In early October 2005, the reformist website www.elaph.com posted an interview with Hamas leader in Gaza Dr. Mahmoud Al-Zahar, in which he extensively discussed internal Palestinian affairs and stated that Hamas would run in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, but would still keep its weapons. He added that Hamas wanted to "turn into the weapon of resistance in all the land" and that it would not permit a situation in which there was "a weapon of 'resistance' [i.e. Hamas] and [another] weapon of 'evasion and retreat' [i.e. the PA]." The interview also addressed broader issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
On November 8, 2005, in statements widely lauded as a breakthrough on Hamas' part, Al-Zahar told Israel State Radio that Hamas was not ruling out negotiating with Israel if this would serve the Palestinian interest. Subsequently, in an interview with the London Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, he denied having made this statement.
The following is a translation of the highlights of Al-Zahar's extensive October 2005 interview on www.elaph.com, and of his November 10, 2005 interview to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat:
Disarming Hamas Will Cause Civil War
Question: "Israel says that after its withdrawal from Gaza, the ball is in the Palestinian court, and it is demanding that the Palestinians dismantle the infrastructure of the armed resistance, before Israel continues to implement the 'road map' program that some Palestinians think will lead to a Palestinian state. You [in Hamas] object to being disarmed, and therefore they depict you as someone stuck in the throat of the political process who is upsetting the realization of the dream of a Palestinian state. How are you dealing with this on the popular level?"
Al-Zahar: "In [our] last meeting with [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas, he said that he didn't want to disarm the resistance. We are no longer talking about this subject, and we say for the last time that any attempt to disarm us is treason. After all, the Israeli enemy is threatening to return to the Gaza Strip; it is in the West Bank and in Jerusalem; it is threatening to expel the Arabs of 1948, and it is still keeping thousands of our people in its prisons. Doesn't all this obligate [us] to bear arms? [Even] countries without enemies maintain arms and an army to confront any danger. Hamas' army is prepared to defend the land of Palestine, and has already proven that it does not flee from conflict. Hamas' weapons achieve victories."
Question: "The Palestinian Authority is interested in confiscating your weapons, if it can. But PA officials have stated that you could defeat it if the disagreements [between Hamas and the PA] turn into armed conflict. Assuming that the PA will receive reinforcement to tip the balance in its favor, will you stick to your determination to resist disarmament even if it leads to civil war?"
Al-Zahar: "Mr. Mahmoud Abbas says that disarming Hamas will lead to civil war, and I agree with him - because confiscating the weapons of the [Hamas] movement, after all its achievements, is unjustified, even if it is done under American or Israeli pressure... Hamas members do not want to clash with their brothers in the PA, but they maintain that without their weapons, there will be a repeat of the experience of 1996 - in which the jihad fighters were imprisoned and tortured, and the Palestinian residents turned into prey in the hands of corruption, plunder, theft, and extortion, which spread throughout the PA's institutions. [Our objection] to being disarmed is not a matter [concerning only] the Palestinian factions; rather, it expresses a national stance that serves the Palestinian cause [as a whole]."
Question: The PA claims that your joining the [Palestinian] Legislative Council will require you to give up your arms and move to political activity. What is your response?"
Al-Zahar: "This claim is superficial and simplistic, because [our] weapons serve only against the enemy. It is inconceivable to demand that we give up our weapons as a condition for joining the Legislative Council... We joined the municipal council and provided a service to our people with our weapons in hand. We will join the Legislative Council and serve the Palestinian street with our weapons in hand. How we will improve our ability to serve our countrymen is a question that must be answered by us and by our men of honor who will join the council - not by the foundlings who have proposed a defeatist plan that serves the enemy for free..."
Question: "There is criticism that Hamas is a movement that creates death, and that it is responsible for the creation of the violent atmosphere prevailing in Palestinian society. What is your opinion?"
