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Q&A with Dr Mousa Abu Marzook, the first head of the Hamas political bureau

Senior Hamas official Musa Abu-Marzouq [file photo]

Born in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, in 1951, Mousa Abu Marzook was educated in Egypt and the USA. He went on to become the first head of the Hamas political bureau. He currently lives in Cairo.

What’s your view of the recent Israeli General Election?

The election took place early due to the breakdown of the Israeli government coalition following the failed Special Forces mission in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis in November last year. The incident led to the resignation of Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did his best to maintain the coalition, but he failed.

There are clear divisions in Israeli society, reflected in the country’s politics. The election results also reflect the level of extremism among Israelis and this foreshadows the upcoming government which will be supported by Washington. The interests of Netanyahu and the current US administration are compatible regarding Iran, relations with the Arabs, Jerusalem, Palestine refugees, settlements and other issues.

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Netanyahu’s victory was clearly affected by external factors such as the US decision to recognise Israel’s annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights, the return of the body of an Israeli soldier via Moscow and the truce in Gaza.

Netanyahu is likely to form the new government; does Hamas prefer him rather than Benny Gantz because it has a kind of indirect agreement with the Israeli leader?

As a national liberation movement, we do not gamble on the ballot boxes of our enemy. However, there are political differences between Netanyahu and the alliance of generals, but we consider all of them to be enemies and we recognise that they compete in the interests of Israel and oppressing the Palestinians, mainly Hamas. The Palestinians have bitter experience regarding the building of the [Israeli] state and liberating the land through negotiations and political reconciliations. It has been a complete failure, even when the Israeli public voted for left-wing politicians, so what about today, when they lean towards extreme right wingers?

Jamal Abdul Nasser School after it was completely destroyed during Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza [Education Above All (EAA) Foundation]

Jamal Abdul Nasser School after it was completely destroyed during Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza [Education Above All (EAA) Foundation]

Gantz was the Israeli Chief of Staff during the major 2014 military offensive on Gaza, when more than 2,600 Palestinians were killed and 30 per cent of the houses of our people were destroyed. All of these Israeli politicians are criminals and have Palestinian blood on their hands. We do not bet on them or on improving the conditions of a truce; we are betting on ending the occupation, the return of the Palestinian refugees and regaining the rights of the Palestinians, using all the affordable means possible.

As Prime Minister of Israel, Netanyahu has doubled the number of illegal Jewish settlements, spending more than $3bn on them during his previous terms in office; persuaded Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided” capital; and generally worked against Palestinian interests. Does Hamas have a plan to confront his future plans, among which the annexation of the occupied West Bank is likely to be one?

The Likud [Netanyahu’s party] rejects any withdrawal from Palestinian lands and the leaders of the Israeli right wing are tending towards reinforcing settlements and annexing the whole West Bank. This stance is similar to that of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who said he would never withdraw from even an inch of Palestinian land, but in 2005 he was forced to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. As such, we will continue with our strategy based on resistance, reinforcing the internal front, concentrating on national unity, and relying on the will of our people. We will coordinate with friendly Arab states and international forums in order to undermine everything intended to strengthen the Israeli occupation.

The US “deal of the century” is likely to include most of what Netanyahu wants, mainly the annexation of the West Bank. We will challenge this. It will not succeed and will have the same end as previous failed US projects to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu has threatened to reoccupy Gaza if necessary. Is Hamas ready for this?

Israel did not withdraw from Gaza in order to say that it would return. Its occupation of Gaza was not a picnic; it will not go back easily. The government went to war against the people in Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014 without knowing what to do the next day. Netanyahu has said that he has asked several countries to run the Gaza Strip, but they have refused. He does not want to carry the burden of 2 million Palestinians and their daily needs.

Despite the presence of most of the Palestinian factions at the political, military and social levels in Gaza, Hamas remains the main movement. What about Hamas in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, regardless of the imprisoned MPs, exhausted student councils and press releases?

Hamas is the major popular faction amongst all of the Palestinians. This was very obvious on the last occasion that free and fair elections were held in the occupied territories [in 2006]. Furthermore, it is the largest faction in terms of the number of affiliates and the scope of its resources. However, we believe in partnership in political, military and social activities.

We facilitate the operations of any Palestinian faction in Gaza, even those affiliated to Fatah, and we are part of the Joint Military Room, from where all military operations are coordinated by the active factions. We are also operating as part of the National Committee for the Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege, which is composed of a wide range of Palestinian groups.

I would like to say that when we are in power, we share it amongst our brothers and we take decisions together. One of the most prominent differences between Hamas and Fatah is that the latter wants to monopolise national Palestinian decisions and exclude any faction which does not adopt its ideology. This is very clear from Fatah’s refusal to allow Hamas and Islamic Jihad to join the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), although this was agreed in 2005 — two years before the major split — or be part of the Palestinian National Council (PNC).

