The election victory of Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza marks a momentous sea-change for the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. It demonstrates very clearly that the Palestinian population have had enough of a failed peace process whereby the Palestinians are forced into making more and more concessions whilst the Israelis continue to hold them in a fascistic occupation, denying them of the right to move from one town to another, the right to work, the right to govern themselves, the right to live without Israeli tanks on their streets. In electing Hamas to lead the new Palestinian parliament, the people of Gaza and the West Bank have shown that they will not put up with this horrific status quo any longer. Whereas under the late Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Authority (PA) combined resistance with negotiations, under his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, the resistance part of the equation had been all but abandoned – something not to the liking of the Palestinian people. Hamas, which played a significant role, especially since the death of Arafat, in leading the armed resistance struggle to Israeli occupation, has clearly been the gainer in the elections. In voting for Hamas, the Palestinian people have not rejected the idea of reasonable compromises; they have quite correctly stressed that they will not be pushed beyond certain limits.
The reaction of Israel and its imperialist backers, liberal and conservative alike, has been a predictable chorus of horror at the ascendancy of ‘terrorists’ to the Palestinian Parliament. In response to the election result, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: “The state of Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian administration if even part of it is an armed terrorist organisation calling for the destruction of the state of Israel.” He was backed up by the US, Israel’s principal political master, with George Bush saying: “The United States does not support a political party that wants to destroy our ally Israel. People must renounce that part of their platform. A political party that articulates the destruction of Israel as part of its platform is a party with which we will not deal.”
The blow for the so-called ‘international community’ is a double-whammy: these elections had long been hyped by the imperialist press as an important step towards ‘real democracy’ and ‘reform’, the implication being that the PA under our lamented comrade Arafat had been characterised by corruption and a lack of democracy; in the event, the Palestinian people came to the ballot box to express their severe dissatisfaction with a peace process that is going nowhere, and to register their refusal to accept the increasily audacious moves being made by Israel (provocative raids in violation of ceasefires; land-grab in East Jerusalem and the West Bank; the apartheid wall; etc).
The signs thus far are that the Hamas victory will be a considerable boon for the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. Whilst stating that they are more than willing to accept the idea of a long-term truce with Israel based on a full Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders (i.e. from all of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem), they have already floated the idea of a Palestinian army based on a united front of all the armed factions. Khaled Meshal, chief political representative of Hamas, pointed out: “As long as we are under occupation then resistance is our right … [we are ready to] unify the weapons of Palestinian factions, with Palestinian consensus, and form an army like any independent state … an army that protects our people against aggression” (cited in Proletarian, February 2006).
Furthermore, Hamas have been pushing for a governmental alliance with Fatah, about which talks are currently taking place. We certainly hope that the different political groups are able to present a joint political and military front.
In the light of Hamas’ victory, Israel has announced that it will be withholding monthly tax payments (an estimated $50m) to the Palestinian Authority, and asking foreign donors to stop all payments to the PA. The US House of Representatives has voted to cut direct US aid to the Palestinian Authority unless Hamas renounces its call to destroy Israel.
Hamas has denounced such moves, correctly pointing out that they are aimed at destabilising a legitimately elected government. Even The Independent has seen through these actions, reporting on 15 February the following:
“The New York Times quoted unnamed ‘officials and diplomats’ yesterday as saying the intention was to starve the PA of money and international contacts to the extent that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, would be forced to call new elections which would return Fatah to power. The paper said the strategy was to force Hamas to choose between altering its long-held stances or face international isolation and collapse. Commenting on the report, Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas spokesman and newly elected legislator, said: ‘This is… a rejection of the democratic process, which the Americans are calling for day and night. It’s an interference and a collective punishment of our people because they practised the democratic process in a transparent and honest way'” (‘US and Israel “try to force new elections by starving Hamas”‘)
Hamas finds support elsewhere
Meanwhile, the Hamas-led government has been looking elsewhere for support, and not without success. On 09 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that: “We haven’t considered Hamas a terrorist organization. Today we must recognize that Hamas has reached power in Palestine as a result of legitimate elections and we must respect the choice of the Palestinian people.” Speaking to a news conference in Spain, he said that Russia was ready to invite Hamas to hold talks in Moscow.
Meanwhile, BBC News reported on 22 February that Iran has offered to make up the PA’s funding shortfall.
