01/31/2006, 00.00
PALESTINE – ISRAEL
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Electors want peace with Israel: the constraint on Hamas

Nabil Kukali, director and founder of the Palestinian Centre for Palestinian Opinion explains to AsiaNews the reasons for Hamas' victory and Palestinian voting dynamics.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) -- "Hamas will enter into the peace process because there's no other choice".  The Palestinian people voted for Hamas to punish Fatah for its foolishness and errors.  But the people, at least 78%, want peace with Israel and improved economic conditions.  Hamas cannot ignore the people's will."  This in the words of Nabil Kukali, director and founder of the Palestinian Centre for Palestine Opinion, which has been studying Palestinian public opinion since 1994.  Kukali, a Christian, is also a professor at Hebron University, in one of the most heated areas of the West Bank and what is held to be a Hamas stronghold.

Professor Kukali is about to release a survey on the reasons for the Palestinian vote, following Hamas' victory in parliamentary elections.  Survey results show that if Hamas wants to maintain popular support, it must change tactics and program. "As long as Hamas was not in power, it could 'resist', but if it takes on government it can't enter into dialogue and 'resist' at the same time."

As for the worries expressed by Christians and moderate Muslims that the legislature might go off on a fundamentalist tangent, Prof Kukali is straightforward. "We Christians have lived here since the time of Christ and they cannot throw us out.  We shall see how things evolve over the next few months. But I think the main perception among Palestinians is that we are a single people, Muslims and Christians, Hamas and Fatah supporters."

Here is his full interview with AsiaNews:

 

Professor Kukali, how do you see the situation after Hamas' election victory?

Allow me to say first of all that the elections were a victory for democracy.  It is an important step toward Palestine becoming a modern state in all respects.  The important thing is to maintain this course.  We are set to become the first democratic state in the Arab Middle East after Lebanon and Iraq.

What are your views on the international community's worries vis-à-vis Hamas?

Hamas represents a new starting point.  On local television yesterday, I saw a Hamas member who stated: "it is not a sin to shake the hand of an Israeli, even if he's an Israeli soldier."  There are a few signs of change.  If you're out of the government, you can do whatever you want.  If you've been elected and have to set up a government, it's another story.  To judge Hamas in government, we will have to see who becomes Prime Minister.  For the moment, there is a lot of discussion within Hamas among differing positions.

Do Palestianians support Hamas' struggle?

Hamas won in Palestine for two basic reasons. First, they were fed up with Fatah and its corruption, and wanted a change.  Secondly, because the majority of the Palestinian population – at least 78% according to our data – wants peace with Israel and wants economic improvement.  The choice was between Fatah and Hamas.  Palestinians chose Hamas to punish Fatah, in power since 1994, for its foolishness and errors.

The Palestinian population's agenda differs from Hamas'.  The people want to negotiate with Israel and we must hold on to the aid coming from the international community and keep moving along the road map set out by the Quartet.  As long as Hamas was not in government, it could "resist", but if it goes to government, it can't enter into dialogue and "resist" at the same time.

My impression is that Hamas will enter into the peace process because there's no other choice.  If Hamas refuses, what happens?  Israel would continue to build its wall, isolating Palestinians.  In the meantime, the international community, the European Union and the U.S. would cut off aid and disaster would ensue.  Hamas is intelligent and will understand.

After all, Palestine is going through want Israel did in 1976, when Labour lost power to Likkud.  People have been frustrated for too long, but this doesn't mean that they don't want peace with Israel or that they take no interest in the country's economy or aid, or that Hamas' agenda is good.  Elections results only mean that people wanted to challenge Fatah.

Are there any signs of change in Hamas?

There's a change in attitude.  And once Hamas is in government, it will change even more.  Hamas needs dialogue with Israel and can't delegate this task to anyone else.  People no longer want as leader someone from Fatah.  At the same time, all that people really want is peace with Israel, so that economic conditions improve.  If Hamas betrays this expectation, the government risks falling and we would go to new elections.

Various Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims, fear an increase in Islamic fundamentalism and laws inspired by Sharia…

Palestine already has its laws and it's not easy for Hamas to change them.  I am Christian and among the few who work at the university in Hebron, where Hamas is very strong.  But I have no problems whatsoever.  We Christians have lived here since the times of Christ and they can't throw us out.  We shall see how things evolve over the next few months.  But I think that the main perception among Palestinians is that we are a single people, Muslims and Christians, Hamas and Fatah supporters.

Of course, Christians must be helped to stay in this land and to avoid emigrating: you Christians in the West should help us by supporting religious tourism and pilgrimages.  Once, we Christians were 15% of the population; today we are 1.5%.  We need contacts that help the Palestinian economy of Christians to find new markets and to improve and sustain our existence.  We shall see how things evolve.  For now there are 6 or 7 Christian members in the Palestinian parliament.

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