Sunday, January 29, 2006

# Posted 6:23 AM by Patrick Belton  

SPEAKING WITH THE FATEH YOUNG GUARD: At the chic Ramallah restaurant of Darna I met yesterday with Kadura Fares, at 47 a close aide and intimate of Marwan Barghouthi and former cabinet minister who lost his council seat in last Wednesday's result.

Seeing me, Mr Fares rose courteously from the corner from which he held court, and lighting the earliest in a succession of Rothmans cigarettes, signalled the waiter to bring us espresso as we occupied a table in the centre of the restaurant's elevated platform. He wore a grey suit whose infancy was spent in Saville Row, on his face eyeglasses and a grey moustache neatly trimmed, and in a ritual familiar in politicians everywhere, we were frequently interrupted as Mr Fares inclined to shake the hands of pausing well-wishers.

OxBlog: Thank you for meeting with me, Kadura. Why did Fateh fail?

KF: Lots of reasons. First, the structures of the movement are old. The last general conference was held in 1989, and the old leadership are selfish, and thinks their legitimacy extends forever. We tried to renew the movement and hold a general conference before the general election; they refused.

Second, we pay the price of the ten years they were in office. They gave the people corrupt leaders, ministers and police officers. They dealt with the people badly, we pay the price.

Third, Hamas tell people they have the truth, can do a lot of things at the same time because they have direct relations with God, so quickly they will be able to build the economy, end the occupation, kill the Israelis and end corruption all at the same time. But over sixty per cent of Palestinians live under the poverty line. Hamas have not organised themselves for government. We have daily contact with the Israelis, over elections, water, sending people to hospital. What will Hamas do when day-to-day issues of this sort come up?

OxBlog: This is why Hamas is asking Fateh for a coalition?

KF: Yes.

OxBlog: And Fateh will accept?

KF: No. Because they have their own agenda. And that is not our agenda.

OxBlog: So you should give Hamas time to fail then?

KF: I think. They have no experience in dealing with the daily life needs of Palestinian people.

OxBlog: I can see it will be in the interests of Fateh to allow Hamas to fail. But if you do this, are you not ignoring the needs and interests of the Palestinian people?

KF: (pausing) They should say to Palestinian people Fateh way is best way. If they do this, we will join them in a coalition. I don't want any party to use Fateh, to use Fateh for their agenda.

OxBlog: We will they oppress the Palestinian people's freedom?

KF: I don't believe that. They are too clever for that. Maybe they will take some cosmetic decisions.

OxBlog: Such as?

KF: Maybe some steps at not silly things - change every security officer, administrative decisions, some cosmetics like having more women in headscarves on the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation.

OxBlog: Would they like to Islamicise Palestinian life?

KF: No, not Islamicise it. Lot of Palestinians are democratic, secular. They vote for Hamas to punish Fateh, to punish us. Not because they love Hamas. Hamas knows this and won't attempt to Islamicise Palestinian life because they want to legitimise their political wing. You couldn't say to this restaurant, you can't sell alcohol. Maybe some women in headscarves on television.

OxBlog: What about their prospects for administrative changes and reform?

KF: I don't think they have a lot of time. There will be pressure from the Palestinian people - Palestinian people will give them three, maybe four months to prove themselves. They will ask not only how have you furthered the resistance to our occupation, but how have you improved our daily life. Those with no work will ask, where is work. Those who are teachers will ask, where their salaries.

It is not enough for them to win, for them to then have answers for Palestinian people. They have been saying on television Fateh is the problem. Now they have power, legitimacy. Now we want to study from Hamas how they will solve Palestinian people's problems.

OxBlog: Their internal or external problems?

KF: They are linked. The economy is linked both to corruption and manufacturing policy and Palestinians' ability to access the rest of the world.

OxBlog: And will they negotiate with Israel?

KF: Because of that, they want Fateh to do the dirty work, and for them to be the imam, the clean leader. We think they should take both the clean and dirty work, both.

OxBlog: And with Israel?

KF: They should agree to recognise Israel, negotiate with Israel, to recognise Israeli state.

OxBlog: Will they?

