Aziz Al-Dweik is the speaker of the new Hamas-led parliament. Considered one of the moderates in the Hamas leadership, Dweik received his PhD in regional and architectural planning from the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1980s. He teaches geography at An-Najah University in his home town of Hebron.
“The French fought against the German occupation during the Second World War and no single power asked them to disarm their fighters. In our case, our resistance is legitimate according to the Geneva Conventions and different U.N. resolutions. Our people would not feel any dignity if we did not resist occupation.” -- Aziz Al-Dweik
Kate Seelye: Do you think you were voted in by the will of the people or by the will of God?
Aziz Al-Dweik.: There is no contradiction between the will of people and of God because when people are pure, they will reflect the will of God. Especially when people are true believers, there will be no contradiction.
Will you find common ground with Fatah?
We have a lot of common ground and common denominators with our brothers in Fatah. It is an excellent organization, which has struggled much in the interests of our people. We are citizens of the same country, and the general interest of this country is very much in common between us and them. Our main contradiction is with the occupier, and we really would like to see our people free of the slavery of occupation. We’ve gotten really fed up with occupation and its harsh measures, cutting our land into slices. The West Bank has become 64 different enclaves, dividing our land, putting our people in different jails. This is our call, and it is exactly the call of our brothers in Fatah. I’m calling on the whole world to come to our aid in emancipating our people.
But you have different agendas. Your president seeks a two-state solution and you oppose it.
Who opposed a two-state solution? It’s Israel, by its measures. It’s occupying East Jerusalem and the whole area from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. Last week, Israel annexed and prevented the Palestinians from entering one-third of the West Bank, even though it is occupied territory according to the 242 U.N. Security Council resolution from 1967. So Israel is cutting, Israel is using harsh measures against our basic human rights and well-being. What I’m saying is that it’s Israel that’s causing this big problem -- it’s not Fatah, and it’s not Hamas.
If your president pursues talks with the Israelis, will Hamas object?
Never, ever. Our president is a well-respected person, loved by our people, and we would never object no matter what measures he might take. What we’d really like to see is a democratic process wherein whatever international agreements come up should go to a referendum so the people can speak and we can serve the national interest of our people.
So if Abu Mazen [President Mahmoud Abbas] talks to the Israelis, Hamas will not object to the peace process?
We have said from the beginning that the negotiations that have taken place in the last 13, 14, 15 years have shown our masses that these are not real negotiations. These are concessions given to the occupier, and the occupier did not reciprocate. They did not give any chance to see fruits, after 15 years of negotiations. So there should be a new approach. This is our opinion. But if our president would like to go into negotiations, he has full right to do what he believes in and we will not object. However, we feel there is an urgent need to let our people say their word concerning that through referendum.
I know polls indicate that the vast majority of Palestinians say they want a two-state solution. So if this goes to referendum, won’t they choose this?
When we talk about a two-state solution, we have said in frank terms that we would give a hudna, which is less than truce, for a long period of time, with very few conditions. One is, we need full sovereignty over the lands within the1967 border, without any change in these lands, respecting existing U.N. resolutions in the Security Council and in the General Assembly. We applaud these resolutions and international legitimacy. This is our stance, crystal clear. But so far, we see Israel doing every kind of action on the ground, which contradicts these resolutions. And I’d like you to pay a little attention, really, … to the International Court of Justice, [which] ruled that East Jerusalem is an occupied city. It also said the Israeli settlements have been constructed on an occupied territory and that the Israeli separation wall should be dismantled. So until now, Israel has been imposing de facto on the ground so when real negotiations begin, there will be no real Palestinian territory left to be talked about. The problem lies in the hands of the Israelis. These actions hinder every effort to bring peace to the area.
Prime Minister Olmert has said he seeks permanent boundaries. Hamas has called this a declaration of war.
Also Mahmoud Abbas … and the whole world sees that this is a unilateral step. This is Israel, this is the nature of the occupier. They don’t give a chance to peace, and they bring the whole area to the brink of war. This isn’t good in any sense, and I think Israel’s to blame for unilateral action.
So now that Hamas has said it’s a declaration of war, how will you address the issue?
It’s easy to say this is a continuation of the Israeli occupation, their harsh measures. We’re saying, “Who is undermining international legitimacy?” This is something the whole world should realize and put enough pressure on Israel so it will go back to international legitimacy.
How will Hamas respond? Will you increase military pressure?
So far, we are saying with our president that we are very much committed to the hudna, which is some kind of cease-fire. I don’t think this cease-fire will continue if the Israeli measures continue as they are. This unilateral action, if it continues, will not stand, and I think our people will show the world what it will do. I’m not threatening, but I’m telling the whole world that Israel is to blame. Israel is defiant of international legitimacy and solutions.
Might Hamas lift the moratorium on suicide bombings?
Could be, could be -- as long as Israel does not commit itself to international legitimacy.
What kind of leverage do you have with Israel?
As I said, we are like slaves; this is the worst kind of slavery because in slavery you find one family or two families … here you have a whole nation living for many decades under the slavery of occupation. Even in Europe, when you talk about the Holocaust of the Jews, it was for a short period of time. Here you have people living with a similar thing for decades and decades, and we are fed up with the occupation. We call upon the whole world to see this and to help us get our freedom, according to the U.N. resolutions and international legitimacy.
How do you balance armed resistance and governing?
I don’t think there’s any contradiction in fighting the occupation. And I don’t think we have any dignity in the world if we submit to and accept occupation. Our real dignity is to gain our freedom from this kind of slavery, as any other nation in the world. It comes to my mind all the time that the French fought against the German occupation during the Second World War and nothing was wrong with that. No single power in the world asked them to put down or disarm their fighters. In our case, our resistance is legitimate according to the Geneva Conventions and according to different U.N. resolutions. I’m saying that our people would not feel any dignity if we did not resist occupation.
What role will Islam play in a Hamas-led government?
This is a question that has been repeated many times. I will tell you we will keep on with our Islamic agenda through preaching good behavior, good conduct, giving the people a good model. We’ve declared that we are against corruption. We are 100 percent transparent, and showing the people that this is the example that has been missed for a long time -- please go back and look at it and try to follow suit.
What will you do to encourage Islamic behavior?
We’ll begin with ourselves. We’ll give a good example and good governance. When the leaders show goodness in their actions, goodness in themselves, goodness in their practices, I think the people will follow.
What affect will Hamas’s victory have on other Islamist movements in the Arab world?
Our victory will be a very good example for other countries. To the other Arab and Muslim nations: You guys have to follow. I will give you an example. The effect of our victory in the election has given its fruit all over the Arab and Muslim world. We have received many calls from all over the Arab and Muslim world, saying, “You have given us the best example and we will follow.” It will also show people from the Palestinian model that they can change power in a peaceful manner, without a single drop of blood. This has happened. The long-term effects of these elections may be felt for years to come.
This interview between Kate Seelye and Abdul Aziz Dweik took place in Ramallah in March 2006. It has been edited for clarity.