Al-Zahar: "All will attest that it is the security apparatuses and the PA who are responsible [for creating this situation]. The chaos is within the PA and the apparatuses, and it seems as if the attorney of Satan has concocted a bunch of accusations against Hamas and has spread them via the media, to the point where people have begun to believe them, or wanted to believe them. [But] the reality is different: Hamas' weapons are pure and noble, and will in no way be directed at the Palestinians..."
Question: "Let's assume that you rule the Legislative Council, and you are entitled to put together a government. Will Hamas as an organization give up its army and its arms for the sake of the public security institutions of which you will be in charge?"
Al-Zahar: "We want [Hamas] to turn into the weapon of resistance in all the land. We will not allow [a situation in which] there is a weapon of 'resistance' [i.e. of Hamas] and [another] weapon of 'evasion and retreat' [i.e. of the PA]. The weapon of the resistance defends the land and its borders and resources, and is not limited to the residents of Gaza, or the West Bank or Jerusalem."
Hamas' Mission: To Eliminate the Remnants of the Oslo Accords
Question: "One of the Palestinian movements claimed that you would refuse to run in the Legislative Council elections because they are based on the Oslo Accords. How do you defend your participation in these elections even though you are against the Oslo Accords?"
Al-Zahar: "...Legally, the Oslo Accords have been over since 1998, and in fact they ended with the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip [during the Intifada]... If there is a fear of Oslo, [Oslo] is over, and if anything of it remains, Hamas' mission upon joining the Legislative Council will be to eliminate the last remnants of it..."
Question: "You are agreeing to join the PLO. However, the PLO recognizes Israel, and is bound to it in agreements known as the Oslo Accords, which you have opposed. What will your position on this matter be if you join the PLO? Are you planning a coup in the PLO?"
Al-Zahar: "True, we want to join the PLO - but on the basis of a new program, not of the Oslo program and the agreements. [We want] a program that will enable true representation for Hamas in the PLO, not marginal representation... As for the coup, there will be a revolution in thought and in method - because right now the PLO is a dead body, and you don't carry out a coup/revolution against the dead. But we will revive this organization by means of new programs and methods."
Question: "Israel is demanding that the PA not enable you to participate in the Legislative Council elections. According to the appendix to the Oslo Accords, it is forbidden for any armed organization hostile to Israel (such as Hamas) to join the Legislative Council. What is your response to this?"
Al-Zahar: "Oslo, with all its articles, is over. If Hamas does not run in the elections, what will remain of these [elections]? Israel is not our God who must be worshipped. [Israel] left Gaza in defeat. The defeated [party] does not dictate conditions..."
We Must Cut Off Relations with Israel
Question: "Senior municipality officials who belong to Hamas have said that they are cooperating with the Israelis as part of their responsibility, and for the sake of the people. Will you back down from this position if you take over the Legislative Council and put together a government? Will you open channels of communication with Israel in accordance with the national interest?"
Al-Zahar: "The national interest demands that we not cooperate with Israel in the security, political, or economic sphere. Can we cooperate with the Zionist enemy against someone from among the Palestinian people, for example?! If so, what is the difference between us and anyone else? Is it conceivable for us to tie our weak economy to the Israeli economy - which the U.S. is helping with at least $3 billion a year - or should we link it with the economy of the Arab and Islamic peoples?... Should we buy a liter of gasoline from Israel at five shekels when we can buy it from Egypt for one shekel? The facts should lead us to cut off our relations with the Israeli enemy by all means. The question is whether to do this gradually or all at once. This will be determined according to the relationship between us and the Arab peoples. If such a direct relationship can be planned, it would be a crime to continue the relationship with Israel."
Westerners Want to Spread Abomination and Disease in the Name of Freedom
Question: "Many fear that if you control daily life, you will want to return to the experience of the Taliban in Afghanistan. How do you respond?"
