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July 7, 2015 Special Dispatch No. 6096

'Abbas In Interview: Hamas Dragged The Palestinians Into A War With Israel In Summer 2014; Now It Is Conducting Direct Talks With Israel

July 7, 2015
Palestine | Special Dispatch No. 6096

On June 18, 2015, the Egyptian daily Roz Al-Youssef published an interview with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud 'Abbas, in which he explained that in the absence of a political solution, the PA is currently operating on two levels - appealing to the International Criminal Court (ICC), and reexamining existing agreements with Israel. Accusing Hamas of not living up to its agreements with the PA and of disrupting attempts to establish a unity government, rebuild Gaza, and set a date for elections in the PA, he said that it is also responsible for last summer's Israel-Gaza war lasting as long as it did, and for the resulting heavy Palestinian toll in life and property.

Claiming that Hamas is conducting security coordination with Israel, 'Abbas said that it is also in direct talks with Israel to establish a state in Gaza, and that the preparations for these talks were made during the era of deposed Egyptian president Muhammad Mursi. He added that he has no intention of calling for elections now because it would lead to the West Bank being severed from the Gaza Strip.

The following are excerpts from 'Abbas's interview:[1]

Since Negotiations Have Yielded Nothing, We Pursue Two Other Options: Reexamining Agreements With Israel, Appealing To The ICC

Q: "What is happening with the appeal to the International Criminal Court?"

A: "After becoming an observer member [i.e. non-member observer state] of the U.N., we were able to join 522 international organizations. We always used to tell the Israelis and the Americans, with full honesty, that we would eventually apply [for membership in] international organizations. They said to us, 'Be patient, [wait] a little longer,' and we replied, 'How much longer? We are willing to wait a week, two weeks, three weeks, or even a month for some kind of response, but we flatly refuse to wait any longer than that.'

"On April 1, 2014, the deadline for the negotiations between us and the Israelis, which ended without any results [after Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu refused to release [Palestinian] prisoners [incarcerated since] before 1993 as we had agreed - [on that day] we said to them, for the first time, that the next day we planned to sign [applications to join] several international organizations and treaties, and we did. We signed [applications to join] 20 organizations, and persisted on our path. The second time was on December 30, 2014, when we said to the Americans: 'You did not succeed in obtaining justice for us, and the negotiations failed, so we will appeal to the [UN] Security Council. [The Americans] spared no effort in thwarting our Security Council bid, and we obtained [only] eight votes, after they succeeded in [getting] Nigeria to change its vote at the last moment and vote [against] us in the Security Council. [But] we did not give up, and the next day, December 31, I consulted with the central [PLO and PA] leadership, and we decided to appeal to the International Criminal Court [ICC]."

Q: "How did you prepare for this?"

A: "It requires a great effort on our part... The ICC is supposed to investigate two issues for us: first, the attacks on the Gaza Strip, especially the recent ones [i.e. in the summer of 2014], and, second, the issue of the settlements. We have begun to prepare these two issues. We are currently in the final phase on two matters, namely the ICC appeal, and [the matter of] reexamining all the agreements [that we signed] with the Israeli side, because they have violated all the agreements signed since the Oslo Accords. We are ready to submit our ICC appeal at any moment. Our foreign minister is conducting visits there to arrange the matter, and we have no problem. At one point, the Israelis said to us, 'Do not appeal to the ICC during our [Knesset] elections.' Then they said, 'Don't do it while we are still forming a new government'..."

Q: "So what will happen after the political solution [is shelved], with no other [solution in sight]?"

A: "It is true that at the moment, there is no political solution, but we are working on other issues, as I said before, namely the ICC [appeal] and the reexamination of our agreements with the Israeli side, such as the Paris Agreement, which discriminates against us.[Despite the agreement,] the Israelis are delaying, withholding and looting the funds of the [Palestinian] Authority. In the past, they postponed [handing over the funds] for four months, and I said to them, 'Do as you wish, we will not change our minds.' After they did it again, [and even] deducted[some of it, I said that,] despite our diplomatic flexibility and our moderateness, we are adamant about our fundamental cause - namely the cause of the Palestinian people and all matters pertaining to it, as approved in 1988 when [we] declared independenceand took political resolutions to which I remain committed, as long as the [Palestinian] National Council has not changed them..."

If It Weren't For Hamas' Stubbornness During The 2014 Gaza War, Over 2,000 Palestinian Lives Could Have Been Saved

Q: "According to some reports, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter intervened [in an attempt] to get you to sign a 'Mecca II agreement,' similar to the Mecca I agreement [between the PA and Hamas].[2] What is your position [on that], and what is happening with the Palestinian reconciliation process?"

