Debate on Hamas issues
- Ali Abunimah and Michael Oren debate the Hamas issues on PBS
GWEN IFILL: Nearly a month after claiming an upset victory in the
Palestinian parliamentary elections, Hamas leaders today presented
their new prime minister. He is 46-year-old Ismail Haniyeh, and he
will have five weeks to assemble a new government.
Hamas, also known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, has been labeled
a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European
Union. Israel has demanded that Hamas renounce violence, recognize the
Jewish state and abide by previously negotiated agreements. But the
fissure between the new Hamas government and Israel has only deepened.
MAMOUD ZAHAR: We are not here to satisfy Israel or others. We are here
addressing how to reconstruct our infrastructural basis according to
our national demands, not according to the Israeli demands.
GWEN IFILL: Over the weekend, the Israeli cabinet agreed to freeze the
transfer of about $55 million in tax and customs receipts to the
debt-ridden Palestinian Authority.
Haniyeh today accused Israel of trying to starve innocent people by
taking money from our taxes.
Hamas leaders continue to defend a charter that calls for the
destruction of Israel, and the newly elected government has vowed to
turn to other Arab nations for support.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah Party was defeated in
the elections, has emerged as the go-between. He addressed the new
parliament on Saturday.
MAHMOUD ABBAS (Translated): I would like to remind the members of the
new parliament and the new government of the necessity of respecting
all signed agreements and working according the national interests to
end the armed anarchy. As they all contribute now in the structure of
the national authority and all of its constitutions, they have to
adhere all to one weapon, the legitimate weapon.
GWEN IFILL: In Israel, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has already
cut off all contact with the new Hamas-controlled government.
EHUD OLMERT (Translated): Israel will not negotiate with regimes that
Hamas has a decisive part in, whether big or small. As we said after
the elections in the Palestinian Authority, by the end of the period
of the transitional Palestinian government, Israel will immediately
put a halt on the transfer of money to the Palestinian Authority.
GWEN IFILL: The Palestinians rely on money funneled through Israel to
pay 140,000 employees, about half of them security forces.
On Friday, the United States demanded the return of $50 million in
special aid sent to the Palestinians.
Amid the politics, scattered violence continued, including the killing
of a top Islamic Jihad commander on the West Bank today.
GWEN IFILL: So what are the implications for the Palestinians and
Israelis of Hamas' now official rise to power? For that, we get two
views. Michael Oren is a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, a
Jerusalem-based policy research organization. He's a visiting scholar
at Yale and Harvard and the author of "Six Days of War: A history of
the 1967 MidEast War." Ali Abunimah writes about the Middle East and
Arab-American affairs for newspapers in the United States and abroad.
He's also co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, a web site about
Palestinian affairs and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Mr. Abunimah, what can you tell us about Ismail Haniyeh?
ALI ABUNIMAH: Well, he, like the other senior Hamas leaders, like
Khaled Meshaal and Mahmoud Zahar, have in recent weeks been stating a
position which is very, very different from the one being emphasized
They've stated that they're willing to come to terms with Israel if
Israel is willing to withdraw up to the 1967 borders and end totally
the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. And I
think they've made a concerted effort to show a very moderate face to
the world and, most significantly, I think in terms of Israeli
interests, they have maintained the 12-month-old truce that has spared
Israelis a drastically reduced number of Israelis killed and injured
in the conflict.
Unfortunately, there's been no reciprocation from the other side, but
so far I think Hamas plans to maintain that position.
GWEN IFILL: You make it sound like the new prime minister is pretty
much a moderate figure.
ALI ABUNIMAH: Well, if you look at the statements that the top Hamas
leaders have made, Khaled Meshaal, who is perhaps the most senior,
told the BBC last week that Hamas would end the armed struggle if
Israel were to commit to withdrawing completely from the West Bank,
Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
But last week Ehud Olmert stated that Israel plans to annex the Jordan
Valley and most of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, so we're
in a situation now where Hamas is offering Israel a major territorial
compromise that Israel doesn't seem interested in exploring.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Oren, what do you make of that?