Al-Zahar: "This is an Israeli [and an] American claim. The Taliban are 1,000 times more honorable than the American occupation and its collaborators - who stole the Afghan people's money and fled with it to Oman, just as the current defense minister fled to Oman. The Taliban are more honorable than Karzai, the spy whom the Americans placed at the head of the Afghan people so that he would enable corruption and falsification, and an American presence. We are not a copy of the Taliban... Among us, the percentage of educated women is higher than the percentage of educated men, and our leadership includes both men and women. We have political institutions that lead Islamic activities, and also women's organizations, student organizations, and institutions that provide services. Judge us according to what we [actually] are. Everyone must stop blaming the Taliban for things that in fact characterize the people of the West, who seek to turn the international community into a swamp of corruption and destruction, and to spread abomination and disease in the name of absolute freedom."
Christians Will Be Permitted to Join the Hamas List for the Legislative Council Elections
Question: "You announced that you would open your lists for the elections to Christians. What are you aiming at by this step?"
Al-Zahar: "The Christians have lived in this land with full civil rights, and this is Islam's approach to them. They have had full civil rights, and there is no reason that they would not be entitled to participate [in the Hamas lists] as long as [they adhere to] Hamas' platform, which includes no corruption and no encouragement of corruption, no treason, and no collaboration with the enemy. The door is open not only to Christians, but to all independent factions and individuals who agree to the platform of reforms and resistance that we espouse. This is a platform that unites all those of Palestinian identity, within the country and outside it, Christians and Muslims alike."
Question: "Does Christian participation in your lists have an international dimension, particularly in that the aid being received by the Palestinians is coming from countries whose residents are Christian?"
Al-Zahar: "We will not go begging from the West or from foreign countries by means of our lists. We are talking about a faith-based stance. We will not hold out our hand to receive projects from the West."
Question: "But you did not announce that your lists would be open to secular Palestinians. Is the Hamas movement closed to secular thought and its adherents?"
Al-Zahar: "The secularists have their own factions. If they win in the elections and accept our election platform, I think we will open our lists to them. Hamas is certainly not closed to any idea. In the end, Islamic thought will spread. Islamic culture is not the monopoly of Hamas... or of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. They are everywhere..."
Question: "Do your political plans serve the plans of Muslims worldwide to establish an Islamic state in the Palestinian territories from which Israel will withdraw?"
Al-Zahar: "Certainly. We think that Palestine... is part of the Arab and Islamic nation, and the tendency of the Arab and Islamic world is to unite the street on the basis of Islam. If Europe, which has a history rich in internal wars and various ethnic groups, has united economically, legally, and politically, why can't a nation with a single culture, language, history, and religion unite under a single flag?!"..."
Islam Will Enter Palestine and Every Home in the World; We Will Establish a Religious State that De Facto Already Exists
Question: "You write on the walls 'Hamas is Predestined by Allah!' Does this mean that you are denying the existence of all other social, political, and ideological truths on Earth only because you want exclusive existence and hegemony over all areas of Palestinian life?"
Al-Zahar: "Everything on Earth is predestined by Allah. The attempt to depict [a situation in which] only Hamas is predestined by Allah is wrong. Israel too exists on the earth by Allah's predestination. It is impossible to deny the existence of others, not even the [existence of] enemies. We are part of Allah's promise that Islam will enter Palestine and every home in the world, with a revelation of the power of Allah the Omnipotent, and a revelation of the inferiority of the infidels. Hamas is leading this plan in Gaza, the West Bank, and the 1948 territories, and the Muslim Brotherhood is leading it everywhere else. This is part of Allah's predestination. If we say that we alone are predestined by Allah, we are slandering Him."
Question: "If you join the Legislative Council and control it, will you establish a religious state? Will this state be accepted in the balance of power today? By this, aren't you confirming the Jews' claim that they have the right to establish a religious state in Palestine?"
Al-Zahar: "The Jews' state is not a religious state. The idea of Zionism is a national idea in which religious Jews are represented at a proportion of only 20%. Additionally, we must not be compared to them. In truth, we are conducting the way of life of a religious state, and [what] our constitution [sets out] in matters of marriage, divorce, interpersonal relations, and commerce is based on the Islamic Shari'a. There are even many Islamic banks worldwide. What else is necessary in order to establish a religious state that [already] exists de facto in the home, the marketplace, the clinics, the schools, and everywhere else. It is a crime to portray us as a religious state in the sense connected to medieval European thought - when the religious state allied with the feudal [nobility], and collaborated with them in order to extort the poor and unjustly distribute resources in favor of the feudal [nobility] in Europe. This is why the people abandoned European feudalism - the religious state - and its allies, and became secular. We are not secular, and our state is not a religious state according to the European model. Our religion is completely different..."