A: "Let's start by going back. On April 1, 2014, I dispatched a delegation to Gaza to reach a reconciliation agreement or to refresh the agreements signed in Doha and later in Cairo[with Hamas], and to assess the extent of Hamas' commitment to what had been agreed upon by all [sides]. They said that they agreed to [arrive at] reconciliation by forming a national accord government of independent technocrats and, later, holding elections. We started to form this government, in agreement with [Hamas]... They submitted [candidates'] names, but they were names [of figures] associated with [Hamas, rather than independents]. We told them to submit names of independent figures, as we had agreed [regarding] the makeup of the government.

"On June 2, 2014, we formed a government, and on June 12, they [Hamas] kidnapped three Israelis. I asked them, 'Did you do this?' and they said, 'No, we knew nothing [about it],' or, as [Hamas political bureau head Khaled] Mash'al was quoted as saying, 'I know nothing at all.'  Netanyahu called me every day, saying, 'Hamas did this,' and I kept telling him, 'According to what Mash'al tells me, it wasn't them.' Then suddenly a Hamas member in Istanbul, Salah Al-'Arouri, shows up and says at a press conference, 'We kidnapped the three Israelis and killed them to set off a new intifada in the West Bank and Gaza and among the 1948 Arabs.'

"I said to Khaled Mash'al, 'How could this happen?' He had sworn by Allah that he knew nothing. I said to him, 'The one who said this at the press conference is a member of your political bureau, the [Hamas] movement's political bureau.' Then everything went awry and we entered a war [with Israel] in the Gaza Strip."

Q: "Did you intervene [in an attempt] to stop this war?"

A: "What could I do? I called [Egyptian] President ['Abd Al-Fattah] Al-Sisi and said to him: 'We ask you to submit an initiative to stop this war,' and he said to me, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'There's no choice but for the initiative to come from you, because your [country] borders [Gaza], so it's a matter of [Egyptian] national security, and you are Egypt, [i.e. a respectable country]. He replied, 'I'll propose an initiative for your sake and for the sake of the Palestinian people.'

"But Hamas rejected the initiative, and continued the war while escalating its demands. When the [Egyptian] initiative was first brought up, we had [only] 50 martyrs. During the war, I went to Egypt twice, and to Turkey and Qatar... but to no avail. Fifty days into the war, we had 2,200 martyrs, tens of thousands of wounded, and 80,000homes that had sustained some degree of damage, yet Hamas continued to reiterate, 'We will not agree [to a hudna] unless [they let us] build a seaport and an airport.' [I said to them], 'What I care about is saving lives, because to me, saving a single child is more important than the seaport and airport you are demanding.' But they did not listen and did not heed these calls.

"It is also very important to note that 93 families were completely wiped off the civil registry, because each and every one of their members was killed in this war into which Hamas dragged us - grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, children and grandchildren, all of them killed! And who is responsible for this? On the 50th day of the war, Fatah commander 'Azzam Al-Ahmad sent me a note saying, 'I ask you to declare an unconditional ceasefire, for who will be responsible for the blood spilled?' I declared a ceasefire out of a desire to prevent further killing and an even higher [death] toll. 

"We set out for Cairo, to the Gaza Restoration Conference. [Gaza was to be rebuilt]with the help of the donor countriesthat had approved $5 billion [in aid]provided that this aid would be transferred [to Gaza]via the PA and not via Hamas. UN representative Robert Serry and [Hamas senior official] Moussa Abu Marzouq agreed that the PA would be on the border, receive the food, and deliver it to the UN, and that they would carry out the mission of [re]construction [in Gaza]. That is what we agreed, but a week later, this agreement was halted, and they [i.e. Hamas] did not even permit the implementation of the first section [of the agreement] thatHamas had agreed with the UN...

"I said that there was no choice but to hold elections within six months, as had been decided, but Hamas strong-armed this section [of the agreement] as well, and had no intention to hold [elections] or to [establish] a government. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, there are no elections, and the [donor]countries will not transfer funds - the situation is stagnating. Enter [Jimmy] Carter."

Q: "What did he tell you?"

A: "He told me that he had been to Saudi Arabia and met with King Salman [regarding a] 'Mecca II' [agreement] and that the Saudi king had said to him: 'If both sides agree, we will welcome it.' Carter presented this to me, and I explained that King Salman had said 'if both sides agree.' [I] stressed that in no way would I ask for a 'Mecca II,' saying: 'We've had enough of Mecca II and III and Geneva III and IV. What use have we for all these? We have a signed agreement [with Hamas] that we must strive to carry out, namely the Cairo reconciliation agreement.' Carter responded: 'What do you want?' I said: 'I want a document from Khaled Mash'al or Isma'il Haniya that approves [PA] elections within three to four months from today.' And he [Carter] left and did not return..."

Hamas Robs The People Of Gaza In The Guise Of Collecting Taxes, Refuses To Hold Elections

Q: "In that case, Hamas has begun to lose its allies, as Syria did. So who is funding it now?"

