Hamas opts out of violence, and for nation-building

AFP, Friday 17 Dec 2010

Hamas believes victory will come through nation-building rather than military confrontation with Israel.

A Palestinian flutters during a Hamas rally in Gaza City 14 December 2010. (Reuters)

The Palestinians have time in their fight for a state, and Hamas believes victory will come through nation-building rather than military confrontation with Israel, a senior Hamas leader said.

"We are not in a hurry to buy or to sell our national interest because this is not the proper market," Mahmoud Zahar told AFP during a wide-ranging interview conducted in the living room of his Gaza City home.

Zahar derided peace talks as a waste of time, heaping scorn on Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for engaging in negotiations, and ruled out recognition of Israel.

But he also stressed Hamas has no plans to launch new attacks on the state of Israel and was instead focusing its efforts on state-building and providing an example of honest Palestinian governance.

"We are not saying 'wait,' because we are not just sitting here," he said. "We are reconstructing everything... For the first time, we are really administrating real progress in different ways, on all kinds of things.

"We are giving a good example of purified administration."

Zahar is a Hamas veteran and often considered a co-founder of the group. He was appointed its foreign minister after the group won 2006 parliamentary elections, but is now a top ideologue and frequent spokesman for Hamas.

The 2006 vote stoked long-standing tensions between Hamas and Abbas's party Fatah. Violent clashes erupted a year later and the Islamic resistance group had no option but routing Fatah and taking control of the Gaza Strip.

Hamas has been isolated ever since, with Israel placing restrictions on the passage of goods into and out of the Gaza Strip, and most of the Western world refusing to talk to the group.

It is a designated terror organisation in the United States and Europe.

Since 2006 it has focused on governing, but it has refused to amend its charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel.

"They told me... you cannot stay isolated and you are not going to survive more than two months, now we finished five years and we survived, and we stayed, and we faced two wars," Zahar said.

"So we can stay, and we can withstand, and we can win."

Zahar said Hamas drew strength from the examples of Algeria and Egypt, which were occupied for decades but eventually gained independence.

"Time is not important if you are not wasting this time," he said, adding Israel was losing international support as the Palestinians gained legitimacy.

He spoke in front of a picture of his son, who was killed in a 2008 Israeli attack, one of the few adornments in a room that doubles as a garage, complete with a parked car ready to whisk him away in case of an attack.

Many top Hamas leaders, including the group's spiritual guide Ahmed Yassin, were killed by Israel in a string of assassinations that decimated the group's senior ranks.

Zahar laid out a platform with similarities to that of Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, who is implementing a two-year plan to build infrastructure in the West Bank.

Both men describe the need for schools and roads, but Zahar rejected the comparison and accused Fayyad of begging for a nation.

"He says we are going to make the infrastructure for a state and then the international community will give us a state as a gift," he said.

"We are not beggars here... that's my right," he added. "We are the owners of this land."

Hamas rejects peace talks because negotiations have failed, he said.

"We are ready to talk to everybody, but about what? About eating falafel?"

He derided Abbas, who began direct talks with Israel in September after a hiatus of nearly two years, then pulled out shortly afterwards, when an Israeli moratorium on settlement construction expired.

Abbas refused to return to the talks unless the freeze was extended, but the United States acknowledged last week that direct negotiations were no longer possible and proposed indirect talks instead.

Zahar joked about the years of failed negotiations.

"They left no city without negotiations -- they started in Madrid, Sharm el-Sheikh many times, Wye River -- many talks," he said.

Hamas's opposition to talks is pragmatic, with the group only negotiating where there was a clear agenda, such as in the case of the ceasefire it agreed with Israel through Egypt, Zahar explained.

"But speaking just for speaking, that's not our style."

Hamas says it has adhered to the ceasefire it negotiated after Israel's 22-day war on Gaza which ended in January 2009, and Zahar said the group had no intention of violating it.

"We are here, and really we have to reconstruct what was destroyed by Israel -- houses, hospitals, schools."

He pledged Hamas would continue to "resist the occupation" but insisted resistance was more than military confrontation.

"One of the methods of resistance is to reject the occupation as an idea, one is to educate yourself and your people in their culture, one is to prepare yourself for the war if it happens.

"This," he said, "is resistance."

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