Senior Iranian security official Ali Larijani told reporters that “Khaled Meshaal’s request for assistance to enable the [Palestinian] Authority to overcome the existing problems is noted by Iran and we shall definitely help them financially … You know very well that Hamas is a genuine popular movement which has always pursued the objective of recovering the rights of the oppressed Palestinian people; but unfortunately the Americans have never paid any attention to this matter … The US decision to stop financial aid shows that they are not seeking to promote democracy in the region, contrary to their claims on the Middle East [road map] proposal.”
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have pledged $20m and $13m respectively in order to help the PA pay salaries owed to 137,000 employees. Under pressure from Condoleezza Rice to cut all funding to the PA, Saudi Prince Saud al-Faisal told her that aid would continue, based on humanitarian needs.
AP reported on 14 February that Venezuela has extended a hand of friendship to Hamas, the country’s Vice President saying that Hamas leaders would be received “with pleasure” if they were to visit Venezuela as part of a tour of South America in the wake of their election victory. “Asked if the Venezuelan government would receive the Islamic militant group, Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel told reporters: ‘Of course we will. What is the problem? If they come, with pleasure … They’ve just won an election.'”
Violations against the Palestinian people continue
Whilst denouncing Hamas as terrorists, the Israeli state continues to engage in terroristic acts against the Palestinian population, in violation of the current truce. BBC News reported on 24 February that two Palestinians in the southern Gaza strip were shot dead by Israeli soldiers, just a day after five Palestinians were killed in an extensive raid on the Balata refugee camp near Nablus. Witnesses quoted by AFP news agency said Israeli troops also opened fire on Palestinian rescue workers, wounding an ambulance driver and a nurse. Only a few days earlier, two teenage boys attending a demonstration at a checkpoint had been shot dead, when soldiers opened fire on a group of protesters throwing stones.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that Israel has effectively annexed the Jordan Valley – an area constituting roughly a third of the occupied West Bank – by barring Palestinians from entering. Writing in The Guardian of February 14, 2006, Chris McGreal reports that “B’Tselem, points to a system of permits and checkpoints that has expanded over recent months to keep most Palestinians out of the valley. It says this and other measures that are forcing residents to leave the area appear to be a step towards seizing the land for Israel.
“‘Israel’s permit regime in the valley, together with statements of senior officials, give the impression that the motive underlying Israel’s policy is not based on military-security needs, but is political: the de facto annexation of the Jordan Valley,’ said B’Tselem.”
“‘This annexation, similar to the de facto annexation of broad tracts of land west of the [West Bank] separation barrier, constitutes a flagrant breach of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.’
“Last week, Ehud Olmert, the acting prime minister, said Israel intended to keep control of the valley – even after it pulls out of other parts of the West Bank and draws new borders – as a defensive move. ‘It is impossible to abandon control of the eastern border of Israel,’ he said.
“The sparsely populated valley – home to about 53,000 Palestinians and 6,000 Israelis in 21 Jewish settlements – is among the most fertile land in the occupied territories and an important source of produce. It also used to be a main transport route linking various parts of the West Bank. But last year the army, unannounced, started restricting Palestinian access. Only those whose identity documents show they live there are permitted to remain. Several thousand workers in the settlements or in essential areas, such as teaching and healthcare, are given permits to visit during the day.
“‘The closing of the Jordan Valley has caused many Palestinians who live in villages bordering the valley and work in agriculture there to lose their source of livelihood,’ said B’Tselem.”
The Palestinian people have shown that they will not put up with such behaviour from Israel. We wish the new Palestinian government every success in leading and uniting the Palestinian people in a firm struggle against the fascist Israeli state. We reproduce below an interview given by Khaled Meshaal to the BBC, which we think the reader will find instructive.
Hamas’ political leader, Khaled Meshaal, has told the BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, that his organisation is ready to offer a long-term truce to Israel – as long as certain Palestinian rights are honoured. Here is a full transcript of the interview.
Q: Would Hamas renounce violence?
A: When countries are free and you are independent, of course democracy does not go with violence.
We would practise democracy peacefully without violence – but when there is occupation, there is no contradiction between democracy and what the West calls violence, which is in this case resistance.
