Bitterlemons (Interview)
November 12, 2007 - 1:45pm

bitterlemons: Hamas is saying that by pursuing negotiations with Israel under current circumstances, the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority is in effect collaborating with the occupying power. Is this a fair assessment?

Sarraj: I don't think we can go that far. However, Hamas does seem to be in the middle of a kind of tacit agreement tp work against it between Fateh, particularly after the takeover of the Gaza Strip, and Israel and the US. Certainly that's how it seems to Hamas members. The signs started to appear immediately after the election of Hamas when there were antagonistic statements from the US administration, from Israel and then even from Europe.

Of course when Hamas took military control of Gaza, this angered Fateh, including the president, who felt personally humiliated and stabbed in the back. So in a way, there is a big camp, perhaps including most of the world, working against Hamas, or at least not accepting Hamas rule over Gaza.

bitterlemons: There is currently a very tight closure on Gaza that is affecting all Gazans and not just Hamas. Critics say the West Bank PA is not doing much, if anything, to have this blockade lifted. What do you think?

Sarraj: I recently sent a letter to the minister of health in Ramallah, telling him there is a serious shortage of food, medicine and vaccination in Gaza because his ministry is refusing to sign purchase orders for Gaza hospitals. Such action is completely incomprehensible, especially since the budget for this does not come from the PA but from the World Bank. What the ministry is doing is lending credence to the theory that Ramallah is participating in the conspiracy against Hamas.

And in effect, what is happening is hurting all Gazans, including patients. Look at what happened a few months ago when doctors were instructed to strike. That was unacceptable. For doctors not to work is unacceptable and it hurts everyone in Gaza.

bitterlemons: Where is the tipping point then? You say to talk of the PA as collaborators is a little strong, but when do people, particularly in Gaza, reach a point where they see the PA as being against them rather than on their side?

Sarraj: I think the PA, Mahmoud Abbas and Fateh are patriotic. They are still smarting from the blow of losing Gaza, and Abbas feels personally humiliated. But this doesn't mean that the PA is made up of traitors. It is true that the Fateh-led PA for a long time made many big mistakes, mistakes that led to Hamas' election victory. Hamas did not come out of the blue, it came from people tired of Fateh mismanagement and disillusioned with the peace process. But that doesn't make Fateh traitors. Nevertheless, Fateh has made no serious attempt to rehabilitate itself and become a body that can govern.

bitterlemons: Some argue, along with the late Edward Said, that the whole setup of the Oslo accords was such that essentially the PA was designed to be no more than an administrative arm of the Israeli occupation. Do you agree with this?

Sarraj: I agreed with Said at the time, but I said to myself let's give this a chance. We knew what the Israeli intentions were. All along Israel refused the notion of an independent Palestinian state. All along Israel wanted more land and refused to define its own borders. But it was an opportunity we tried to explore. But in addition to the Israeli position, Fateh did not properly seize the opportunity and we are now in the situation we are in, proving Edward Said right.

bitterlemons: Do you think the PA can now become a state?

Sarraj: I think today, tragically, the Palestinians have no say in their own destiny. Today, the decision is made elsewhere, not in Ramallah or Gaza. It's made in Tel Aviv or in Washington. The Palestinians have lost the ability to govern themselves, to make war or to make peace. It's very serious.

bitterlemons: What's the next step?

Sarraj: I think one option is for President Abbas to come to Gaza and declare that Gaza is part of the Palestinian territory and that we are all one front. If he doesn't, we will lose the question of Palestine. The second option is to completely dissolve the Palestinian Authority, make Israel take responsibility as the occupying power and expose it to the rest of the world.- Published 12/11/2007 ©

Eyad Sarraj is president of the board at the Gaza Community Mental Health Project.


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