Basem Naim: “The latest escalation in Gaza did not end in open war because Hamas did not want it” | International
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The decision of Hamas, which governs de facto in Gaza, to stay out of the escalation of the war between the Israeli Armed Forces and the Islamic Jihad militias has marked a turn in the hegemonic movement in the Palestinian Strip, which a little over a year had waged its fourth war against Israel since taking power in the enclave 15 years ago.
“Even before the latest Israeli offensive, the situation in Gaza was already very bad because of the blockade, lack of electricity or water pollution, and poverty and unemployment. Now it’s even worse. We were still waiting to repair the damage from the May 2021 conflict, ”Basem Naim, head of Hamas international relations at his office in the Gaza capital, acknowledged on Tuesday. “The situation is also very fragile. The next explosion is only a matter of time, and it will not occur in a very distant date, ”warned this 60-year-old doctor trained in Germany, who was Minister of Health in the Strip. “Gaza cannot continue in this situation, dying every day.”
While the Islamic Jihad, an ally of Iran, has little political weight in the enclave, Hamas controls a civil administration that directs the lives of 2.3 million inhabitants, of which 80% survive thanks to international aid. “There are no serious efforts being made to find a lasting solution to this conflict,” says Naim. “In Israel we have no one to negotiate a political solution with. The main parties believe that there is only one Jewish state between the river [Jordán] and the sea [Mediterráneo], leaving no room for a Palestinian state. They only offer to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians”, he clarifies, “but in the electoral campaign [para las legislativas israelíes adelantadas a noviembre] they’re just talking about their own problems, not mentioning ours.”
―Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid says he has offered an “economic peace” for Gaza.
“Our fight is not economic but political. What does the conflict over the compound of the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem have to do with the living conditions of the Palestinians?, replies the person in charge of Hamas.
He believes that three decades have passed since the Oslo Agreements (from which the Palestinian Authority emerged), which also had an economic aspect, and that the Lapid government’s proposals for “economic peace” do not correspond to reality: ” They block the borders and suffocate Gaza. They continue to confiscate land and expand settlements in the West Bank.”
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“And why has Hamas stayed on the sidelines in the last conflict and hasn’t supported its Islamic Jihad allies?”
―We have a military coordination center where it is decided who fights and when. All the Palestinian groups that have supported the Islamic Jihad’s response are represented there, even though they have not fought alongside it. We think that the escalation should not reach the maximum, to an open war. And we have tried to contain the situation from the beginning, explains Naim.
After 15 years in power, Hamas has become the de facto government in the Strip, but the United States and the European Union continue to regard it as a terrorist group. The head of international relations replies that this qualification reflects a “double standard”: since the Palestinians live under an occupation regime, according to international law, they have the right to exercise resistance in their own territories.
“Europe has supported with money and weapons the fight of the Ukrainians against the Russian invasion. We also fight for a sovereign State. And many countries recognize our right,” she argues. “Fatah (the nationalist party that controls the Palestinian Authority), was also considered a terrorist group by Israel until 1993,” she recalls.
Naim does not mention, however, the firing of rockets by his militias, indiscriminately on Israeli towns. It is being investigated as a suspected war crime by the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, as is the bombing by Israeli forces against the Gazan civilian population.
It does highlight, however, that his organization took a turn five years ago, when he announced that he accepted the creation of a State of Palestine on the borders prior to the 1967 war (the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem), although without recognize the State of Israel.
Following the revision of the Hamas Founding Charter, Ismail Haniye assumed the global leadership of the movement and was replaced as the top leader of the Strip by Yahya Sinwar, former commander of the military branch. The statutory review then highlighted that the conflict with Israel has a “political” character and lacks a “religious basis” against the Jewish people.
From Washington, the researcher of Palestinian origin Gait al Omani maintains that Hamas has been, along with Israel, one of the clear winners of the last conflict, against the Islamic Jihad ―which “has accepted a humiliating ceasefire”, he says― and the Palestinian Authority ―which “has been relegated”―. They would both be losers. This expert from the Institute for the Middle East in the US capital, said Tuesday by videoconference before a group of correspondents in Israel and Palestine that “Lapid has clearly come out reinforced in his electoral expectations”, while the Islamic resistance movement has consolidated as ” effective government in Gaza.
“Hamas has sent many messages to the international community with the political documents of its revised Founding Charter,” warns the head of international relations in the capital of the Strip. “It is a clear signal that we are ready for a political solution.” Naim assures that Hamas supports a broad electoral process in Palestine and is committed to abide by the results.
―Do you want to follow in the footsteps of the party of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which is part of political Islam?
―You cannot compare our situation with that of other countries. We are talking about territories under occupation. And no Palestinian can accept living under that regime.
Naim believes that the international community has put Hamas to the test and passed the test. “Now we have accepted the ceasefire and we are helping to preserve it,” he says. “We have a mature political leadership. For example, last May we showed restraint when thousands of ultra-nationalist Israelis paraded through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City in the so-called March of the Flags. Everyone then expected an escalation of Hamas, ”he points out.
“Many diplomats are proving from their own experience that we are a responsible organization that not only pursues its own political agenda. It must be understood that intense efforts are being made in Gaza today”, emphasizes the head of international relations. “In the last escalation, in which we were not directly involved, it did not go to open war with Israel because Hamas did not want to expand the battle,” concludes Naim.
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