KF:: Hamas is a pragmatic movement. If they make these steps, they will lose a lot of the movement, they will go to Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

A strong group within Hamas wanted only to be in opposition. I think part of their members and activists will leave, go to Islamic Jihad.

They will find themselves exactly like Fateh. If I am a Hamas member, I would go to my leaders and ask, you told me Fateh programme is so bad, it is against our interests, our economy, our nationalism, our Islam. Now you do the same thing, but you say you are different because you have a green flag. They will be corrupt, but they need time to be corrupt.

OxBlog: You mention there are many points of view within Hamas. Do you view Zahar as a moderate?

KF: I don't believe Zahar. Not his decision to be moderate, to be a democrat. His vision, his mind, they are another man. He doesn't believe in democracy.

OxBlog: You have said at first, Hamas will want to make cosmetic changes. You don't think this will push them down an Islamic path? First headscarves on television, then to keep their supporters happy will reforms do not go so quickly, alcohol in restaurants?

KF: At beginning, no. Maybe after two years, they find they don't accomplish anything, then you find small steps, like closing bars maybe. Changing the syllabi of the ministry of education, maybe. But to change schoolbooks takes a lot of time, five or six years. Maybe if they use the old books of the Taleban. (laughs)

OxBlog: What about their relations abroad, with Iran and Saudi Arabia? Hizbullah?

KF: With Iran, not a strategic relationship. With Hizbullah, Iran is not happy that the Islamic movement will have so much success. They want to claim that only the Shi'i can win the war with Israel. Saudi Arabia wants Hamas to be part of its own circle of influence. But Hamas is enough clever, they speak a lot of time about resistance, now they will stop talking about resistance, because they are in power.

OxBlog: So will Saudi Arabia attempt to continue to give them money, finance?

KF: It is an easy thing to finance an organisation, harder to finance a people. If Israel gives Saudi Arabia the impression it is all right to give them money, they will. If not, possibly not.

OxBlog: What about Palestinian Christians, how will Hamas treat them?

KF: Unfortunately, many of them voted for Hamas. They were angry at us. In Taibeh, the village where they make the Palestinian beer, it is a Christian village, and one hundred people voted for Hamas. It would be funny if they should close the beer factory, that will suit them.

But Hamas will be sensitive, there will be a lot of focus on how it treats Christians, it will be careful to give a good impression with such scrutiny. There is a history of good relations between Muslims and Christians in Palestine, in the period of Saladdin, Palestinian Christians fought on the side of the Muslims, in the struggle against occupation, they have been part of the national movement. If Hamas makes this mistake, Fateh, we will be happy to protest and protect them.

KF: What is Abu Mazen's way forward? How much power will he as president turn out to have relative to the cabinet and prime minister?

On the last, I don't know. I don't think anyone knows. On the way forward, they will have 21 days from the final election results to prepare a government; if they cannot, they will have another two weeks; if they cannot then, Abu Mazen should call for another election.

OxBlog: Is Abu Mazen angry?

KF: He has no feeling. He is very cold. (laughs).

Many in Israel are blaming the EU for Hamas's participation in elections, that the EU pressured the US to lean upon Israel to have elections go forward. This is incorrect. Abu Mazen went to Washington, asked Bush to permit Hamas to take part.

OxBlog: So, Abu Mazen is a real democrat?

KF: Fateh is democratic, and Abu Mazen is part of Fateh. The Israelis killed Arafat, now they killed Abu Mazen also. In a year, he succeeded to remove one checkpoint. The Americans helped as well, on the tv sets, saying over and over again 'if Hamas succeeds, if Hamas succeeds.' They were overbearing, and provided a nationalist backlash. This is a proud people, and responds badly to being told how it should vote.

With that, Mr Fares was fetched by a man with a television camera, and we said goodbye and parted.
(3) opinions -- Add your opinion

But Hamas will be sensitive, there will be a lot of focus on how it treats Christians, it will be careful to give a good impression with such scrutiny. There is a history of good relations between Muslims and Christians in Palestine, in the period of Saladdin, Palestinian Christians fought on the side of the Muslims, in the struggle against occupation, they have been part of the national movement. If Hamas makes this mistake, Fateh, we will be happy to protest and protect them.

A particularly noble pledge in light of this.
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