NEWS

Palestinian politician Ziad Abu Amr sees pragmatism, not fear, in election winners

Ziad Abu Amr, a political science professor at Birzeit University near the West Bank city of Ramallah, is a familiar face on the Palestinian political scene. A longtime legislator with the Palestinian Authority when run by Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party, Amr once served as minister of culture during Arafat’s presidency. On January 25, he won a Gaza City seat as an independent with Hamas’s blessing and is in the running to be the new government’s foreign minister. Kathimerini last interviewed him in Athens three years ago. In this recent discussion, Amr considers the stunning Hamas parliamentary victory that will likely change the future of Palestinian politics and a long-volatile part of the Middle East. As a cosmopolitan intellectual and a former minister of culture, don’t you worry about the possibility that Hamas might propel the Islamization of the traditionally pluralistic Palestinian society, threatening the way of life and the freedom of a significant portion of citizens? It’s true that in many Arab countries there is an increase in Islamic movements at the expense of secular traditions, which reigned in previous decades. I may not like this personally, but this is reality. It is mainly a form of rejection of the existing government, which failed to deal with national, internal and social problems. In Egypt, they’re voting for the Muslim Brotherhood to punish [President Hosni] Mubarak, here they’re voting for Hamas to punish the leadership of Fatah. Hamas has never existed as a fundamentalist fanatic organization. On the contrary, they are very much pragmatists. I believe they will resist extreme measures that would endanger the way of life of this or that social group. In every case, the citizens will follow Hamas as a government and will judge them accordingly. Are you for forming a government uniting the [Hamas and Fatah] parties? Yes, and I’m working toward this solution. I’ve realized that I will participate in the government only if there is a united front, not if it is the one-party government run by Hamas. I have taken on a mediating role and we have already had a series of meetings in this very office with representatives of Hamas, Fatah and other organizations. I believe this is the wish of a large majority of the Palestinian people. However, the leadership of Fatah does not appear to agree, considering the deep programmatic differences it has with Hamas. Fatah has not arrived yet at a decision and there are many sympathies within it. My impression is that many of its officials are for cooperation, but they are bargaining hard for their piece of the government pie. As for programmatic differences, those do indeed exist, but unless one exaggerates them then no one can accept that there cannot be a coalition government through President Mahmud Abbas, who is the leader of Fatah, and in the Parliament, where Hamas has a majority. You understand that this is a logic that will take us to a constitutional crisis. In such a case, if a government of national unity is not formed, which is the ideal, then there could be the formation of a government with the participation of other organizations and technocrats. Will you become foreign minister, as it has been rumored? It has not been offered to me officially. If I take on the post, I will be foreign minister not of Hamas but of the Palestinian Authority and I will pursue a final solution to the Palestinian problem through peaceful measures. Western public opinion must understand that, with these last elections, though Hamas became part of our political system, it doesn’t represent the entire system. It wasn’t voted in because of its powerful resistance of the Israeli occupation, because Fatah also resisted. It was voted mainly because of domestic problems, because of the difference between the Palestinian Authority and the sweeping philanthropic-social activity created by Hamas. Seventy percent of voters want a peaceful solution, through negotiations with Israel. Who will control the Palestinian armed forces, Abbas or Hamas? Our constitution is clear: The president controls foreign security and the premier… controls internal security. Aren’t you afraid that, with Hamas in the government, Israel will cancel any negotiations and determine once and for all the borders of the West Bank? What has [Israel] been doing for so long? Until last year, it used as an alibi that Arafat was a «terrorist» and not an associate. But when Abu Mazen was elected president, what did we gain? I believe that Hamas will prove to be more effective with Israel; the PLO, until now, surrendered many things to Israel, without securing any kind of exchange. The point is not what Israel wants, but what the West wants, the United States and the European Union. Why does Hamas bother them and not Likud, a party of power in Israel whose articles of association talk about a «greater Israel,» presupposing the destruction of Palestinians? I heard recently that Fatah is talking about a scenario of «swift marginalization» of Hamas. They say, in other words, that if Fatah doesn’t participate in the government, Hamas will be marginalized by the international community and it won’t have money to pay the civil servants, therefore leading its government to crisis. First of all, political threats of the kind that say «either you publicly apologize to Israel or we will cut off your economic aid» is ineffectual and unethical. Let me remind you that the United States and the European Union pushed for these elections to happen in the name of democracy and now that democracy did not have the results they want, they want to punish the Palestinian people. Take note of what I say: You will be amazed at the realism and flexibility that Hamas will show as a governing majority. They understand very well what they must do to break the diplomatic «siege» and they will accomplish it. As for Fatah, the dilemma they now face after their longtime rule is historic. If if tries to sabotage the new government in every way, the Palestinian people will oblige it to pay the heaviest political price.