestinians want, I think it’s important for your viewers to also understand, is also that they want a national unity government between Fatah and Hamas. They want the Palestine Liberation Organization to be recreated and Hamas to be made a member. Hamas is not a member of the PLO right now. There are organizational bodies that were created some 20 to 30 years ago, including the PLO and, of course, the Palestinian Legislative Council, which was created after the 1993 Oslo Accords, and that is what Hamas was elected to. But what most Palestinians want is a national unity government. The factionalism and the internal fighting has, quite frankly, drained a lot of the energy from most Palestinians. I heard that over and over again, that they’re tired of the factionalism, they’re tired of the fighting. But what they also don’t want is they don’t want to see the split between Ramallah and Gaza; they don’t want to see a split between Fatah and Hamas; they want the two sides talking to each other. And they don’t quite understand why either President Mahmoud Abbas won’t back down from this stance that he won’t talk to Hamas until they apologize for what he’s calling a coup in June.

JAY: “A coup in June,” meaning when Hamas more or less kicked Fatah out of government and took control of the Gaza government.

KHALIL: Yes.

JAY: In the West, the media echoes the position of the Israeli government, which essentially is Hamas seeks the destruction of the Jewish state. They’re against the peace process. And this is why Fatah and Abbas can’t talk to them. It’s why Israel can’t talk to them. It’s why they should BE boycotted. So, I mean, the question is: does Hamas seek the destruction of the Jewish state? And are they opposed to a peace process?

KHALIL: Well, quite frankly, it’s really a bit of a canard, right, and a red herring. Of course, Hamas openly says that it doesn’t recognize Israel, but it’s important to remember so did the PLO for a long time. And what ended up happening was that Israel and the PLO recognized each other, and that’s what led to the Oslo Accords. Hamas has also sent several distinct signals to Israel and has engaged in secret negotiations with Israel before the Fatah forces were routed in June. So there were secret negotiations going on about a way, a mechanism, in which Hamas would recognize Israel and Israel could negotiate with Hamas as part of a much larger body being the Palestine Liberation Organization.

JAY: If these negotiations were secret, how do we know they took place?

KHALIL: Well, like anything else, these secret negotiations aren’t really a secret. What they ended up doing and the mechanism that they constructed was they had members of the Palestinian Legislative Counsel who are independents—they’re not members of Fatah, they’re not members of Hamas—who went to London and negotiated with the Israelis there. Now, it’s unclear if the negotiations were in good faith on the part of the Israelis, but Hamas definitely had a need to want to get their government in power and the money flowing that it can cut off once the sanctions regime is put in place.

JAY: If Hamas is ready to recognize in some form Israel, why wouldn’t Israel want to go along with this?

KHALIL: Well, again, I think that’s a great question, and I think that the answer to it is that Israel really doesn’t want peace, and Israel doesn’t want a negotiated peace. What it wants is a negotiated surrender. And in that case, in a negotiated surrender, it wants to dictate terms, and those terms will be, really, quite harsh, which is that they will not give back the West Bank in its entirety up to what’s called the 1967 borders. What they want is essentially a set of bantustans. And they know that once they start negotiating under a full national unity government, the pressure will be on them for a full withdrawal. So that’s really the key piece for Hamas; what Hamas is saying is “Look, we will agree to a”—what they would call a 99-year truce, which essentially would be an inevitable truce, right, or an eternal truce, if Israel agrees to withdraw to the full ’67 borders, which means pulling out the settlements, dismantling the apartheid wall in the West Bank. This government’s not going to do it, and in part because it means a full withdrawal from the West Bank, and that includes Jerusalem, and a dismantling of all the settlements on the West Bank and dismantling of the apartheid wall. In general what you’re seeing is a lot of foot movement and a lot of foot traffic in-between the Palestinian side of Rafah to the Egyptian side of Rafah. And almost everybody’s coming back with carrying at least something that they bought, whether it be food supplies, medical supplies, consumer products, everything from TVs to blenders. A vast number of motorcycles have been bought, where only two weeks ago they were too expensive to buy in Gaza but fairly cheap on the Egyptian side, comparatively. Those that have been bought are being brought back in. Everything from sheep to cows to camels, for the first time in over 40 years, are coming back to Gaza, Egyptian camels that is. So you’re seeing almost this amazing commercial and human traffic between the borders in the hopes, essentially, that they can build up supplies and get the much-needed things that they need. It is a bit chaotic, but it should be. There’s very few controls and very few mechanisms for control between the two border sides of the Egyptian and Palestinian side. But people are coming and going by the thousands. It’s an amazing movement of people. And having walked across that border several times myself, it’s really quite incredible. It is chaotic, but it’s amazing, you know, it’s kind of an organized chaos back and forth between the border, and most people are coming and going and just going about their business and getting the supplies they need. So this kind of emphasis on the border violence I think [Inaudible] away from really what’s going on there.

