Interview with Salah Salah, Chair of the PNC.
Commission on the Right of Return

(March 17th 2012)

What is your appreciation on the current relations between Fatah and Hamas?

- It is the current situation which compels the two organisations to talk to one another. The one rules the West Bank while the other rules the Gaza Strip. They can no longer attempt anything against each other and are compelled to have constructive relations. That is what they are implementing concretely in the framework of the so-called reconciliation agenda whose latest act was played out in Qatar (prior to this, meetings had taken place in Egypt, Mecca, Sanaa and Damascus …)

Fatah and Hamas do not seek to realise the unity of the Palestinian people but they are toiling the line imposed by the donor states (especially the Gulf countries) and by Egypt, which is the US agenda. They have to agree on the two state guideline, therefore give up on the right to return.

Achieving the unity of the Palestinian people would first require engaging a dialogue with every Palestinian faction and party. Such dialogue would essentially drive at focussing on the political treatment of the process that resulted in the Oslo Accords. The process has been a proven failure. What is to be done is to set up a new way to view the fight against Israeli occupation. Finally, the unity of the Palestinian people involves rebuilding the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) with all its organisations on the basis of its founding principles.

Fatah and Hamas have embraced the idea of complying with the Oslo Accords so much so that if Fatah runs the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank, it can be said that Hamas runs the PA in the Gaza Strip. That is why, if the fight is to continue on an independent line, the PLO will have to be rebuilt.

- Apparently, Hamas, which has just moved its headquarters to Damascus, more and more clearly aligns itself with the Gulf countries, notably Qatar....

- Hamas leads the PA in Gaza. Keeping that place obliged it to offer assurances in order to retain its position, therefore to give up on its drive for the liberation of the entire Palestinian territory, which fits in with the two state orientations. Hamas agrees with Fatah for the creation of a Palestinian state. It no longer defends its slogan of armed liberation and is fully engaged in the truce. It is also engaged by forcing the other factions (People's resistance committees, Islamic Jihad, the armed groups of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)) to comply with the truce. In the latest attacks on Gaza, several leaders of armed groups were targeted. Hamas immediately stepped in as a go-between with Egypt to halt Palestinian fight back.

During the reconciliation meeting in Cairo Machaal appointed to Abu Mazen the task of continuing the negotiations with the State of Israel. In Doha in Qatar, he accepted Abu Mazen taking charge of setting up the transitional government. When Khalid Machaal accepts all this, it means acceptance of Abu Mazen's political programme.

- Is Hamas one-minded on those issues?

- There is difference within Hamas. By and large, Hamas comprises three currents. The majority one, at the centre, is the Khalid Machaal current and two opposed wings, one of which is the one led by Haniyeh. The most serious differences are kept in line by the decisions of their Consultative Council (alshora) which has the capacity to solve all the differences. The Council's views are closely related to Mechaal's moderate stand. Within Hamas, the minority wings, the opposition, respect the framework of the Consultative Council. If inside structures fail, it is the international leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood which steps in to settle disagreements.

- You said that one of the objectives of the Israeli attack was possibly to test Hamas and see what it was prepared to finally resort to.

- This was one of the several purposes of Israeli attacks. The first objective, - you can take Israel State's word for it – purposed to test the capacity of the anti missile shield. It also made it possible to gauge the range and destructive capacities of the missiles which the various Palestinian factions have at their disposal, some of them rather hi-tech. The Israeli power wants to know the nature of those weapons – defensive weapons for Palestinians – especially in anticipation of a possible attack on Iran's nuclear sites.

- Outside Fatah and Hamas, what are the independent Palestinian organisations?

- There are groups of activists who take independent actions, such as the one In defence of the PLO charter , comprising former executive members of the PLO, and members of the National Council. Youth movements have formed and are developing in Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank, throughout the Diaspora. Their major call is to rebuild PLO on the basis of its Charter, to organise elections to the National Council, which would include Palestinians from around the world. Beyond this, a growing number of people worldwide have decided to boycott the State of Israel.

- Can you come back to the place of Syria in the Palestinian national movement … while keeping in mind that Assad never shrank from making use of and slaughtering Palestinians for his own political ends?

