If Hamas follows sound policy, they will receive more support
US Ambassador to Egypt and Israel: If Hamas follows sound policy, they will receive more support
Recently, Daniel Kurtzer, visiting professor of political studies of the Middle East at Princeton University, visited Yemen. Dr. Kurtzer was born in 1949 and received his master’s degree in Middle Eastern history from Colombia University. From 1977 to 2005 he worked as a diplomat in the American Foreign Service and served as ambassador to Egypt and Israel and was a close associate of James Baker, a former secretary of state.
In the offices of News Yemen that Dr. Kurtzer visited, Mr. Nabil Al-Sofee held a discussion with him about the future of the Middle East.
Al-soufi: Let us begin with the latest developments in the Middle East. How do you evaluate the developments in Palestine after Hamas’ win in the elections?
Kurtzer: We must look at the elections that took place in Palestine from two angles. It was a successful democratic experience without any violation of laws. For this reason, the elections represented the voice of the Palestinian people. This is what the international community announced.
Secondly, we must look at the concerns of the international community in relation to the policies that Hamas has vowed to undertake. The worries of the international community focused on the policies of Hamas and not on the electoral process.
* What is the cause of this concern?
– I believe that the international community looked at three questions concerning the policy. First, what kind of influence will the Palestinian Authority have on Hamas in terms of recognizing Israel? Secondly, what kind of influence the PA will have on Hamas in terms of restarting negotiations. Thirdly, what kind of influence the PA will have on Hamas in terms of renouncing terror.
* What do you expect?
– Kurtzer: Each country expressed its perspective on the matter like the United States, the European Union and Russia. However, the decision is in the hands of Hamas. It is difficult to know what Hamas will decide. But I hope that it finds a path based on acceptable principles.
We know that Hamas and Israel will come to the discussion table with incorrect perspectives. However, that is okay and from the perspective of the American government and people. The option before the two parties is whether to come to the discussion table or to continue fighting. We expect that Israel and the PA will come to the table to discuss.
* As a former ambassador to Israel, how do you evaluate Israel’s vision?
– In the beginning of this trip in which I visited Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, and Yemen I was given the opportunity to talk with the Israeli leadership. They expressed to me as they had expressed publicly that they are eager to resume negotiations concerning the Road Map for Peace.
In reality, Ehud Olmert who is standing in for Ariel Sharon said in his address two weeks ago that he wants to begin direct negotiations concerning the Road Map. He also said, however, that if there were not a partner then Israel would continue to push for peace.
We as the American government and people do not speak in place of Israel, but I believe that they are ready to return to the negotiating table especially since we have seen the alternative: five years of intifada.
* There are deep feelings of injustice in the Arab world and in Palestine especially because of the American bias towards Israel. How does the American administration and American people see this issue?
– All the American administrations, whether Republican or Democratic, over the past 30 to 40 years have followed the same policy. We as Americans have a number of interests we want to achieve in the region.
1. We want to build good relations with the Arab states;
2. We want to avoid any aggression, either domestic or international in the region;
3. We want to guarantee that gas and oil resources are available for export;
4. We want to support the security of Israel;
5. We support peaceful solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
These are the national interests of the United States of America. As any state, we translate our interests into policy. For this reason, we offer help to both Arab states and Israel. We negotiate for the sake of peace. We have secure relations with many Arab countries. We negotiate also for energy sources in order to guarantee that it is available for international export. We are simply following our interests like any state.
* The word on the Arab street is that the Israeli interest occupies the first, second, and third place, then energy sources, and then if there is any room left, the Palestinian issue.
– I respect this fact but the truth is different than what is believed on the street. I will give you two examples. Six months ago the US and the G8 agreed to supply the Palestinians with 3 million dollars for 3 years in order to build infrastructure.
I don’t know how many of the people in the streets know this or understand this.
Secondly, I worked as the US ambassador to Egypt for 4 years. The US offered 60-70 billion dollars to Egypt. We were partners in constructing the electrical services, telecommunication capabilities, and water projects. Likewise, we offered support in the education field. Does the street understand what we attempted to do or the extent of the help Egypt received because of our efforts?
* When talking about the Hamas’ terror strategies, Americans often compare it with Al-Qaeda despite the fact that Palestinians are pushed to perform these acts due to the occupation and the continuous killing. Here are two different questions as I see it. First, do the American people and government understand the extent of suffering of the Palestinians under the occupation and diaspora? Secondly, why are the Palestinians criticized for using terror to achieve their goals?
– I believe that the Americans in fact say the suffering is deep. If we compare what the US has done for the Palestinians we see that there is still a lack. There are many people who live under oppression and poverty.
In the first part of your question there was some imprecision. You said that we as a country do not alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians. Can we do more? Of course.