MICHAEL OREN: I think I'm going to have to disagree with that. Khaled
Meshaal may be making moderate statements to the BBC, but what he's
telling his own people in Arabic is very, very different.
He was in Tehran today with Ayatollah Khaminei praising terror and
swearing to carry on the terror war to the end of Israel's destruction.
By the same token, Haniyeh, the new prime minister, also makes
moderate -- seemingly moderate statements to the West about observing
a cease-fire for a limited period of time but in terms of Hamas' own
internal rhetoric in the West Bank, in Gaza, it's the war on terror
not only for the destruction of Israel but for the annihilation of the
GWEN IFILL: So, pardon me, are you suggesting that there is no such
thing as a moderate as long as that person is a member of Hamas?
MICHAEL OREN: I think that Hamas is capable of putting on a moderate
face to achieve limited political objectives, perhaps the renewal of
European and American aid to the Palestinian Authority.
But ultimately we are talking not about a political movement. We are
talking about a theology. And it's not a matter of just changing this
part of their platform or that part of their platform. They believe
that this is the will of God. And it is stated in their covenant. And
their covenant is talking not just about continuing terror to destroy
Israel. It's talking about annihilating the Jewish people. It's a
And this week in Israel, for example, Israelis were horrified to see a
program produced by Hamas that showed two Hamas soon-to-be martyr
suicide bombers who were sharing a cup of what they claimed was Jewish
blood and praising the glories of drinking this blood.
This is the Hamas that Israelis are seeing and, therefore, when Ehud
Olmert is withholding tax money, freezing it -- not spending it but
freezing it -- I think that's the least that the Israeli government
can respond to this genocidal platform.
GWEN IFILL: So, Mr. Abunimah, when Israelis see these sorts of
episodes and the Israeli cabinet decides they're going to freeze these
transfers of payments, money that goes through Israeli to the
Palestinian Authority, this $55 million trust that the cabinet voted
to withhold, what do you think that that effort, that action is
designed to accomplish?
ALI ABUNIMAH: Well, I think that what Mr. Oren says is a perfect
example of what Israel is trying to do. Israel has stated in word and
is carrying out in deed the annexation of most of the West Bank. And
Ehud Olmert stated it clearly, that Israel was annexing the Jordan
Valley, the largest settlements of Ma'aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion, Ariel
and so on, and is not interested in withdrawing to the 1967 border.
So from Israel's perspective, they very much need people to believe
that Hamas is a bunch of wild animals and that there are no moderates
because if the world saw that there are people in Hamas that Israel
could talk to, that would expose what Israel is trying to do. And I
agree with Mr. --
GWEN IFILL: Can I ask you about the $55 million cut-off of aid.
ALI ABUNIMAH: Yes. Well, I think, you know, what Palestinians and many
people see is that this is simply punishing the Palestinian people for
exercising their demographic -- democratic choice in the context where
I emphasize there has been a one-sided truce for a year, which has
spared Israeli lives, made the Israeli economy boom as life in Israel
returns to a semblance of normality.
The same is not true on the Palestinian side. Since yesterday, Israel
has killed six Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Last week Israeli troops killed a disabled teenager in the West Bank
and shot dead a Palestinian woman tending her sheep in the Gaza Strip.
So these are the realities Palestinians are living with. And they
wonder why it is that for the first time in the 60 years of this
conflict, we're talking about economic sanctions not against the
country that is violating international law but against the victims of
occupation. Very bizarre.
GWEN IFILL: Let me give Mr. Oren a chance to respond to all that.
MICHAEL OREN: That's the first time I ever heard that Hamas is
responsible for Israel's economic recovery from a five-year war of
terror, of destruction against the Jewish state.
Israel won that war by clamping down very hard on Hamas and other
Islamic and Palestinian terrorist organizations through remaining
resilient as a society and strong militarily. That's why Hamas has
observed sometimes a cease-fire over the course of the last year, not
because it wanted to contribute to Israel's economic revival.
