'We'll join PLO to keep it true to its mission'

Senior Hamas official: "Anyone who thinks Hamas has changed its positions is living in an illusion."

Khaled Mashaal in Cairo after reconcilliation agreement_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Khaled Mashaal in Cairo after reconcilliation agreement_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Hamas is joining the PLO not as a result of a change in its ideology but because it wants the PLO to stick to its original platform – liberating Palestine and achieving the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees, Hamas leaders explained over the weekend.
The Hamas leaders’ clarifications came in response to claims that Hamas’s decision to join the PLO was a sign the Islamist movement was moving toward moderation and would abandon its radical ideology.
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Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other radical Palestinian groups agreed on Thursday to join a provisional leadership of the PLO that would look into ways of “activating and reconstructing” the Fatah-dominated organization.
The decision was announced following a meeting of representatives of several Palestinian groups in Cairo.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad are demanding the PLO reconsider its political strategy by scrapping the Oslo Accords and its recognition of the two-state solution.
Hamas’s “foreign minister” Osama Hamdan, said the decision to join the temporary PLO leadership did not mean Hamas would become part of the peace process with Israel.
“Anyone who thinks Hamas has changed its positions and now accepts the PLO’s defeatist political program is living in an illusion,” Hamdan stressed. “Hamas cannot make the mistake of joining a process that has proved to be a failed one over the past 20 years.”
He was quoted by the Quds Press news agency as saying Hamas’s decision to be part of a provisional PLO leadership was aimed at “reconstructing the organization and reconsidering its political program.”
Hamdan emphasized that Hamas remains committed to fulfilling the aspirations of Palestinians, “first and foremost the liberation of our lands from the sea to the river and achieving the right of return.”
The Hamas leader said those who believe the Palestinians could continue to pursue the PLO’s “failed” political program over the past two decades are deluding themselves.
By seeking reconciliation with Fatah, Hamas hopes to achieve the Palestinians’ goal of liberating all their lands and securing the return of the refugees to their original homes inside Israel, Hamdan said.
He said the reconciliation process with Fatah was moving slowly and facing many obstacles, such as continued security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel in the West Bank.
Hamdan also denied that his movement had left Syria.
“The Hamas offices and headquarters are still in Damascus,” he said.
Another Hamas leader, Khalil Abu Leila, said his movement would not join the PLO under the latter’s current political program.
One of the main tasks of the provisional PLO leadership was to “bring the PLO back to its correct path and the goal for which it was established, namely the liberation of Palestine,” he said.
Abu Leila said Hamas had long been demanding the PLO be “reactivated” and reconsider all agreements signed by the organization. His remark was seen as a reference to the Oslo Accords, which were signed between the PLO and Israel in 1993.
“All peoples are entitled to reconsider agreements signed by their governments,” Abu Leila said. “This is what just happened with Turkey, which decided to cancel many agreements with France over the Armenian issue.”
He also cautioned against “excessive optimism” regarding the prospects of ending the dispute between Hamas and Fatah, saying one should first wait to see tangible results on the ground.
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said “activating and reconstructing” the PLO meant electing new bodies for the organization, such as the Palestine National Council, the parliament-in-exile, and the Executive Committee. After the elections, the newly elected PLO leaders would begin discussions on the organization’s political program, he added.
“This is not about one party joining another,” Mashaal said. “We are working toward unifying the institutions of the Palestinian Authority and ending the division on the ground and in the political arena. This is what the reconciliation pact [that was reached in Cairo last May] calls for.
“It also envisages reforming and activating the PLO by holding new elections for the Palestine national Council and Executive Committee.”
Mashaal said that from now on no Palestinian party would have a monopoly over the political decision- making process or managing the PA and PLO institutions.
Islamic Jihad Secretary-General Ramadan Shallah also denied the decision to join the provisional PLO leadership was an indication his group would abandon its ideology.
“We still haven’t joined the PLO,” he said. “In future discussions with other factions, we will talk about incorporating Islamic Jihad into the PLO. Thursday’s meeting was just the beginning of this process.”
Shallah told London-based Al- Hayat newspaper it has already been made clear no organization would be asked to abandon its program as a condition for joining the PLO.
On the other hand, he added, no group has been asked to accept the PLO’s political platform as a condition for joining the organization.
“In principle, there is a Palestinian consensus that the PLO is an address for all Palestinians,” Shallah said. “We are seeking to make this an appropriate address.”
He said that during last week’s discussions in Cairo, PLO and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas made it clear the Palestinians would still preserve the right to “armed resistance” against Israel, despite the talk about the need for a “popular uprising.”
“No one has the right to say armed resistance is illegitimate and the Palestinians cannot resort to it,” Shallah said.