JAY: Are Palestinians and are Egyptians following the American elections? And if they are, do they see any difference between the different candidates in terms of US policy towards the Middle East?

KHALIL: Well, there’s a couple of things they’re still trying to figure out. You do see attention to the candidates, you see attention’s to the election on a number of channels, whether it be the satellite channels and whether it be, you know, there’s CNN International, so for those who speak English. But there’s also a lot of coverage on al-Jazeera and the satellite stations. They still don’t know who a lot of the candidates are. They know who Hillary Clinton is. They remember her because of her husband, who’s viewed somewhat favorably in the region, at least in comparison to George Bush. They’re still not sure who Barack Obama is. And on the Republican side the only one they really know is Rudy Giuliani, and most of what they know about him isn’t positive, especially for Palestinians who remember that he had actually kicked Yasser Arafat out of a UN event that was hosted in New York. So on the Republican side many aren’t known, and those that are known, they’re not viewed favorably.

JAY: Now, from those of us that do know the candidates, do you see any difference in the positions on the candidates and how they would handle the Middle East situation?

KHALIL: Well, unfortunately not. We’re seeing pretty much across the board the same group of advisors, whether it be on the Democratic or Republican side, that have advised the past two administrations, whether it be the Bush administration or the Clinton administration. So a number of the neocons who backed George Bush and who were part of the key parts of the Bush administration, supporting the war in Iraq, are now backing Rudy Giuliani. John McCain, of course, was a big proponent of the war in Iraq and has been a very staunch supporter of Israel, as well as some of the lesser candidates on the Republican side, whether it be Mike Huckabee, etcetera. On the Democratic side, I mean, the only candidate who really has a very distinct position [inaudible] from the others is Dennis Kucinich, and, unfortunately, he’s an also-ran. But Barack Obama, while he has some Middle East advisors who tend to have a more balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he recently released a statement in which he said it’s understandable why Israel imposed a siege on Gaza. So, unfortunately, there’s not much difference right now. In recent al-Qaeda communications, there’s been a specific call for direct attacks in Israel by al-Qaeda operatives. In the past, al-Qaeda has condemned the Fatah, they’ve condemned Hamas, they’ve condemned Hezbollah for stopping al-Qaeda operatives getting into Israel, calling them collaborators and so on. Is there any possibility with this wall down and lack of control over the border that there could be some movement of some al-Qaeda forces or al-Qaeda-type forces into Gaza?

KHALIL: One of the things I did notice yesterday is that Hamas has increased its internal patrols. One of the things that they are quite concerned about is, of course, the movement of drugs and of weapons into Gaza. Of course, those would be weapons that would be going to someone else, whether it be Fatah or anyone who might be affiliated with some kind of al-Qaeda-type group or whether it be Islamic jihad, who is also kind of opposed to Hamas. So they’re attempting to [inaudible] control within Gaza. The Egyptian forces are doing a little bit, you know, to kind of manage the flow of traffic, especially some of the big trucks. Of course, it’s still very fluid. It’s impossible for me to say who or what could be getting in and who they might be aligned with. But, of course, one of the things I do know for sure is that nobody in the region, nobody, absolutely nobody, whether it be Hamas, Fatah, or any of the government stands to benefit from anything al-Qaeda does.

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: But it’s hard to understand how any real talks can happen without including Hamas. Hamas, to all reports, has established a real government, with real infrastructure, a police force. If they’re not talking to Hamas, what can be done?