And if Israel has acted the last few days to counter mostly Islamic
Jihad terrorists in the West Bank, these are Islamic Jihad terrorists
who are daily shelling Israel from the Gaza Strip who just this
morning tried to get a large suicide bomber through a checkpoint
around Bethlehem and was stopped. Israel simply is acting in its self
I think the important point to stress here about Ehud Olmert and the
Kadima Party -- and this is a party that is continuing in the legacy
of Ariel Sharon -- that party represents an historic decision on the
part of a solid majority of Israelis. And that decision is to
recognize, yes, there is a Palestinian people. Yes, the Palestinians
have suffered through history. Israel is going to try to rectify that
suffering to the degree that is consonant with its interests and
Israel is willing to sit down with a viable Palestinian partner and
make painful sacrifices, painful sacrifices that would probably amount
to all of the West Bank, all of Gaza certainly, which Israel has
already evacuated, even part of Jerusalem, but in the absence of that
partner, that party, the Kadima Party, represents a willingness to go
forward with unilateral withdrawals and joining Israel's border in
such a way that Israel can defend itself both militarily and
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Abunimah, is that viable Palestinian partner Mahmoud
Abbas, or has he been defamed after Fatah did not win the election?
ALI ABUNIMAH: Well, I find, you know, our memories are very, very
short. Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO recognized Israel in 1993.
As we heard in the introduction, Mahmoud Abbas once again calling for
an end to any armed action, and none of that induced Israel to
negotiate seriously with the Palestinians. None of that induced Israel
to stop expanding settlements, to stop expropriating land.
What shocks me, Mr. Oren is a very knowledgeable man obviously but he
clearly didn't listen to the speech of Ehud Olmert last week in which
he stated clearly that Israel plans to annex most of the West Bank.
And one last point here, we're all talking about Hamas' founding
charter, which I agree is in many respects an absolutely odious
document, and ignoring these statements of the positions they're
staking out now.
I remind you that between 2001 and 2004 in the Israeli coalition
government, there were the parties of Maledette, Tekuma, and the
National Union, whose platforms called for the physical expulsion of
all Palestinians from Israel and the occupied territories.
And I wonder why the international community did not demand that the
Israeli government renounce those positions, that those parties
renounce those positions and our government in the United States was
perfectly happy to hand our tax money over to a government that
included people that called for the annihilation of the Palestinian
GWEN IFILL: We have time for Mr. Oren to respond.
MICHAEL OREN: Well, first of all, Maledette, the party that was
mentioned just now, never called for the Palestinian transfer or their
expulsion from Palestinian land.
ALI ABUNIMAH: Go to their web site, sir. It's in English and in Hebrew.
MICHAEL OREN: There was one --
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Abunimah, please.
ALI ABUNIMAH: It's on their web site. Everyone can check it out.
MICHAEL OREN: I didn't interrupt you. The party never called for their
expulsion. There was one Israeli party that did call for the expulsion
and the Knesset passed a law that made that party illegal in the state
of Israel. To belong to it, to join it could not run for election.
Also, I would strongly recommend that my colleague look at a map of
the West Bank. If Ehud Olmert indeed called for the annexation of
Ma'aleh Adumim from the Gush Etzion settlements, Ma'aleh Adumim it is
one -- one small neighborhood in the West Bank. The Gush Etzion
settlements is one small settlement bloc.
Israel has basically made a fence that removes, that signals Israel's
response or willingness to move from basically 88 percent of the West
Bank. Eighty-eighty percent of the West Bank is to the east of that
fence - 12 percent is on the Israeli side on the western side. Where
do you get from Ma'aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion to annexing the entire
West Bank? That is a gross representation of Mr. Olmert's position.
GWEN IFILL: Michael Oren, and Ali Abunimah, thank you both - I'm
sorry, Mr. Abunimah - but thank you very much for joining us.
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