"Will We Give Homosexual and Lesbian Rights to a Minority of Emotional and Moral Perverts?"
Question: "Will you implement the concept of Islamic democracy known as the 'Shura' - a system based on divine will, and not on the will of the people as determined by democracy in its secular sense? Doesn't this mean that you are expropriating the individual's freedom of self-expression and acting in a negative way, in the name of the religion, against any Palestinian who does not accept your ideology?"
Al-Zahar: "Let's take Sweden as an example. Three months ago, Sweden permitted men to marry men and women to marry women. Are these punishments the democracy that we want? Are these the laws that the Palestinian street looks forward to? Will we give homosexual and lesbian rights to a minority of emotional and moral perverts, or [will we choose] the other law that awaits us: 'I have been commanded to judge justly between you [Koran 42:15]' and the law that says: 'Let not hatred of any people cause you not to deal justly. Deal justly, because it is the closest to fearing God [Koran 8:5].' We must choose the law we want: the law of the jungle, chaos, AIDS, and homeless people... or the law of justice and mercy that we so badly need?"
Question: "If you act in this way, don't you fear that the world will apply economic sanctions against you? What will you do then for the sake of the public? After all, the PLO is based to a large extent on grants from countries that do not want new religious regimes."
Al-Zahar: "We don't want to turn our people into a people of handout-seekers in the guise of donation recipients. Many countries live in dignity off their meager capabilities, and they are also advancing. Did China and Japan live off contributions, at the beginning of their way? A government that receives aid relinquishes its faith, and begins to serve the will of the donor. The donating hand has the advantage over the receiving hand. Our jihad-fighting people will not become a people of beggars. We have land that we can sow, and we have factories that we can operate, and we can erect others. There are investments that we can reveal transparently to the Arabs and Muslims. Based on my experience and my varied meetings, I think that if we start investing, we will not need donor states that wrest decisions from our hands in exchange for a crust of bread."
Question: "Don't you fear the results if you rule? After all, you know what Imam Muhammad Abdu said: that power corrupts."
Al-Zahar: "The Prophet ruled. Was he, Heaven forbid, corrupt?! The Righteous Caliphs [the first four rulers in Islam after the Prophet Muhammad] ruled. Were they corrupt? Muslim history will answer these things. In addition, many European countries and others rule and dispense justice. Are these countries, which are characterized by justice, corrupt?"
Al-Zahar: "I Warned the Journalist Not to Say that I Had Said We Were Willing to Negotiate"
On November 8, 2005, Al-Zahar told Israel State Radio correspondent Avi Yissacharov that Hamas was not ruling out the possibility of negotiating with Israel if it would serve the Palestinian interest - particularly, he said, on the issues of releasing prisoners, liberating lands, and rebuilding what Israel had destroyed.
The next day, however, in the London Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Al-Zahar said: "I told Israel Radio in English the following: 'We have no intention of negotiating. As far as we are concerned, negotiation is a means. If this means will liberate our lands and free our detainees in Israel, and rebuild what the Israeli occupation has destroyed over many years, then we will be able to support a program of negotiations.'"
Al-Zahar stressed further that Hamas had no negotiation plan: "In what capacity should we negotiate? After all, we are not the regime. After the failed attempt of the PA, that over the past 12 years has chosen negotiations as a strategic option, we don't want to repeat [this] experience. The Israelis do not intend to respond to the demands of the Palestinian people, and proof of this is the cancellation of the past two meetings between Sharon and Abu Mazen."
Al-Zahar again clarified that his statements on negotiating were made "when I gave an assessment regarding the experience of negotiating, when I was asked whether Hamas was willing to negotiate, and I warned the journalist not to say that I had said that we were willing to negotiate."