Interview with Ahmad Yousef, Hamas’ controversial political advisor

Al-Akhbar is currently going through a transitional phase whereby the English website is available for Archival purposes only. All new content will be published in Arabic on the main website (www.al-akhbar.com).

Al-Akhbar Management

Palestinian political adviser to then- Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh Ahmed Yousef delivers a speech in Gaza city on May 5, 2011. APA / Mohammed Asad

Published Monday, November 10, 2014

Now is not Hamas’ golden age, but the organization is not in the worst possible situation either. The “game of axes,” Egypt’s labeling of Gaza as a “national threat,” and mounting differences with Fatah raise questions that demand answers.

This is what Ahmad Yousef, advisor to the former prime minister in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh, will try to do.

Yousef is a Hamas leader and one of its most prominent thinkers in Gaza. He completed his postgraduate studies in the US and soon after became member of Hamas’ Shura Council, but his views were considered quite controversial at times. He is viewed as one of Hamas’ most open-minded leaders on the political scene.

The following is an edited interview of Yousef by Al-Akhbar.

Al-Akhbar: If we were to summarize Hamas’ political experience in the past eight years, where will the future lead us?

Ahmed Yousef: Part of Hamas’ governing experience, which began in June 2006, is praiseworthy, especially on the Resistance front. But there have been mistakes as well in terms of political performance and regional relations.

With its rise to power through legitimacy gained from the parliamentary elections, Hamas could have fortified itself with popular support had it succeeded in establishing a political partnership where all parties unified to confront repeated Israeli aggression and regional and international collusion. Alas, I admit that our political experience was limited and our dreams unrealistic. We didn’t take into account international players plotting against us and getting us bogged down in side battles for which we paid a heavy price in terms of our popular support.

As for the future, we will return to the people once again, but with a new understanding because we will be part of the Palestinian political system based on a logic of “partnership instead of strife.” We will strengthen our Arab and Islamic base while being open to movements that support Palestine in the West.

Al-Akhbar: As far as you know, what are the limits of Hamas’ participation in the next election?

AY: The decision inside the organization is to continue participating in the political process, and the elections represent a historic juncture. Up until now, Hamas has not determined its strategy for the next presidential and parliamentary elections. The basis for the parliamentary election is still not clear. It is expected, however, that we will support a national candidate for the presidency who embodies competence and integrity and nominate to the parliament young cadres who enjoy popular support.

We believe that Hamas has the support of no more than 30 percent of the Palestinian public, just like Fatah. This opens the door for the two parties to run on one electoral list or to try accommodating smaller parties and form a national-Islamist front with unified goals.

Al-Akhbar: Talking about a common electoral list with Fatah in light of your ongoing differences raises many questions.

AY: In the past, political competition led to severing relationships and marginalizing the other. Today, however, everybody is looking for the other to forge alliances because members of Hamas and Fatah are aware that it is not possible to exclude the other. The issue, however, is subject to the situation in Fatah and whether its electoral basis want to unite under one leadership. But Hamas realizes that it needs a national partner to preempt any blockade against it.

Al-Akhbar: Everything has a price. Going back to Fatah’s announcements, can you accept a political program based on negotiations with the Israeli occupation?

AY: As far as Hamas is concerned, we have removed all obstacles to energizing political institutions. The problem is that there are parties within the Palestinian Authority (PA) who are impeding our attempt to join institutions like the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Palestinian National Council (PNC), and the Central Council, out of fear that Hamas will monopolize the decision-making process.

The path to join these institutions is still closed to Islamist movements and some national movements, despite repeated promises and memorandums of understanding made in Cairo, Damascus, Doha and Gaza.

Regarding negotiations with the Israeli occupation, Hamas’s position is that Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), as the head of the PLO, can negotiate – but within a vision that we all agree to and that protects the rights of our people in Palestine and in the diaspora. Hamas realizes that negotiations are a central component of any political solution to the conflict. That is why this issue should not be left to one party to decide alone but should be subject to consultations.

At the same time, we realize that Israel has no vision for peace with the Palestinians and is dragging its feet to impose facts on the ground. We are not fooled by that. We do not deny that negotiations are an obligatory path that we might have to deal with, but history indicates that conflicts are not resolved through negotiations only. Righteousness always requires someone to defend it.

Al-Akhbar: After Hamas’ tactical withdrawal from the government, what are the chances of its return?

