Imad Al-Frangi
Bitterlemons (Interview)
January 11, 2012 - 1:00am

bitterlemons: Hamas seems to have many things to look forward to in 2012. Do you agree?

Al-Frangi: I agree. Hamas believes that the victory of Islamists in the [Tunisian and Egyptian] elections will help the Palestinian cause even more than it will help Hamas. Hamas is linked ideologically, not organizationally, with these Islamists. Hamas and the Islamists share principles such as freeing Palestine or the [broader] Islamic project. Hamas deals with them openly but cautiously because every country or regime has its own special circumstances that Hamas prefers not to interfere in. Hamas is also trying to benefit from the victory of the Islamists by opening new offices in their countries, especially to serve the Palestinians living in those countries.

[In this new year,] Hamas will also try to rearrange its house by holding internal elections to choose a new leadership. The founding leaders are all almost dead, with only one or two remaining alive. Hamas is a young movement and will try to introduce new young elements in its leadership.

By joining [Palestinian] political life, Hamas gained new experience. Before, it was a resistance movement always in the opposition. Suddenly it found itself dominating the [Palestinian] parliament and getting a majority in the elections. It decided to try this new experience, with its positive or negative consequences. Hamas has been under siege and war. We can say that, if it didn't succeed, at least it didn't fail--which is what inspired the Arab nations to revolt against their dictators.

bitterlemons: While the international role of Hamas seems to be growing, there also seems to be real dissent at home in the Gaza Strip about Hamas' leadership. Polls seem to show that Palestinians' support for Hamas is declining.

Al-Frangi: Internally, Hamas' structure is based on shura [consultation]. Like everywhere in the world, you can't get 100 percent consensus on any issue. When Hamas decided to participate in the elections, 85 percent of the shura council voted for and 15 percent against, but the 15 percent respected the decision.

Regarding its popularity [in polls], I believe Hamas leaders would be happy to hear [they are doing poorly] because before the 2006 elections, we also heard the same thing: that Hamas would get a minority.

I do agree that, as a government, Hamas' popularity has decreased. People normally need and expect many things from the government. But it was also under siege and war and internal chaos imposed by Fateh. I believe the Hamas government has managed to steer the ship with relative success.

The question is, will this decrease in popularity affect the results of coming elections? I think it will affect them, but in a different way. I mean that centrists won't participate in the voting and the percentage of voters will be less than in 2006. But those who want to vote for Hamas will go and vote. Hamas is still very organized and knows what it wants, while others remain in chaos and disorder. I believe Hamas will win comparatively in Gaza, but sweep the majority in the West Bank.

At the international level, the West has recognized that the portrayal it once received about Hamas was distorted, provided by Arab intelligence apparatuses. Now the international community has begun to send delegates to listen to Hamas directly.

bitterlemons: Do you think there will be reconciliation between Fateh and Hamas in 2012?

Al-Frangi: Since the [political] division happened in 2007, Hamas has called on all parties for unity and reconciliation. The Palestinian Authority at that time described Hamas as "killers" or "black militias". Now they have begun talking to Hamas. I believe the PA should understand that it is not dealing with a small faction, but the biggest one. The problem lies in this understanding. Fateh still considers itself dominant and the decision-maker.

I think Hamas has already taken significant steps towards reconciliation. Despite the opposition of some Hamas leaders, the green light was given to allow [President Mahmoud Abbas] to handle the political file and the negotiations.

According to my information, Hamas has decided to go ahead with the reconciliation, but it won't accept illogical conditions. The other problem is that Hamas doesn't know who exactly is making decisions on the other side. Is it Israel or the West?

bitterlemons: There seems to be an increase of tension and military activity between western powers and Iran. Will Hamas strike Israel if Iran wants it to as part of this larger conflict?

Al-Frangi: Hamas is not in the pocket of Iran or others. It has paid a price to keep itself independent, but it has also been saved this way from getting lost in many mazes. Hamas receives financial support from Iran but I don't think it is in Iran's pocket. If Hamas had found an alternative supporter, then it would have gotten rid of such support.

I doubt there will be war against Iran, but if so, Hamas will not be part of it. Hamas' war is in Palestine to defend the Palestinians. Hamas might support [Iran] politically or morally but not militarily.

bitterlemons: How likely do you feel is another major Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip?

Al-Frangi: I don't think there will be a war like the previous one [in 2008-09]. But there might be quick Israeli operations. The atmosphere is not suitable for the Israelis to carry out another large operation. The world remembers the images of war in Gaza. Also, the "Arab spring" has made it difficult for Israel; the Arab nations who support Palestinians and the Palestinian cause will not allow it.

bitterlemons: How would you describe the relationship between Hamas and armed groups like Islamic Jihad that want to continue firing rockets at Israel?

Al-Frangi: Regarding Islamic Jihad's military wing, I don't believe they are really interested in continuing to fire rockets. They were the ones who contacted the Egyptians to intervene and reach a ceasefire after the latest Israeli escalation.

But Islamic Jihad suffers from internal crises. There are many streams inside the military wing and every stream follows certain parties. Therefore, when the factions reach a ceasefire agreement and one of these streams disagrees with the political leadership, its adherents simply go and fire rockets just to ruin the agreement, not necessarily to follow the path of resistance.

Hamas as a government supports the resistance. The military training camps of all factions are deployed all over the Gaza Strip for resistance purposes, whereas in the West Bank, the Ramallah government arrests the resistance fighters and anyone who carries weapons for resistance. In Gaza, the question is: did that fighter who fired the rocket fire it in order to resist? Hamas calls for reorganizing military activity and surprising the enemy. Don't show him all you have at one time. Hamas also has never banned fighters from firing rockets before reaching an agreement with all leaders.

By the way, some of the fighters fire rockets after receiving orders from parties on the internet, believing that [they are following the orders] of al-Qaeda or global jihad, but in reality this could also be Israel's Mossad.

bitterlemons: If you had to complete this phrase, how would you do it: "2012 will be the year of ____"?

Al-Frangi: I think 2012 will be the year of "preparing to liberate Palestine" because the changes in the Arab world are being led by the Islamists, who know well the importance of Palestine. The sympathy Arabs showed with Palestinians during the siege and war on Gaza showed that Arab nations are willing to act to liberate Palestine but they were afraid of their regimes. Now the reason that prevented them has been removed and they will start preparations


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