A: "Iran and Turkey are among Hamas's allies, and it is also funded by several Arab and Islamic countries and by the heavy taxes [it collects]... the latest of which is the 'mutual assurance tax.'We [all] know that half of the PA's budget goes to the Gaza Strip, to the education, healthcare, electrical, and water sectors, and that each month [these sums] are deducted from [our budget]for the sake of the Gaza Strip [Despite this], Hamas imposes taxes [on the Gaza residents]. In other words, it robs [them] in the guise of [collecting] taxes, and says to them: pay [the taxes] or get out [of Gaza]. I say to you that, had Hamas had opened the [border] crossing, no one would have remained in Gaza, and proof of this is that the crossing was opened after the [Israel-Gaza] war and thousands of people paid thousands [of dollars] to leave the Gaza Strip and died on the open sea."[3]

Q: "In light of this stagnation on the issue of reconciliation, do you intend to issue a statement regarding the date of elections?"

A: "I cannot declare elections, because it would mean severing the Gaza Strip from the West Bank. I do not want that. I only want a whole homeland that includes Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. I know that they [Hamas]have hijacked the Gaza Strip, but I will not declare elections that divide the state of Palestine and will never claim responsibility for it."

Q: "Is ISIS present in Gaza?"

A: "The Gaza Strip has many varieties [of groups] because the door there is open to Salafis, jihadis, [and] the Muslim Brotherhood, and to others. I do not know whether ISIS is there or not, but we mustn't discount the possibility - that is, there is nothing preventing ISIS from being in the Gaza Strip..."

Hamas Is Conducting Security Coordination, Direct Talks With Israel

Q: "Hamas repeatedly states that it does not recognize the Jewish state and that it does not coordinate with it; it even accuses those who have ties with it of treason. However, some statements affirm ties between Hamas and the occupation. How do you explain this?"

A: "Of course there is security coordination on the border between Hamas and the Israeli occupation. There is a stretch of 50-60 meters beyond the border that acts as a route along which both sides move freely, in accordance with the agreement [signed during the term of] ousted [Egyptian] president Muhammad Mursi... which included sections mentioning Israel's opposition to terrorist attacks, [and] which was approved by Hamas under the aegis of the Mursi regime. [This agreement] was not rescinded despite the war in the Gaza Strip. Now there are direct talks between Hamas and the Israelis regarding the establishment of a Gaza state [by] Hamas, the preparations for which began during the Muslim Brotherhood [i.e. Mursi] regime. Members [of the MB] said to me back then, 'We want to grant our beloved (meaning Hamas) several kilometers in the Sinai' and I told them at the time that I would never demand an inch of Egypt and stressed, 'Egyptian land for Egyptians and Palestinian land for Palestinians.'"

Egypt's Anti-Mursi Revolution Was "A Miracle By Any Standard"

Q: "What do you think Egypt would have looked like had the MB regime there remained [in power]?"

A: "...As President Al-Sisi said in his recent meeting with [German] Chancellor [Angela] Merkel - if the MB regime had continued, Egypt would have required aid flown in on planes. And I say that what happened on June 30, 2013 [the protest calling for Mursi's ouster] was a miracle by any standard.

"I went to Egypt on July 7 [2013], after the revolution, and I know the exact details. The ousted president was asked three times - even before the protests - to tone down his views, but he ignored the fermentation on the Egyptian street. Later I met with the interim president, 'Adly Mansour, and Mohammad ElBaradei, and told them my honest opinion, albeit behind closed doors. Later I stated that the Egyptian people had performed a divine miracle... 30 million people protested and I was not sure it would have a result. Then Al-Sisi emerged and was heroic and put his life on the line, since there was a possibility that he would be arrested or killed with a single word. But, Allah be praised, Allah's will was done and Egypt survived it in the best possible way, and when [Egypt] is well, we are all well. At the time, I told the late Saudi King 'Abdallah: 'What President Al-Sisi has done saved you and us' and he replied: 'True'..."

Q: "How can you explain Germany's recent attack on the death sentences [handed down for MB members]?

A: "Several U.S. states have the death penalty, as do many countries. The Egyptian legal system is honorable and 100% independent. When it rules, its decision is pure. Our legal system also has the death penalty, and the decision on [whether to hand it down] comes to me, since I am the legitimate PA president. Even though I usually do not approve it, this does not mean that I have abolished the death penalty."

 

Endnotes:


[1] Daily.rosaelyoussef.com, June 18, 2015.

[2] The Mecca Agreement, signed February 8, 2007 between Fatah and Hamas, called for forming a national unity government and ending the internal power struggles that had been ongoing in the PA since 2005.

[3] According to reports, a boat carrying hundreds of Gazans sank in September 2014 off the coast of Malta. Amad.ps, September 18, 2014, Almonitor.com, September 19, 2014.

 

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