Hamas Moves into Uncharted Territory

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Shalom Harrari, a retired Israeli brigadier general, has studied Hamas since it was founded in 1987. He talks with Scott Simon about divisions within the group, and how the political landscape may change.

SCOTT SIMON host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The sweeping Hamas victory in Palestinian elections last week surprised much the world, many Palestinians at home, perhaps even Hamas itself.

Hamas, which has been called a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union is now in uncharted territory. The group must decide a political strategy: who among them will lead a government, what form that government will take. Shalom Harrari is a former Israeli military intelligence officer who has studied Hamas since it was founded in 1987. He joins us from Yavanna(ph), Israel.

Mr. Harrari, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. SHALOM HARRARI (Retired Brigadier General, Israel): Thank you, too.

SIMON: What's the internal structure of Hamas? Is there a central committee who makes decisions, who plots out strategy?

Mr. HARRARI: They have a local leadership, what they call the leadership of the inside, and they have the outside leadership, which fits most of it in Damascus, and they are consulting each other on the important matters. More than this, Hamas is not a monolith block because you have the leadership of Hamas of Gaza, and you have the leadership of Hamas, or some leadership from the West Bank. This leadership used to consult each other, but not on a daily basis.

SIMON: Are there differences between the Hamas group in the West Bank and the ones in Gaza? Because in a sense, they haven't had to work together before.

Mr. HARRARI: Those inside the territory are much more flexible and have to take to consideration much more the daily problems, starting with confrontation of the army or the inside pressure from the population, while those who sit in Damascus far away doesn't know everything about everything about what's going in and that's why they can afford themselves, if you can say so, to be sometimes much more militant in talking but also in demands for the population.

SIMON: Do you believe Hamas will move to try and replace Mahmoud Abbas or Abu Mazen?

Mr. HARRARI: What they try now is not remove Abu Mazen. On the contrary, because they see the positions of the Western world and until now, they think that they cannot respond to such demands, for example, to acknowledge Israel's right to exist, to disarm. That's why they prefer, maybe for, at least for some time, to have Abu Mazen and the Fatah generals staying in their jobs. So they will behave, or they will try from somewhere behind the curtains to control the things, but not on the surface.

SIMON: The United States and the European Union have said that lots of money that they give is going to be contingent on Hamas accepting the existence of Israel and other particulars. Israel also gives a lot of money to the Palestinian, or has given a lot of money to the Palestinian authority, and I'm wondering if the Olmert government or anybody has spoken out in Israel in recent days saying what's going to happen to that donation.

Mr. HARRARI: Well, at least until now, as I know, there is a decision to freeze the money that Israel must give in the next month to the Palestinians. Now, I think -- I'm not saying that Hamas is going to change totally their ideology, no. That's not the answer, but I say that they will have to find a way to go with this, because if they don't, they are going to lose some thing like $1 billion a year, which is money that even if Arab states will come and try to help them, I don't see how they are going to collect such sum every year the next four years.

SIMON: Shalom Harrari, former Israeli military intelligence officer, thanks very much.

Mr. HARRARI: Thank you too.

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