OSAMAH KHALIL, JOURNALIST: Not much, quite frankly. And I think that was again demonstrated with the destruction of this wall, that Hamas is ignored essentially at the peril and at embarrassment of those who are opposed to it. They are and they were elected to represent the Palestinian people. And what most Palestinians want, I think it’s important for your viewers to also understand, is also that they want a national unity government between Fatah and Hamas. They want the Palestine Liberation Organization to be recreated and Hamas to be made a member. Hamas is not a member of the PLO right now. There are organizational bodies that were created some 20 to 30 years ago, including the PLO and, of course, the Palestinian Legislative Council, which was created after the 1993 Oslo Accords, and that is what Hamas was elected to. But what most Palestinians want is a national unity government. The factionalism and the internal fighting has, quite frankly, drained a lot of the energy from most Palestinians. I heard that over and over again, that they’re tired of the factionalism, they’re tired of the fighting. But what they also don’t want is they don’t want to see the split between Ramallah and Gaza; they don’t want to see a split between Fatah and Hamas; they want the two sides talking to each other. And they don’t quite understand why either President Mahmoud Abbas won’t back down from this stance that he won’t talk to Hamas until they apologize for what he’s calling a coup in June.

JAY: “A coup in June,” meaning when Hamas more or less kicked Fatah out of government and took control of the Gaza government.

KHALIL: Yes.

JAY: In the West, the media echoes the position of the Israeli government, which essentially is Hamas seeks the destruction of the Jewish state. They’re against the peace process. And this is why Fatah and Abbas can’t talk to them. It’s why Israel can’t talk to them. It’s why they should BE boycotted. So, I mean, the question is: does Hamas seek the destruction of the Jewish state? And are they opposed to a peace process?

KHALIL: Well, quite frankly, it’s really a bit of a canard, right, and a red herring. Of course, Hamas openly says that it doesn’t recognize Israel, but it’s important to remember so did the PLO for a long time. And what ended up happening was that Israel and the PLO recognized each other, and that’s what led to the Oslo Accords. Hamas has also sent several distinct signals to Israel and has engaged in secret negotiations with Israel before the Fatah forces were routed in June. So there were secret negotiations going on about a way, a mechanism, in which Hamas would recognize Israel and Israel could negotiate with Hamas as part of a much larger body being the Palestine Liberation Organization.

JAY: If these negotiations were secret, how do we know they took place?

KHALIL: Well, like anything else, these secret negotiations aren’t really a secret. What they ended up doing and the mechanism that they constructed was they had members of the Palestinian Legislative Counsel who are independents—they’re not members of Fatah, they’re not members of Hamas—who went to London and negotiated with the Israelis there. Now, it’s unclear if the negotiations were in good faith on the part of the Israelis, but Hamas definitely had a need to want to get their government in power and the money flowing that it can cut off once the sanctions regime is put in place.

JAY: If Hamas is ready to recognize in some form Israel, why wouldn’t Israel want to go along with this?

KHALIL: Well, again, I think that’s a great question, and I think that the answer to it is that Israel really doesn’t want peace, and Israel doesn’t want a negotiated peace. What it wants is a negotiated surrender. And in that case, in a negotiated surrender, it wants to dictate terms, and those terms will be, really, quite harsh, which is that they will not give back the West Bank in its entirety up to what’s called the 1967 borders. What they want is essentially a set of bantustans. And they know that once they start negotiating under a full national unity government, the pressure will be on them for a full withdrawal. So that’s really the key piece for Hamas; what Hamas is saying is “Look, we will agree to a”—what they would call a 99-year truce, which essentially would be an inevitable truce, right, or an eternal truce, if Israel agrees to withdraw to the full ’67 borders, which means pulling out the settlements, dismantling the apartheid wall in the West Bank. This government’s not going to do it, and in part because it means a full withdrawal from the West Bank, and that includes Jerusalem, and a dismantling of all the settlements on the West Bank and dismantling of the apartheid wall. In general what you’re seeing is a lot of foot movement and a lot of foot traffic in-between the Palestinian side of Rafah to the Egyptian side of Rafah. And almost everybody’s coming back with carrying at least something that they bought, whether it be food supplies, medical supplies, consumer products, everything from TVs to blenders. A vast number of motorcycles have been bought, where only two weeks ago they were too expensive to buy in Gaza but fairly cheap on the Egyptian side, comparatively. Those that have been bought are being brought back in. Everything from sheep to cows to camels, for the first time in over 40 years, are coming back to Gaza, Egyptian camels that is. So you’re seeing almost this amazing commercial and human traffic between the borders in the hopes, essentially, that they can build up supplies and get the much-needed things that they need. It is a bit chaotic, but it should be. There’s very few controls and very few mechanisms for control between the two border sides of the Egyptian and Palestinian side. But people are coming and going by the thousands. It’s an amazing movement of people. And having walked across that border several times myself, it’s really quite incredible. It is chaotic, but it’s amazing, you know, it’s kind of an organized chaos back and forth between the border, and most people are coming and going and just going about their business and getting the supplies they need. So this kind of emphasis on the border violence I think [Inaudible] away from really what’s going on there.