There is a large American organization for offering help. Whenever there is discussion among policy makers in order to obtain more funding for Palestine or for any person then it is normal to ask the questions “Where will this money come from? Are there any local or international programs to help?”
As for the second part of the question, we have a clear picture of what is terrorism especially after the events of September 11.
I know that there are some people who say that we must support legitimate resistance groups. But as a professor I want to hear the Arab definition of legitimate resistance.
Is the hijacking of two airplanes and crashing them into a business center and killing 3000 people legitimate? Was blowing up two restaurants near the embassy I was working in legitimate resistance? Were the terrorists who killed three bodyguards of diplomats in the Gaza Strip legitimate resistance? I want to understand the Arab definition of legitimate resistance.
* The international war on terror is often used by other groups such as Al-Qaeda to incite violence. However, the Palestinians do not internationalize their struggle that remains solely in their country.
– I agree with that. I believe that the Arab world and the US agree on this issue and they work together. We tried and continue to try as a people and government to differentiate between the terrorists, the Muslims, and Arabs. The issue according to the US is terrorism only and not connected to Arabs and Muslims.
*: Let us return to the origins of the conflict. Who progresses the decision-making? Israel or the U.S.?
– I am proud to say that the United States is an independent country and that we adopt our decisions by ourselves. We undertook a revolution for the sake of our independence. Israel likewise is an independent country and makes its decisions by itself. Yemen likewise.
*As a journalist and citizen, I would like to know who you consider responsible for such questions in the Arab street.
– I don’t believe that there is one set person who is responsible. I believe that it is necessary that all of us work together. The Arab states must work together in the same way. And journalism plays a very important role as well.
I believe that it is necessary that everyone stand together and determine their priorities. Why do I say that? In Sana’a University this morning someone said to me that the Palestinian issue is at the heart of the Arab world, and that if we fix the heart then we fix the body as a whole. I hope that this is true. Unfortunately this is only an excuse. I believe that there are many issues in the Arab world today that deserve attention, whether or not we achieve results in the Palestinian issue. Why have issues of democracy, corruption, and human rights become embarrassing issues to leadership in the Arab world? And why do they excuse themselves by talking about the Palestinian issue? Palestine is burdened down by occupation, but underwent democratic elections anyway. I ask here, how many Arab countries have had similar free elections? I agree with you that we need to work towards a solution for the Palestinian conflict.
* There is a fear from the negative effects of the Palestinian elections on democracy in the region, especially since some people say that the U.S. will change its policy because democracy led to Hamas.
– I don’t know what the policies will be. I have left the political arena. But we see what President Bush said when he praised the Palestinians and their free elections, while expressing his concern over the policies Hamas would now follow.
* The Arab countries focused on the American and European warnings to Hamas more than anything else. The Palestinian issue is a problem for Arabs, Americans and Europeans. As an expert please tell us about the golden opportunity the international community has to play in preventing dictatorships from seizing the Palestinian issue.
– I believe that Hamas has not only a big responsibility but also a big opportunity. All the analysts say that Hamas’s victory is tied to several factors. First, the Israeli occupation; second, failure of the peace process; third, Hamas’s religious platforms; fourth, failure of the PA to conduct good governance. If Hamas understands these matters and works based upon them, then it has an opportunity to achieve progress in all the fields I have mentioned, including affiliating with Israel to make the peace process successful, and to put an end to the occupation and reform government.
This is a great opportunity for Hamas if it follows sound policy. This does not depend on Yemen, and this does depend on Israel or America. It depends on Hamas only.
* Hamas has carried the responsibility for everything, but I believe that the U.S. and the Arabs are responsible also because I am speaking about democracy and not about the occupation only.
– As an American, I don’t create corruption in Palestine.
* My question searches for the following: Arab revolutions have occurred under the pretext of defending the Palestinian nation, and armies have been assembled under that reasoning. Freedoms have been quelched also for that reason. Is there now an opportunity to say that peace will come with democratization? Building this democracy in the Arab world is not Hamas’s responsibility but is an Arab/American responsibility, especially since Palestinians worked hard to set up good elections.
– President Bush said that the Arab states have done their utmost to nullify the underpinnings of democracy. He criticized those who said that Arabs cannot be democratic, and has also supported proper democratic programs, despite the fact that many organizations in the region do not want such support.
I personally believe that we cannot export democracy. However, we can export democratic ideas, and we are able to present some of the resources to those who want to move in the direction of democratization.
* Will Hamas’s win not effect the support of democracy?
– If the PA follows sound policy then we feel it will work for their good and they will receive more support from us.
* What about the Islamists in the Arab region?
– America does not have objection to Islamists use of American support for democracy. America is only concerned that this use is for the purpose of rooting democracy in the region.