Violence in independent countries is totally rejected. But when you resist occupation, resistance is legal and democracy is a mechanism to choose Palestinian leaders based on democracy and sharing of authority.
Q: So does that mean then that you are not going to change the Hamas charter as the big donor countries have requested?
A: Why doesn’t the international community ask Israel to determine its borders? Why doesn’t it ask Israel to recognise Palestinian rights? Why doesn’t the international community put pressure on Israel to implement agreements it has signed with Palestine?
Why is pressure always applied on the weak side, the one that is under occupation and suffers from killing, assassination, the building of the wall, confiscation of land and building of settlements?
Why does the international community always stand with the strong side, even though he is the aggressor, and stands against the weak, even though he is being attacked and has all the rights?
Q: Hamas has been democratically elected but Hamas is an organisation that is listed by the Americans and the EU as a terrorist group. So they will continue to put more pressure on you, we can assume, than they put on the Israelis. So what are you going to do about it? Will you want to stick with your truce or are you going to go back to attacks on Israelis?
A: This is not our problem. This is the problem of the international community and the nations that deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Hamas won an election. It acquired the legal mandate through voting and at the same time Hamas practises its right to resist the occupation.
Now the international community faces a contradiction. It considers Hamas a terror organisation and this is an unfair description of Hamas because Hamas does what the British and French did when they were up against the Nazi occupation.
Q: Here’s a situation. Imagine that after the Israeli elections, the next Israeli government says to Hamas: we’ll negotiate, we’re prepared to talk about everything. What would your answer be?
A: Previous Israeli governments had the chance to negotiate with Yasser Arafat and then with Mahmoud Abbas.
What did Israel do? Israel welcomed the coming of Mahmoud Abbas to power a year ago. In spite of that, it did not negotiate with him, didn’t take one step towards achieving Palestinian rights.
Q: Do you think the upcoming Israeli government after the elections will take a step towards Hamas and to recognise the rights of the Palestinian people?
A: When Israel says that it will recognise Palestinian rights and will withdraw from the West Bank and East Jerusalem and grant the right of return, stop settlements and recognise the rights of the Palestinians to self-determination – only then will Hamas be ready to take a serious step.
Q: Let’s get this clear – you are saying there’s no problem with a two-state solution if Israel retreats, goes back to the boundaries that existed just before the 1967 borders?
A: If Israel withdrew to the 1967 borders and recognised the rights of the Palestinian people – including the right of those in the diaspora to return to their land and to East Jerusalem and to dismantle the settlements – Hamas can then state its position and possibly give a long-term truce with Israel, as Sheikh Yassin said.
This is a position that Hamas could take but only after Israel recognises the right of the Palestinians, to show and confirm its willingness to withdraw to the 1967 borders.
Q: Hamas has talked about this truce before and Israel has answered that it would just be a breathing space while Hamas tried to gather its forces to attack the territory that Israel had between 1948 and 1967, the original part of Israel. Would this truce that you are talking about be a long-term thing or a permanent thing or just a respite in the war?
A: Truce would be long term but limited because there is a Palestinian reality that the international community must deal with. There are those kicked out of their land in 1948 – the international community must find a solution for those people.
The international community now speaks of lasting and just peace but how can we achieve such a peace if there are Palestinians who did not get their rights? There is a problem that happened to the Palestinians. They were a people that used to live on their land and did not find justice from the international community.
There are roots to the problem. But in reality, we now say that if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders there could be peace and security in the region and agreements between the sides until the international community finds a way to solve everybody’s problems and to find a way to give back the rights to the people, to end the oppression of those who used to live on their land and were forced out of it.
Q: Is there any solution that you see that would involve Palestine existing alongside the Jewish state of Israel permanently?
A: If the international community is talking about a permanent solution then it has to find out what the roots to the problem are and what the Palestinian rights are.
The search for a final solution requires us to go back to the roots of the problem and how it began. Israel doesn’t even recognise our basic rights, the international community doesn’t either.
Even when Yasser Arafat announced that he accepted a permanent solution on the 1967 borders, Israel didn’t implement it. The problem is not for a Palestinian to come and say I consider this a permanent solution and then Israel will implement everything.
Q: So if Israel changed would you change? Do you accept Israel? Would you recognise them? Would you live in peace alongside them?
A: When Israel changes, come and ask me to change.