TRNN Replay: A three part series recorded in April, 2010 Hamas representative Usamah Hamdan discusses negotiation and recognition
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, coming to you again from Doha. Now joining us is Usamah Hamdan. He’s Hamas’s representative in Lebanon and a member of the political bureau. Thanks for joining us.
USAMAH HAMDAN: Thank you.
JAY: Now, I’m not clear myself on whether Hamas is willing to negotiate directly with Israel or not, because when Jimmy Carter was in Gaza, when he came away he made an announcement which gave everyone the impression Hamas was saying that essentially Hamas is willing to negotiate with Israel. There was an interview with The Wall Street Journal given by one of the Hamas leaders that more or less said the same thing. Is Hamas willing to have some direct negotiations or not?
HAMDAN: Well, I have to say President Carter talks about what he believes in, and he expressed that directly to us: he believes that there must be negotiations between Hamas as an important part of the Palestinians and Israeli. We believe, in Hamas, it’s a political step. You can decide yes or no according to the political situation, according to your benefits as Palestinians. So, till now, we believe the climate is not ready to have suchï¿½to make such a step. We believe, in Hamas, that the negotiations happen between the enemies. So there is an occupation on our land, we are trying to find a way to free our country, and peopleï¿½we will use every way to do that. But we have to understand and believe that the international community step is ready to make this step. Till now we believe that the international community is still committed to one issue: what are the needs of Israel? There is no question for the Palestinians, “What are your needs?”
JAY: But the issue of direct negotiations is another tool for you, or not? It’s not a question of principle whether to negotiate or not? You’re saying it’s a tactic? What I mean by that: you’re open to negotiate if you thought the conditions were there for you?
HAMDAN: Well, I believe, when we say as a principle, the negotiations happen between the enemies, and you have to decide whether it’s useful for you or not, it’s clear. We have said that.
JAY: So negotiations doesn’t imply recognition of the state of Israel for you. That’s not the reason you won’t negotiate.
HAMDAN: No. No. No. No. Clearly there is a complete difference between recognition and the negotiations. Everyone can negotiate anyone without any recognition.
JAY: Now, another thing that’s been attributed, I think partly through Jimmy Carter and some other quotes, that Hamas has said, if the Palestinianï¿½majority of the Palestinian people support a two-state solution, which would essentially recognize Israel if there’s a two-state solution, that Hamas would support that. Is that a correct understanding?
HAMDAN: [inaudible] If our people accepted anything through free referendum among all the Palestinians inside and outside Palestine, we will respect that and we will live with that, even if it was against our beliefs, our political beliefs. And this is the soil of democracy, which we accepted to be the nature of our system as Palestinians after freeï¿½after our liberation. So if the Palestinian people accepted anything, without talking about specific, anything [internally] through the referendum, we will respect and we will live with that, even if we have some different ideas. We may try to convince our people not to accept that. We will do that in a democratic way. But if they voted and they said yes, we will respect that and we will act according to this.
JAY: So, given the reality of the situation, Gaza, as Hamas and many others have described, is like a prison cut off from the world, cut off from the West Bank. What do you see as a way forward here? ‘Cause all the current strategies of Hamas and Fatah seem to have led to a kind of paralysis.
HAMDAN: Well, I believe there must be one step from the international community. The international community, till now, did not respect the Palestinian people well. If you ask the international community, mainly the United States, what or how they define the Palestinian rights, you will not have a clear answer. If you ask them about the Palestinian state, they will not have an answer. Even if you asked, “Is it a sovereign state or not?” they will not have a clear answer. They are talking about a “viable state”, which mean nothing to the Palestinians. We need a sovereign state. If you ask them about the right of return, you will have negative answers. So, till now the international community is not asking the Palestinians: what really you want? If you decide to mediate, if you talk about the solution, you have to ask the Palestinians: what do you want, really? If no one asks this question, the situation will continue like it is, maybe worse. So I believe the first step is to accept the fact that the peace process is done; there is a dead body called Peace Process. And we have to talk about a new peace process built on very solid principles, a very solid basis, which recognize clearly the Palestinian rights, which alsoï¿½.
JAY: How do you get that? ‘Cause the international communityï¿½in reality, on the whole, means the USï¿½the Americans are not going to changeï¿½any sign they’re really changing their position. So how do you get to such a position?
HAMDAN: Well, I think if there was no change in the international community, it means that the struggle will be continued. And there is a clear threat, by talking about a Jewish state, Israel as Jewish state, by what happening now in Jerusalemï¿½the attacks against the holy places for Muslims and Christians as Palestinians. The Israelis are going in the direction which they are trying to change the conflict from an occupationï¿½and the people or a nation under the occupationï¿½to be a religious conflict. If that happened, I believe this will not touch only the Palestinians and the Israelis; it will touch all the Muslims all over the world, and it will touch [inaudible] of most of the countries all over the world. And this is a real threat for the stability in the world, not [just] in the region or not [just] in the Palestinian situation. And instead of waiting this to happen and try to find a solution, there must be a step from the international community, the United States, to say to the Israelis to stop it, there is a Palestinian rights, you have to recognize that. Those rights are supposed to be defined according to the Palestinian way, and we have to talk how to implement those rights through a commitment from the international community. I think this will work. Without this, we will find ourselves, as Palestinians and the international community, in the same circle, rolling around ourselves.
