The head of Hamas in the Palestinian diaspora has told Quds Press that the movement is working to harness the capacity of all of the people of Palestine in order to serve the country’s national project. “Our doors and institutions are open to all our fellow Palestinians,” insisted Maher Salah in a wide-ranging interview, “regardless of their gender, religion and affiliation.”
Salah pointed out that the current situation in Gaza, where Hamas is the de facto ruling party, suggests that the truce is on its way to be implemented fully. “We have reached understandings following specific dates and procedures. In my opinion, things are going to be quiet in the future. Maintaining calm does not mean that we are sitting back and relaxing, though.” The truce is being sponsored by Egypt and is based mainly on the ceasefire agreed at the end of the Israeli military offensive against the Gaza Strip in 2014.
The senior official believes that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip had to be creative to come up with new tactics to force Israel to give serious consideration to the need to separate the political situation in the territory from the humanitarian catastrophe affecting its two million residents. Hence, the Great March of Return protests on the nominal border with Israel.
“The protests have put pressure on the occupation authorities to take steps to improve conditions for the Palestinians in Gaza,” he explained. “At that point, the UN moved to allow those Arab countries willing to give a hand to our people in the Strip to provide help.”
Several years have passed by since Israel’s last major offensive against Gaza, said Salah, and the Israeli-led siege on the coastal enclave has been maintained. “No one has taken action to break it and to provide the bare necessities for our people in Gaza so that they can live with dignity. The situation has become increasingly difficult due to vengeful measures undertaken by the authorities.” The protests were the agreed response.
Since 30 March, Palestinians have been taking part in peaceful marches near the border to demand that their legitimate right of return to their land should be recognised and accepted by the occupation authorities. Almost three-quarters of a million Palestinians were driven out of their homes by the nascent state of Israel in 1948 and its policies ever since have continued with this ethnic cleansing. An end to the siege of Gaza is also demanded by the protesters.
In response, Israeli snipers have shot and killed around 250 Palestinian men, women and children. A further 22,000 have been wounded, many of them seriously. Apart from live ammunition, the Israelis have fired tear gas and what doctors in Gaza’s main hospital have called “toxic” gas at protesters.
Despite the obvious disparity in terms of casualties and the asymmetric nature of the conflict, last week the US tried to push a resolution through the UN General Assembly condemning the Palestinian resistance groups in Gaza, especially Hamas, but making no mention of Israeli offensives against the Palestinians. The draft resolution failed to get the required two-thirds majority to be adopted.
“The US mobilised all its resources and capabilities to exert pressure at the UN in order to pass the resolution, yet it failed to do so,” noted Salah. “America drafted a deceitful resolution and tried to get UN approval for it. Likewise, we see the Israeli occupation authorities — which have never complied with any UN resolutions — trying to exploit the UN platform in order to pass a resolution that actually treats international and humanitarian law with contempt.”
He stressed that the Arab and Islamic action against the resolution was successful, despite it being promoted by the US and Israel jointly. “Hamas gave the impetus to counteract the US draft by the intensive talks undertaken by Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the movement’s political bureau, and other competent parties which were effective on a diplomatic level in Arab and Muslim states as well as around the world.”
Kuwait’s efforts to ensure that a two-third rather than simple majority would be required for the resolution to be adopted was especially worthy of thanks, Salah pointed out. “Such efforts continued Kuwait’s esteemed support, as did Iran’s intervention that was clear and strong in defending the right of the Palestinians to resist the Israeli occupation.”
In response to a question about Riyadh’s position and the speech of Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN, the senior official answered: “The Saudi position in voting against the draft resolution was no surprise to us. On the contrary, such a position summarises the history of Saudi Arabia.” However, he added, Hamas was surprised by the statements of the Saudi ambassador who criticised the missiles fired by resistance groups, which is a misplaced criticism. “Any statements that criminalise the resistance and give the Israelis justifications for continuing their attacks on the Palestinians are unacceptable.”