AY: Governing was an important juncture in the organization’s political culture and a tough experience because we found ourselves in the government but were not able to govern. All international dealings went through the presidency while there was an international boycott of Haniyeh’s government, except for Iran, Syria, Qatar and Turkey. Experience taught us that the situation in Palestine requires partnership, and monopolizing power under the occupation cannot be successful. On a personal level, I believe that Dr. Salam Fayyad is a figure that a majority can agree to given his independence from political parties and his acceptance by the international community, not to mention his experience in terms of governance.

Between being in or out of the government, Hamas today prefers to have a strong presence in the parliament in order to preserve our basic principles and prevent the executive authority or presidency from taking decisions that might affect the rights of our people. That is why we want to join and reform the PLO.

Al-Akhbar: Until then, what are you going to do?

AY: In light of the imbalance of power and the problems in the region, Hamas is forced to limit its presence in governing institutions. At the same time, it should focus on regaining its popular base and strengthening its Resistance capabilities while maintaining a political presence that does not push the West and Israel to apply more pressure.

Al-Akhbar: Looking at the region, how do you view the bombings in Sinai and beyond?

AY: Military operations that target the Egyptian army do not serve the stability that we aspire to in Egypt. The purpose of such operations is to spread chaos and terrorize innocent people. This violates the teachings of our religion. It is not permissible to commit massacres against forces stationed in border areas.

Hamas is ready for security and political cooperation that maintain security in Egypt, Sinai, and the border area. If it is proven that Palestinians are behind these crimes, security agencies in Gaza will not take it lightly but will rather punish any party involved.

Al-Akhbar: How can Hamas persevere in the face of the changes in the region, especially the alliances against it?

AY: Regional and international conditions are still difficult and despite the sympathy towards Palestinians after Israel’s latest attack, the Arabs are preoccupied with their conflicts. The West determined its strategy as a war on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and succeeded in mobilizing Arab and Islamic states with it. All this will take the attention of the people and the regimes away from Palestine. We realize that we are going to go through tough times. This requires that we (Islamist forces) make an effort within Palestine to mend our national relations. We will insist on the independence of Hamas’ decisions and positions and that its interests continue to be governed by principles and not regional considerations.

Al-Akhbar: That does not mean that Hamas plays no role in the region.

AY: We made a decision not to take sides because the Palestinian cause needs the support of all Arabs and Muslims. Any involvement in the politics of axes spells trouble for us. That is why will we maintain a neutral position and try our best to offer advice and counsel.

Al-Akhbar: How are relations between Hamas and the Gulf states?

AY: Unfortunately, most Gulf states shut their doors in our faces with the tragic developments of the Arab Spring. Except for Qatar, they are all hostile to Islamists because they believe they pose a threat. Saudi Arabia, which embraced Islamist movements for more than six decades, turned its back on them and mobilized against them in the East and the West in a development that stunned everyone. Qatar on the other hand, provided refuge for Hamas’ leadership and some cadres from the “Loyalty to the Free” prisoner exchange deal. It also extended a benevolent hand to Palestinians, outdoing all other nations and offered a billion dollars at the Cairo Conference.

Al-Akhbar: Did the most recent war improve Hamas’ view of Iran?

AY: As a testament to history, we fought alone supported by the steadfastness of our people in the Gaza Strip. But we admit that our brothers in Iran deserve some credit for the skills exhibited in fighting and military manufacturing. Politically, Iran was more honorable than some of the Arab states. While Arab leaders failed to support us, Hassan Nasrallah’s statements expressed support for us and praised our capabilities on the battlefield.

Regardless of political considerations and the positions of some parties, our relationship with Tehran and Hezbollah should continue to be strong. We should not forget what the Islamic revolution represents in terms of our struggle against Israel. We are in the same boat while the West, the US and Israel maliciously scheme against us.

Al-Akhbar: Then what hinders developing your relationship with Iran?

AY: The bloody war between the opposition and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria spurred Hamas to take a position that pushed it away from Iran, a strategic ally of the Palestinian cause. But we should keep in mind that Iran is a vital state with military capabilities and influence that strengthen the Muslim nation and preserve its place among nations.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

(Al-Akhbar)

Comments

Intresting

"But there have been mistakes as well in terms of political performance & regional relations
And the children keep dying.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><img><h1><h2><h3><h4><h5><h6><blockquote><span><aside>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

^ Back to Top