JAY: The big strategic difference between Fatah and Hamas seems to be on the question of armed struggle. Fatah is saying the right to armed struggle is inherent in international law, but the choice to use armed struggle has proved to be more or less a failure, and they’re saying there should be a nonviolent mass resistance as opposed to armed resistance. What do you make of that?
HAMDAN: Well, it’s their opinion to say that. I can’t force them to resist the occupation and the way which Hamas believes in. But we can’t talk about Hamas and Fatah separated, so we have to talk about the national political program for the Palestinians. We have to talk about the institution which can make the decision, which have to be implemented by both Hamas and Fatah: are we going to use the armed resistance or not? Are we going to use the political resistance are not? And how to do this or that. This is not supposed to be an answer from Fatah only or Hamas only; it’s supposed to be an answer from the Palestinian leadership, which supposed to came through clear institution.
JAY: Would you put that to a referendum as well?
HAMDAN: I think if we make that through an election, if we elected the Palestinian National Council, the [PNC], and the Palestinian Legislative Council (the PNC and the PLC), this will mean the voice of the people and the leadership, the elected leadership, can make those decisions. And I believe at this time everyone will accept the fact that there is an elected leadership and this leadership is supposed to take the responsibility for its own decisions. And the people will question this leadership, either directly or in the next elections. This is a matter of how to manage the conflict. And it doesn’t meanï¿½.
JAY: But the strategic differences are serious. For example, Fatah says the firing of rockets by Hamas onto civilian cities, they were against doing that.
HAMDAN: It’s notï¿½all those things are not strategic differences, because I believe the strategic issue is the resistance issue. The strategic issue is the negotiations with Israel, and those can be made through, as I described, the political program and the institution. Firing, of course, the rockets in which direction, and how to fire them, when to fire them, it’s a tactic; it’s in the hands of the political leadership. This is supposed to be. I believe the problem here [is] that there is no one political program for the Palestinians. Fatah created its own political program, imposed that on the Palestinians. When Hamas came, we said we have to discuss that, we have to negotiate that internally. Fatah did not accept that. So we have our own political program; Fatah have the same. I will not insist on that or this. Every group can or every political party can have his own political program. But when we talk about the national goals, we have to talk about one political program, which is supposed to be built through the dialog and to be kept, reserved, followed up through the Palestinian institutions.
JAY: But what do you make of their critique that the kind of level of militant struggle in Gaza has led to this imprisoning of Gazaï¿½it’s not been successful?
HAMDAN: Well, in fact, the prison started from 2005 when the Israeli troops withdrew from Gaza. They kept the exits in their hands, the closure and the opening. For example, in year 2006, from 365 days, the opening was less than 70 daysï¿½I think it’s one-fifth of the year. Now it is 40 days. So there is no big difference; the closure is the same. But the Israelis are using that sometimes to say, well, we did that because of this and because of that. The idea that the Israelis wanted to say you are still under the occupation, you are not free, you are not independent, this is the problem. It happens 2005 or 2006, where there was no internal Palestinian problems. So no one said the problem is the rockets, no one said the problem is Hamas or the elections. When it happened this year, they are trying to use the rockets as an excuse. But, in fact, you can’t differentiate very much between 70 days of opening up through the year and 40 or 45 days of opening through the year. It’s the same problem. (28:30) …
JAY: (28:43) Theï¿½for the internal domestic audience in Israel, the position of Hamas, saying they don’tï¿½…. (29:03) In terms of Israeli public opinion, the Israeli government, Netanyahu, they point to the fact that Hamas says they will never recognize the state of Israelï¿½it’s in their charter. But de facto you do negotiate: you negotiate prisoner exchanges; you have said you’ll accept the popular referendum. Why not say that the issue of recognition is possible in the context of a just agreement? ‘Cause I don’t know that you’ve actually said that, ’cause I know the position in the charter says something else.
HAMDAN: Okay. But, well, I have to say that in three points. Simply, they have to deal with Hamas according to its political stance and political actions, not by talking about charter, because if that happened we will talk about what the Israelis have said, that they believe the borders of Israel [are] from Nile to Euphrates. And that brings us to a big problem: they are talking about Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, part of Egypt and part of Saudi Arabia, and Iraq as part of a greater Israel. And they said that. And some of them, they are still saying that. So they have to act or they have to react directly to our political actions.
JAY: But it’s not in an official document.
HAMDAN: No, no it’sï¿½.
JAY: [inaudible] heard them say it.
HAMDAN: No, it’s official. Some official says that. We can go through what they have said, and you find officials who said that. So this is the first one. We insist on dealing with how Hamas is acting now, what are the political positions now. This is the first point. The second point: you can’t ask the people who are under the occupation to recognize the occupiers. He’s already occupying their land, he’s already killing them, arresting them, controlling their lives. So how they can recognize that? If they recognized him, it means that they accept everything, they legitimize everything he’s doing against them. So you have to say, let’s solve the problem, and then we can come to this question. The third point: the idea of recognizing the states is a state issue; it’s not a movement or people-under-occupation issue. So give the Palestinians their own independent, sovereign country; give them the right for self-determination; then ask this country or this state whether they recognize Israel or not.
JAY: And would you?
HAMDAN: If that happened, we will accept the simple idea which we have embraced before: if the people accepted that through a referendum, we will accept that, and we will deal with that, we will live with that also.
JAY: Okay. Thank you very much for joining us.
HAMDAN: Okay. Thank you very much.
JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
END OF TRANSCRIPT