Hamas Leader Defiant Amid Protests, Threats

A Hamas leader rejects calls to eschew violence in the wake of victory in the Palestinian elections. U.S. and European leaders threaten aid cuts to the Palestinian Auhority unless Hamas disarms. Scott Simon discusses developments with Rami Khouri of Beirut's Daily Star.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Today, a top Hamas leader has rejected calls for the group to renounce violence in return for International Aid to the Palestinian authority. Since Hamas swept into victory in Wednesday's election, the United States and the European Union have said they will cut back aid packages unless the group disarms. Hamas leader, Ismael Hania said today that Hamas will not allow itself to be pressured by the international community. Rami Khouri is a columnist for the Daily Star Newspaper in Beirut. Rami, thanks for being with us.

Mr. RAMI KHOURI (Columnist, Daily Star Newspaper): Good to be with you.

Mr. KHOURI: Good to be with you

SIMON: Do you see room for a compromise on this point?

Mr. KHOURI: I think so, yes, but it will take some time. And a compromise for peace-making, like action in war making, requires two sides. So any unilateral demands on Hamas are not likely to get anywhere very quickly. More realistic is to look at the war between the Israelis and the Palestinians, particularly the armed resistance by Hamas and others against the Israeli occupation and to figure out how can you stop this mutually.

And I think there's much prospect of getting somewhere if we ask the Israelis to stop assassinating Hamas leaders and expanding their settlements, and to stop making life difficult for the Palestinians, and to ask the Palestinians also simultaneously to stop attacking Israel with rockets and sending suicide bombers, which by the way, Hamas has done for the last year. They've had a truce, while the Israelis have kept assassinating Hamas leaders. So I think there is a scope to do this, but it can only happen mutually.

SIMON: I believe the Martyrs Brigade has said today that they will no longer observe the truce.

Mr. KHOURI: Yes, but they're a different group. They're an offshoot of Fatah. And ironically, they're going to probably find themselves in a situation like Hamas was before, which was with Hamas being in power, the Martyrs Brigade is going to use armed resistance as a means to heighten its credibility with the population. But I think the important thing is there is a gap now between the Hamas position on relations with Israel and the position of the vast majority of Palestinians, which is much more reasonable and moderate in terms of willing to make a negotiated peace agreement and to make reasonable compromises anchored in the rule of law.

So that's an issue that Hamas and its Palestinian constituency will have to sort out. By the way, probably the only fully legitimate leadership in the Arab world. I mean, I know that's a pretty rash statement, but there's no other leadership in the Arab world that has this kind of political legitimacy on the basis of a free and fair election with such an overwhelming victory.

SIMON: Can you give us a couple of names?

Mr. KHOURI: Well, I think Razi Hamad in Gaza is a very dynamic young leader of the top leadership Hania, and the political leadership is pretty well known. There's also a secret side that has always kept it quiet, which is the military leadership, thought recently they put some of their names on the website. Being an incumbent now, they are going to have to deal with the world and with their own constituency on a different basis, because their mandate is to serve the Palestinian people to make life better, not to make life worse.

If their incumbency is going to bring about an international boycott and a cutoff in a billion dollars in funding, this is not what the Palestinian people elected them to do. They're aware of that.

SIMON: Do you personally know some of the people in Hamas who you assume will now be called on to form a government?

Mr. KHOURI: Oh, yes. I've met some of them over the years in journalism training programs and conferences and things like that, and they are serious people who have a lot of credibility now with their own constituency. So I think it's important to be sort of, hold your breath, pause for a moment, and let the reasonable elements on both sides, in Israel and in Palestine, assert themselves rather than immediately pressuring, and therefore, letting the extremists run the agenda again.

SIMON: Rami Khouri, columnist for the Daily Star Newspaper Beirut. Thank you.

Mr. KHOURI: Thanks for having me.

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