- There have been several phases in the position of Syria. During the '50s and '60s, at the beginning of resistance, Syria gave assistance and enabled the resistance to store weapons, to open training camps. Free circulation existed between Lebanon and Jordan but, in exchange, Palestinians were not permitted to fight from Syrian borders. In a second phase, Syria played a negative role as in 1976. The Palestinian resistance had sided with Lebanese resistance against the separatists and phalangists. Syrian troops entered Lebanon to stamp down separatists and nationalist forces. Fatah, PFLP and other factions had taken a position against Syrian invasion whereas other groups, such as the General Command, as Saïqa and others supported armed intervention. A third period in the relations was opened after 1982, with deepening rift between Palestinians. On the one hand there was the leadership linked to Abu Amar, who was siding with Egypt. There was the political premises of the political diversion which, from negotiation to negotiation, finally resulted in the Oslo Accords. Other currents stood up against that political agenda, especially the Salvation Front mainly led by PFLP. At that time, Syria which openly disagreed with Egypt, however left Palestinian fractions solve their own problems among themselves, and then tried to use, and then manipulate the Salvation Front, egging it to attack Abu Amar and his allies. Actually Syria's action tended to make Palestinian inner differences come out. The Palestinian fractions refused and Syria drove Lebanese nationalist forces to launch an all-out attack on the Palestinian resistance in Lebanon. Only the Amal movement accepted, in conjunction with Lebanese forces, to engage an attack on Palestinians; they besieged refugee camps, and tried to force their way in to erase any resistance. The period from 1985 to 1987 was the most brutal one. At that time there were several attempted discussions with the Arab League, Iran and even Saudi Arabia but the war on camps ceased only after Amal had realised that he would never pit Palestinians against each other. Syria also realised it would not manage to set Palestinians at each other's throats. The eruption of Intifada urged Amal to stop the war, under the guise of paying homage to the Intifada. It was Syria which was pulling the strings behind the stage.

Syria always hosted the offices and headquarters of most Palestinian organisations, except Fatah. Palestinian presence in Syria was of no military use since the country requested it not to start from its borders. Today, the factions have a neutral or supportive position towards the regime since it is clear that if the regime is overthrown, the alternative is the one supported by the United States and Arab reactionaries which meets the Israelis and it would be a disaster. The Syrian opposition, backed by the reactionaries cannot side with the Palestinian people. Palestinian factions are well aware that they cannot rely on the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army.

- Takeover by the reactionaries you are mentioning would be a step further on the way towards Broader Middle East, for which one of the prerequisites implies stamping down the refugees and their rights.

- Such coming together is indeed a part of the Broader Middle East project, which implies doing away with the demands of the Palestinians centred on the right to return of the refugees and the rebuilding of the PLO, torn apart by the Oslo Accords. If the project was to come into being, it should put an end to any resistance and break the national unity of the Palestinians, which tends towards rebuilding the PLO. They will pretend to the refugees that the right to return is done and finished, but this will not happen. In the refugee camps, the right to return is part and parcel of Palestinians' daily lives, for the children, everywhere. It is a question tied to their very existence. Conferences and congresses meet everywhere on the issue of the right to return, inside the camps as well as outside in the Diaspora. In all the refugee camps a massive march to cross the borders is preparing for May 15th with the support of many, as a symbol of the unity of the Palestinian people, which is the unity of the refugees demanding their rights.

- In this framework, what is your opinion on the boycott campaign against the state of Israel the Boycott, Disinvestment Sanction (BDS) you were mentioning before, and which is relayed in many places in the West to support and defend the so-called two state solution?

- BDS is the international organisation to pressure Israel into recognising Palestinian rights. It is the recognition that Israel is stealing lands that never belonged to it. This State which plunders the natural resources of an entire people must be boycotted. In this sense, the campaign should be encouraged; it is very positive that numerous academics should boycott Israeli universities to show that they refuse to be accomplices. It is an international movement to give a message to this State that is opposed to democracy. It should be widely publicised that Israel is a violator. Naturally there are hidden motivations, especially from those who defend the two state solutions. But whatever the motivations, pressure must be applied. At one point, even those who advocate the two states will see by themselves that the State of Israel will always refuse them because, unless pressure, compulsion is applied, it will never recognise Palestinians' rights. So what other solution unless the one which already de facto exists, bar democracy, i.e. the single state with one citizenship. This idea is gathering momentum. Every year, conferences are organised on this subject, especially in the United States and it is worth noting that many Jews attend. It is very important for us to keep track of those activities the more so when they are organised in the United States.

From DIALOGUE REVIEW ( www.dialogue-review.com )