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Hamas leader speaks out after controversy

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Hamas official Ahmad Yousef discusses why the movement issued a statement preventing the press from dealing with him as its spokesperson.
RAFAH, GAZA STRIP - AUGUST 16:  Ahmed Youssef, an adviser to Ismail Haniya of Hamas, the dismissed Palestinian prime minister speaks as he sits at his home August 16, 2007 in Rafah, southern of the Gaza Strip. Today, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued an executive decree convicting any one who joins the administrative forces or militia of the rival Hamas movement.  (Photo by Abid Katib/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Ahmed Youssef

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — On Sept. 17, Hamas issued a press release denouncing media outlets for attributing prominent member Ahmed Yousef’s positions to the movement. It confirmed that Yousef  his personal views and his positions do not represent Hamas in any way.

Hamas’ official statement is the first to be issued against a leading official of the movement. It came following Yousef's article and press statements in which he spoke of Hamas’ internal elections and their timing, and revealed that Hamas had prepared a new political document that includes its positions on all aspects of the Palestinian cause, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ties with Arab, Islamic and foreign countries.

Yousef, who was born in 1950, is married with eight children and lives in the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. He is well traveled and has visited more than 30 Arab, Islamic and Western countries. Yousef graduated with master's degrees in industrial engineering from the University of Colorado in 1984 and in journalism from Columbia University in 1987. He holds a doctoral degree in political science from Columbia University (2004).

Yousef is the current secretary-general of the House of Wisdom for Conflict Resolution and Governance. He was appointed in 2006 as political adviser to then-Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and served as deputy foreign minister in 2009. He has written more than 30 books on the Palestinian cause, the Arab-Israeli conflict, issues related to Islam and the West and the Islamic movement’s affairs. He is also a member of various international intellectual and political leagues and unions, such as the Oxford Research Group, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Middle East Studies Association.

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Yousef said that his media statements reflect his personal opinions and noted that there are rising voices within Hamas calling for political reconsiderations, after Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, said at a Doha conference in September, “We have made mistakes in terms of the relations with Fatah.”

The text of the interview follows:

Al-Monitor:  What is your position within Hamas? Do you speak on its behalf?

Yousef:  I am a leading Hamas member. I speak to the media on my behalf. I am a thinker and I have written more than 30 books. Everyone knows that I am a cultivated member of Hamas who is well informed of the movement’s affairs. Yet I speak as a researcher, thinker and former politician. I am not a spokesman for Hamas, which has its own official website and spokespeople.

Al-Monitor:  Why did Hamas demand that the media not treat you as a Hamas leader or spokesman? What happened?

Yousef:  The movement delivered to the media a message saying that Ahmed Yousef is not the movement’s official spokesman and that he speaks on his own behalf — even though he is a leader, which I confirmed to the media on several occasions. I have an opinion and might agree or disagree with the movement. This reflects the openness within Hamas, which includes a moderate and a hard-line current.

The most prominent reason that prompted the movement to issue this official statement was after I participated in several media interviews in which I spoke of the upcoming elections within Hamas and said that Hamas had prepared a political document that reflects an evolution in the movement’s thought and internal and external relations, and that will probably be issued in the future.

Al-Monitor:  Do you think that Hamas is seeking to move you away from the political scene?

Yousef:  I do not think so. Hamas knows that I am of the founding generation of the movement, which I have been a member of for more than 45 years. My thoughts are acceptable for the Hamas popular base and mid-level leaders. Hamas wanted to draw the attention of the media to this issue to prevent any confusion between my personal statements and the movement’s official stance.

Al-Monitor:  You wrote that legal violations occurred during Hamas’ 2008 internal elections, which caused confusion within the movement’s ranks. What are these violations? Did you call for an investigation to be conducted into these violations?

Yousef:  I am not going to enter into the details. The movement has evolved and matured. All leading and well-known figures are supposed to put forward programs and ideas and work on their implementation, in case they win the elections, during their term in the leading positions in the next phase — so that they can be held accountable in the future. Figures should not be elected just for the seniority right they have in the movement. All figures must compete to have access to positions within the movement.

Al-Monitor:  You are one of those few voices within Hamas calling for political reconsiderations and a new political program with a clear vision and objectives that takes into account the changes occurring in the world. What does this program include?

Yousef:  There are increased calls for reconsiderations. I am not the only one. This is true particularly since the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Meshaal, said at a conference in September in Doha, “We have made mistakes in terms of the relations with Fatah.” This reflects unprecedented courage by the movement’s leaders. I believe that Meshaal’s statements must be followed by reconsiderations within the movement. Islamist movements in the Arab region — especially after the Arab Spring — are all revising the way to deal and cope with the ruling political regimes in the Arab countries, in light of the margins allowing Islamists to participate in power.

These reconsiderations do not mean that Islamist parties are abandoning their constants. Rather, they are designed to determine what these movements need in order to take a leap forward in the way they deal with the current regimes. Most prominently among these movements that made reconsiderations are the Justice and Development Party in Morocco and the Ennahda movement in Tunisia. There is a tendency within Hamas to make these reconsiderations and engage in political alliances with other Palestinian parties.

Al-Monitor:  Many Hamas leaders and members have criticized your reconciliatory stances toward Fatah. Why do you take such stances?

Yousef:  The movement perceives that the Palestinian Authority and Fatah were unjust toward it when it was in the opposition, and [that Hamas] is not responsible for the PA’s mistakes after Hamas won the 2006 legislative elections — namely the killing of some Hamas leaders in Gaza, not handing over power and pushing toward armed confrontation.

Al-Monitor:  Gaza is suffering from major crises — most importantly on the economic and services levels — due to the siege. Do you support the idea of a dialogue with the Israelis in an attempt to resolve them?

Yousef:  I do not support a dialogue with the Israelis, and I have never called for one to be held. Hamas does not need such dialogues. The international institutions operating in the Gaza Strip negotiate and communicate with the Israelis, and pressure them to break the blockade on Gaza and allow the entry of humanitarian aid. The PA experiment in negotiations and communications with the Israelis is not encouraging and is uncomfortable. It even causes the organization to lose popularity and the cards it has in hands.

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