Hamas: 'Construction, not destruction'

Hamas's Haniyeh says that his main goal is to 'preserve national unity'.

hanieh speaks 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
hanieh speaks 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Unlike most political analysts, Hamas does not see its landslide victory in last week's parliamentary election as an earthquake. "Earthquakes are a symbol of destruction, while Hamas is talking about construction," explained Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas's Change and Reform List, which won 74 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. Born in the Shati refugee camp, Haniyeh graduated from the Islamic University in Gaza City in 1987 with a degree in Arabic literature. He was deported by Israel to south Lebanon in 1992 and returned a year later to become the dean of the Islamic University. At 46, the former soccer player said Tuesday that Hamas's victory reflected the Palestinians' confidence in its "political and military strategy." "The people have said yes to change and reform," Haniyeh said, referring to the name of his movement's list. "The majority of the Palestinians have said yes to the slogan, 'Islam is the solution.' The people also voted in favor of our policy of resistance and against the occupation. Our policy is designed to defend Jerusalem, achieve the right of return for all refugees and the release of our prisoners." Haniyeh, who is still waiting for Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to entrust him with forming the new cabinet, said his main goal would be to "preserve national unity." Asked about the make-up of his cabinet, he said Hamas wanted to form a broad national unity coalition that would consist of as many political factions as possible. He said he wanted to see the ruling Fatah Party in his cabinet. "We believe in political partnership," he stressed. "We want to establish a new political system based on political pluralism and ending the monopoly of one faction in power." Abbas was scheduled to visit the Gaza Strip last weekend for talks with Haniyeh about the formation of the new cabinet. However, the visit was called off following violent protests by supporters of former PA minister Muhammad Dahlan. "I don't know why Abbas canceled the visit, but I hope he will arrive here soon," Haniyeh said, adding that he was prepared to meet Abbas any time. Although the two have not met since the election, Abbas was among the first PA leaders to phone Haniyeh to congratulate him on the stunning victory. Sources close to Abbas describe Haniyeh as a "pragmatic and charismatic" leader. "Compared with other Hamas leaders, Haniyeh is relatively moderate," said one source. Former PA minister Sufian Abu Zaydeh, a longtime friend of Haniyeh, praised him as "a realist and decent man." "He's been my friend for many years," he said. "We even spent some time together in Israeli jail. I believe he will be a good prime minister." Haniyeh, according to sources in the Gaza Strip, is one of the few Hamas leaders who maintain good relations with PA and Fatah officials. His colleague, Mahmoud Zahar, is considered one of the biggest enemies of Fatah activists in the Gaza Strip. Fatah spokesmen, who often launch scathing attacks on Zahar, have never attacked Haniyeh - at least not in public. Haniyeh represents the school of thought in Hamas that believes in striking a long-term hudna (temporary truce) with Israel. In a series of statements over the past few days, Haniyeh announced that Hamas would be prepared to accept an independent state within the 1967 boundaries. In return, it would be prepared to reach a long-term hudna with Israel, leaving the final resolution of the conflict to future generations. Hamas sources said Haniyeh played a significant role in persuading his movement to accept the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire, or tahdiyah (calm), that was reached in Cairo last year among representatives of various Palestinian factions. According to the sources, Hamas's decision to run in the parliamentary election was largely attributed to Haniyeh, who argued that the time had come for Hamas to shift to political activity. Haniyeh's friends in the Gaza Strip are already referring to him as Mr. Prime Minister, even though he still hasn't been entrusted with heading the new cabinet. Thousands of well-wishers have converged on his home in Gaza City ever since it was announced that Hamas had scored a landslide victory. On Tuesday, he met with the Jordanian ambassador to the PA who congratulated him on behalf of the Jordanian government. Haniyeh, who spent the past three years in hiding following a botched Israeli attempt on his life, now feels safe enough to appear in public. "He has been transformed from a fugitive to a statesman," remarked a Palestinian journalist who has known Haniyeh for more than 10 years. "He's even behaving like a prime minister." Haniyeh's rise to stardom began shortly after slain Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin appointed him as head of his bureau in 1998. Within a short period, Haniyeh became one of the most prominent faces of Hamas, frequently appearing on Al-Jazeera and other Arab satellite stations to explain his movement's policies. On September 6, 2003, Haniyeh accompanied Yassin on a courtesy visit to the home of Dr. Marwan Abu Ras, a university lecturer in Gaza City. A few minutes later, a missile fired by an IAF F-16 hit the house, damaging the first story. Yassin was lightly wounded in the right arm. Abu Ras and his son were also wounded. Haniyeh was the only one who escaped unharmed. "God protected me," he told reporters later. "Thank God for this gift." Haniyeh's acquaintances said then that the fact that he was an athlete was one of the main reasons for his narrow escape. "As a student at the Islamic University, Haniyeh was the captain of the soccer team," said one of his friends. "In fact, he was one of the best and fastest players. That's why he was able to run away very quickly when the missile hit the house." Haniyeh pledged that "there will be no major changes in the lives of the people. We managed to administer the conflict, and we will succeed in managing the affairs of our people. Most observers predicted that the elections would turn bloody and ugly, but they were proven to be wrong."