In his first interview since the breakdown of talks between Palestinian factions, one leader of the Islamist group Hamas said progress had been made but called the newly-formed Palestinian government a step in the wrong direction in an exclusive interview with the editorial board of Al Arabiya in Dubai.
Osama Hamdan, a senior member of Hamas based in Lebanon, also refuted accusations that the group posed a threat to Egypt’s national security and asserted that any negotiations between Syria and Israel would not affect Hamas’s presence in Damascus.
Egyptian-mediated talks between Hamas and Fatah broke down earlier this week after the rivals failed to surmount their political differences on the composition and obligations of a proposed unity government.
Hamdan told Al Arabiya that “progress has been made,” but only because Hamas had chosen to compromise on internal issues.
“There have been problems in the dialogue but not to the point where objectives have become unreachable,” Hamdan said. But he called the appointment Tuesday of a new Palestinian government once again headed by Sallam Fayyad a “move in the wrong direction.”
Hamdan indirectly criticized the new Fayyad government for its links to “external forces” that he said ultimately hampers peace efforts by setting conditions for dialogue that are not to the benefit of Palestinians and their future.
“I understand that each of us (Hamas and Fatah) must set conditions to reach an agreement. National dialogue must be based on national interests of the Palestinian people, not external interests of external forces,”
These national interests include maintaining Jerusalem as the capital of Palestinian state, ending the siege and occupation and illegal settlements, Hamdan said.
Peaceful Coexistence under Palestine
Hamdan said that Israel “never wanted the two state solution from the beginning and had it wanted the two state solution it would have acknowledged the Palestinians as a people with national sovereignty.”
The Palestine Israeli conflict has always hinged on the ownership of land and who has the right to national self determination, and Hamas’s logic is simple, Hamdan said.
“The land is Palestinian land and those who rule it must be one of either two cases: a Palestinian citizen irrespective of religious affiliation, foreign citizen living according to Palestinian national law,” he added.
"There is a Jewish community that lived for centuries in Nablus and remains to this day unharmed and has not been expatriated,” he noted.
Egypt and Hamas
Hamdan denied allegations that Hamas has any link with the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah’s cell in Egypt, asserting the importance of Egypt’s national security to the stability of the whole region.
Egyptian authorities have accused the Hezbollah cell of planning to use Egypt as a base for firing rocket attacks on Israel.
“Some endeavored to implicate us in this matter and it was found that we have no link to this cell,” Hamadan said, adding that he wished that “supporting resistance in Palestine would become an Arab official stance.”
Hamdan said that Hamas’s reaction to Hezbollah’s presence in Egypt is conditional the cell’s intentions, noting that there was little concrete information available as yet.
“We are against harming Egypt’s security interests because its stability is in our interest and its instability will yield negative impact on our case,” Hamdan said
Hezbollah’s Egypt cell aside, many still wonder about Egypt’s relationship to Hamas, its brainchild and whether the two groups maintain close political ties and Hamdan sought to clarify Hamas’ position.
“We do not interfere in the internal affairs of the state and all our relations and contacts in Egypt are public and we have not heard any objections to these relations,” Hamdan stated.
Hamas in Damascus
Hamdan said that Hamas would remain in Syria regardless of future negotiations between Syria and Israel, noting that the Islamist group’s presence in relevant places is positive.
“We are engaged in every place where Palestinian people are and our leadership in Damascus is a positive link because this country (Syria) reveres the resistance movement," he explained.
"Some members of Hamas went to Damascus in the past knowing full well that there were negotiations between Israel and Syria as part of the peace process. This issue is not news to us as we clearly visit Egypt regularly, a mediator in the Palestinian national dialogue and a partner in peace with Israel.”
He said Hamas "draws a distinction" between its conflict with the occupation and its relations with Arab regimes.
"Hamas was never a burden on any one and will never be the cause of trouble to any Arab.”
Hamas and Iran
Hamdan also sought to distance the Sunni Islamist movement from Iran, denying reports that Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal had submitted a report on Gaza to Khomeni during in the aftermath of Israel’s war on Gaza.
“We have not done such a thing that is all media hype. But we welcome any support to the resistance,” he added.