Maher Salah praised the stance taken by the Permanent Observer of the Palestinian Authority to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, and described Mansour’s position, which Fatah and the Palestinian Authority share, as an excellent patriotic stance. “This confirms that once our people are united, no one can dictate the fate of the Palestinians.” He called for this position to be a model for solidarity as Palestinians. “The Palestinian resistance is the PA’s source of power, while the Authority’s political savoir faire and its legitimacy is the protector of the resistance.”
He went on to mention some examples of Hamas’ firm commitment to consolidate Palestine’s national unity: “Hamas has recently presented an exemplary model for inclusive national action. I am talking here about the joint operations room [JOR] that was formed in Gaza during the recent escalation when Israeli Special Forces infiltrated the territory. The JOR united 13 Palestinian resistance factions. Our movement also provided a commendable example during the national reconciliation meetings in Cairo by insisting on the presence of all Palestinian factions, especially those based in Lebanon and Syria.”
As far as Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” is concerned, the head of Hamas in the diaspora said that those who have prepared it have not estimated things accurately. “They thought that the current Arab and Islamic political and social environment would allow the deal to pass with little opposition. Experience has shown that this will not be the case.”
Those working on the deal, he warned, have resorted to applying it without any official declaration of its terms, and implementing it without even having any formal understandings with any parties. “I do not underestimate the threat posed by this so-called deal, even though the project is still under development to be imposed and implemented.”
Praising the proposal to hold a conference in Jordan this month in support of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque, Salah described it as a “great and cooperative” effort, under which all aspire to see strong and clear decisions and positions declared. It is especially, important, he added, that the event is under the auspices of the Hashemite Kingdom with royal patronage.
There are common issues between the Kingdom and Hamas, and the movement’s positions on the issues affecting Jordan are clear, insisted Salah. “These start with the ‘alternative homeland’ issue but do not end with the ‘deal of the century’. For Hamas, there are two main issues affecting both the Palestinians and Jordan: Jerusalem and the refugees.” For this reason, he stressed, there is a need for Jordan and Hamas to work together to deal with the issues. “I believe that our Jordanian brothers’ conviction that this is important has been developed.”
The Jordanian Minister of Religious Endowments, Abdul Nasser Musa Abu Al-Basal, announced that his ministry has completed most of the preparations for hosting the conference, in cooperation with the Palestinian Committee in the Kingdom’s House of Representatives. “The Road to Jerusalem: A Call to the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque” will be held under the auspices of King Abdullah II on 20 December. More than 1,000 participants from around the world are expected to attend.
Abu Al-Basel also revealed that the conference aims to “boost Islamic scholars’ endeavours in light of the negligence of Al-Aqsa Mosque, reject any differences and pave the way for permanent attention to the issue of the first Qibla [direction of prayer for Muslims] and the third holiest mosque in Islam.”
The minister stressed that the Conference will not be a research or scientific event. “It will be an opportunity to hear the vision of the Jerusalemites and royal directives. In addition, it will put forward projects to be discussed, adopted and supported. We have 28 such projects for adoption.”
When Quds Press asked about the situation of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, the Hamas official with responsibilities overseas said that Beirut’s handling of this issue must be politically and humanely sound. “This requires that refugees in Lebanon must be allowed to live a decent life, and not to be deprived of employment, property ownership, permission to leave and enter the country, and all the other requirements of a civil existence.”
The liberation of Palestine and return of the refugees is an Arab, Islamic and global responsibility, he added. “In our contacts with the Lebanese government and political forces, therefore, we say that the Palestinian people are guests in your country who are willing to return to their homeland.” Salah asserted that the Palestinians living in other countries are people who have been displaced from their homeland, which they have not forgotten, nor will they ever do so.
“As such,” the Hamas official concluded, “any country where Palestinian refugees are living should not be afraid of the idea of resettlement. The host countries should rather help in liberating Palestine and facilitating the refugees’ return to their homeland.”
This interview first appeared in Arabic in Quds Press on 12 December 2018