Friday, March 27, 2009

Interview with Huda Naim, a leader of Hamas in Gaza

photo of Huda Naim by Felice Gelman

The following is an article written by Felice Gelman in her blog "Gaza Views." She is reporting on a meeting that the Code Pink delegation had with a leader of Hamas in Gaza during its visit there in the middle of March.

I could hardly claim to be an expert on Hamas, but, since the U.S. has decided to have no contact with them (and therefore know nothing about them), here is an addition to the little information we have.

We met with Huda Naim, a woman who is a member of the Palestinian Parliament, for Hamas. Her responsibilities in Gaza include sitting on the government’s committee for human rights. She understands English well, but spoke to us in Arabic – translated for us by an Egyptian American member of our delegation.

She has five children, and a master’s degree in social work. She became involved in politics initially through the student unions at the university, and then founded a public relations firm.

Everything that follows is a paraphrase of her narrative.

Hamas initially was organized to provide the social services that were sadly lacking for the Palestinian people, and is the Palestinian version of the Muslim Brotherhood. In 1987, it declared itself a resistance movement to the Israeli occupation and broadened its activities beyond social services. After the signing of the Oslo accords Hamas decided it had to place more emphasis on political activities in order to participate in the nascent Palestinian Authority. The main reason for this was that, outside the government, Hamas was unable to stop negotiations that were leading to the loss of more and more Palestinian land.

Hamas is not against negotiations in principle, but rejects the current form of negotiations. Hamas sees the “peace process” as just a vehicle for the erosion of Palestinian rights and lands. They believe there is now nothing left for a viable two state solution.

Hamas also felt it had to become involved in politics because the internal corruption and cronyism of the Palestinian Authority was beyond redemption.

It had boycotted the 1996 parliamentary elections, and had no other opportunities for political office because all municipal positions were appointed until 2005. In the 2005 elections, all the political parties agreed to establish a quota for women’s seats in order to insure women’s participation in the government. For these elections, the country was divided into three regions, with elections held in one region at a time. In the first regional election, Hamas women won more than 90% of the seats in the women’s quota, and Hamas men won a large majority of the seats as well. This was a complete surprise to the Fatah Party, who controlled the Palestinian Authority. They were so surprised, they simply seated the winners. When the regional election was held for the second district, the same thing happened. The Palestinian Authority challenged the results, and there has been no resolution of those challenges. In the face of Hamas’ popularity, the regional elections for the third district were never held.
The U.S. had urged the Palestinian Authority to hold new parliamentary elections. When the results were announced – that Hamas had won the majority of the vote in fair, democratic elections – the U.S. cut off relations on the night of the announcement. There were no talks with Hamas, no discussions about what Hamas would do in the government. Hamas was both surprised and hurt by this reaction. They do not believe they have posed any opposition to U.S. policies other than their opposition to Israel’s occupation of Palestine. They were equally shocked that Europe simply followed in the U.S. footsteps.

Hamas has repeatedly tried to open negotiations with the West and sees itself as a moderate Islamic party that can interpose itself between the West and the radical Islamists. It sees itself as a moderate, tolerant party. Hamas has done nothing to impose Sharia, or to interfere with the rights of others.

Asked about the shooting and killing of Fatah members after the takeover she pointed out that, once Hamas took power, the Palestinian Authority ordered all its security personnel to stay home and not report to work. Hamas was forced to deploy a police force very quickly, with inadequate training. They have been working on training and improving that police force ever since. She also agreed that Hamas has its extremists, but that it is very difficult to stop them without showing some tangible benefit for abstaining from extremism.

She said that the youth of Gaza are deeply depressed and bitter. They do not believe they have any prospects for a normal life. We can do without food, she said, but the loss of an entire generation is terrible.

Hamas is working hard for a unity government because it is needed to keep Fatah from completely surrendering all the interests of Palestinians, but believes the Quartet has stopped the formation of such a government by demanding that Hamas specifically recognize Israel. Hamas has agreed to a long term truce, to accept all previous agreements and to accept a state based on the 1967 borders, but this is not enough for the U.S. and its allies. She said that this is not possible politically for Hamas. She likened it to demanding Netanyahu recognize Hamas before beginning any talks.

Asked about the Hamas charter and whether it wanted to destroy Israel, she said you must distinguish between our charter and our actions. Our actions have always been pragmatic and supported a resolution within the 1967 borders.

Asked about suicide bombers, she responded that it is not right to isolate this issue. Israelis have been attacking and killing Palestinians for 60 years, and after the Oslo accords these attacks simply increased.

Asked about her views on the new U.S. government, she said she has some hopes for Obama, but believes Hillary Clinton will remain an obstacle to peace.

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