JAY: Are Palestinians and are Egyptians following the American elections? And if they are, do they see any difference between the different candidates in terms of US policy towards the Middle East?

KHALIL: Well, there’s a couple of things they’re still trying to figure out. You do see attention to the candidates, you see attention’s to the election on a number of channels, whether it be the satellite channels and whether it be, you know, there’s CNN International, so for those who speak English. But there’s also a lot of coverage on al-Jazeera and the satellite stations. They still don’t know who a lot of the candidates are. They know who Hillary Clinton is. They remember her because of her husband, who’s viewed somewhat favorably in the region, at least in comparison to George Bush. They’re still not sure who Barack Obama is. And on the Republican side the only one they really know is Rudy Giuliani, and most of what they know about him isn’t positive, especially for Palestinians who remember that he had actually kicked Yasser Arafat out of a UN event that was hosted in New York. So on the Republican side many aren’t known, and those that are known, they’re not viewed favorably.

JAY: Now, from those of us that do know the candidates, do you see any difference in the positions on the candidates and how they would handle the Middle East situation?

KHALIL: Well, unfortunately not. We’re seeing pretty much across the board the same group of advisors, whether it be on the Democratic or Republican side, that have advised the past two administrations, whether it be the Bush administration or the Clinton administration. So a number of the neocons who backed George Bush and who were part of the key parts of the Bush administration, supporting the war in Iraq, are now backing Rudy Giuliani. John McCain, of course, was a big proponent of the war in Iraq and has been a very staunch supporter of Israel, as well as some of the lesser candidates on the Republican side, whether it be Mike Huckabee, etcetera. On the Democratic side, I mean, the only candidate who really has a very distinct position [inaudible] from the others is Dennis Kucinich, and, unfortunately, he’s an also-ran. But Barack Obama, while he has some Middle East advisors who tend to have a more balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he recently released a statement in which he said it’s understandable why Israel imposed a siege on Gaza. So, unfortunately, there’s not much difference right now. In recent al-Qaeda communications, there’s been a specific call for direct attacks in Israel by al-Qaeda operatives. In the past, al-Qaeda has condemned the Fatah, they’ve condemned Hamas, they’ve condemned Hezbollah for stopping al-Qaeda operatives getting into Israel, calling them collaborators and so on. Is there any possibility with this wall down and lack of control over the border that there could be some movement of some al-Qaeda forces or al-Qaeda-type forces into Gaza?

KHALIL: One of the things I did notice yesterday is that Hamas has increased its internal patrols. One of the things that they are quite concerned about is, of course, the movement of drugs and of weapons into Gaza. Of course, those would be weapons that would be going to someone else, whether it be Fatah or anyone who might be affiliated with some kind of al-Qaeda-type group or whether it be Islamic jihad, who is also kind of opposed to Hamas. So they’re attempting to [inaudible] control within Gaza. The Egyptian forces are doing a little bit, you know, to kind of manage the flow of traffic, especially some of the big trucks. Of course, it’s still very fluid. It’s impossible for me to say who or what could be getting in and who they might be aligned with. But, of course, one of the things I do know for sure is that nobody in the region, nobody, absolutely nobody, whether it be Hamas, Fatah, or any of the government stands to benefit from anything al-Qaeda does.

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