READ: Hamas denies forming new government in Gaza

Hamas does, of course, have a presence in the West Bank; we are there at all levels of society, but we are being subjected to a harsh war by the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli occupation. The turnout in the student elections at several Palestinian universities, including Abu Dis, was just 33 per cent after Hamas announced a boycott because it was prevented from taking a full and active part in the process.

In short, if the PA had taken its hands off the Palestinian resistance in the West Bank, Israel would have left a long time ago. In the light of the continuous security cooperation, though, the number of Jewish settlers has been increasing; compare the numbers both before and after the Oslo Accords. However, we do not give up and are trying to fight our enemy, but we are keen to stress that we will not exchange bad treatment with the PA on a tit-for-tat basis.

What does Hamas do to protect Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque and the other holy sites from Israel’s ongoing Judaisation?

Jerusalem and the protection of Islamic and Christian holy sites in the city are at the heart of Hamas’s efforts. We have plans and projects to reinforce the persistence of Jerusalemites and help them to stay in their properties and land. We always ask friendly countries to take on the same role. We also take part with other Palestinians in defending Al-Aqsa Mosque against the continuous raids and violations by Israelis. Jerusalem is the slogan of our issue and the capital of our state and there can be no peace without it.

If the extremist Zionists are exerting daily efforts to desecrate Al-Aqsa Mosque and partition it in order to build their “temple”, all of our people will stand against them and their plans.

Regarding the reconciliation with Fatah, is there anything that can still be offered in order for the leadership to shake hands with you? Or are there other forces at play behind the scenes about which Fatah can do nothing?

Hamas wants to exit the current national dilemma and we are open to any proposal whether it is based on a factional agreement or simultaneous parliamentary, presidential and PNC elections. We have shown great flexibility in this regard, offering many concessions despite having the parliamentarian and popular majority from 2006. However, Fatah puts all sorts of obstacles in the way of national unity and rejects any political partnership with the other factions of the Palestinian people.

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Let’s be clear: Mahmoud Abbas has replaced the national unity government led by Rami Hamdallah with another government without any national agreement; the decision was made by Fatah’s Central Committee, so it is without doubt a Fatah government. Nevertheless, we will deal positively with the prospective Egyptian efforts regarding reconciliation and national unity, which has become a necessity to face the challenges to the Palestinian cause.

We are embarrassed that the reconciliation efforts have not succeeded because of the inflexibility of Mahmoud Abbas. Today, unfortunately, the reconciliation is in his pocket and this is clear to the Palestinians as well as the Egyptian mediators and other regional powers. The conspiracies against the Palestinian cause are very clear so we want to be united, and ask our Arab and Islamic friends to help us.

Again, I stress that we are open to any solution that ends the division even if it needs an open reconciliation dialogue in order to make our people the arbitrators, but this would be based on the following:

  • Unity based on a national agenda, not the domination or monopoly of Palestinian decisions by any faction.
  • Adopting a national unity government with one of its main aims to be the preparation and conduction of simultaneous parliamentary, presidential and PNC elections within a set timetable, ending all the effects of the division, implementing what was agreed upon among the Palestinian factions and holding a comprehensive meeting of the PLO for it to complete its tasks stipulated in the 2011 Cairo Agreement.
  • Reaching an agreement that paves the way to a national programme which would be the basis to confront all challenges.
  • Working as part of a united Palestinian political programme.
  • Maintaining all of the Palestinian principles.
  • Partnership, without domination of the PLO, but reforming it and its institutions.

What is the nature of Hamas’s relationship with Egypt? Is it based on common interests or strategic vision?

It is an extension of the historic relationship between the Palestinians and the Egyptians. Hamas recognises the importance of Egypt in the region and its pivotal role in the Palestinian issue. We have overcome any differences and have well-developed relations. Indeed, Hamas-Egypt relations are much better than they were in the past and we are working to develop them to become strategic in order to serve the national interests of the Palestinians and the Egyptians.

READ: Hamas chief briefs Qatar Emir on latest developments with Israel

The relationship is not limited to the reconciliation issue. There are many bilateral files which are currently on the discussion agenda.

We have heard reports that Hamas’s relations with Qatar have regressed. What is the reality of the situation?

Such reports are baseless and are intended to damage Hamas’s relationship with its friends, including Qatar, which are strong at a popular and governmental level. The Palestinians, with Hamas at their heart, will not forget what Qatar has done for them. The latest, not the last, occasion was the grant by Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Qatar is the most important country in helping the Palestinians in Gaza. It offers all kinds of aid and works at all levels in the medical, social, reconstruction, infrastructure and electricity sectors.

We will always be grateful to those who help our people on any occasion. Anyone who criticises Qatar for “supporting Hamas”, should know that Qatari aid projects are run by the Qataris themselves, mainly through the chairman of Doha’s Gaza Strip Reconstruction Committee, Mohammad Al-Emadi, in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority’s ministries of housing, energy and social welfare.

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