A leader of the Palestinian terror group Hamas vowed Monday not to bow to American threats to cut aid, saying the movement did not need “satanic” U.S. money.
Mahmoud al-Zahar also addressed Hamas’ much-anticipated social and economic agenda, saying the group intended to fight corruption, eliminate the “tourism of nudity” and use education to promote a culture of resistance. But, aware of the political realities in the Palestinian territories, al-Zahar said Hamas had no intention to force Islam on Palestinians or to settle scores with its rivals.
“Those who built their structure on the basis of the Quran...Cannot budge because of promises from America or a dollar from Europe,” al-Zahar told a Cairo conference. “I wish America would cut off its aid. We do not need this satanic money,” he said.
Since Hamas’ victory in last month’s parliamentary elections, western nations have threatened to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in badly needed aid unless the group, which is responsible for dozens of suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis, transforms itself.
Hamas was expected to lead a new government. “America and Europe tried to dry up the funding of the ‘terrorist’ Hamas that is spent on the families of the martyrs and the detainees, but it (Hamas) has only increased,” al-Zahar said, adding that such money comes from almsgiving, he said.
‘Negotiations are not our goal’
Al-Zahar argued that most of the outside aid money was eaten up by corruption under Fatah and lost funds could be made up by removing corrupt officials and turning to Arab donors. He ruled out making compromises to keep the money coming.
“Recognizing the state of the Israeli enemy is not on the table,” al-Zahar said. “Our program is to liberate Palestine, all of Palestine,” he said.
“The Qassam Brigades will continue to increase in numbers, supplies and weapons...Until the liberation is completed,” al-Zahar said of the group’s military wing.
He added that Hamas can develop the capabilities of its missiles, saying “anyone who thinks the calm means giving in is mistaken. The calm is in preparation for a new round of resistance and victory. If the enemy has something to offer we will study it, but we will not abide by a truce that is for free.”
Hamas abided by an Egyptian-brokered truce between the Palestinians and Israel, and has continued to forgo militant attacks beyond the agreement’s expiration late last year.
Al-Zahar also again rejected the 1993 Oslo peace accords under which the Palestinians recognized Israel and set up the Palestinian Authority.
“We are entering (parliament) to eliminate any traces of Oslo,” he said.
But Zahar called for making a distinction between bestowing legitimacy on Israel and recognizing the facts on the ground. He left the door open for possible future talks with Israel through a third party.
“Negotiations are not our goal,” the Hamas leader said. “Negotiations are a means. If they realize the best interest of the Palestinian people, then we will find a thousand mediators...To negotiate.”
He also talked about Hamas’ social and economic vision, which critics charge is vague and could limit freedoms.
“Education will be a program of resistance; tourism will not be tourism of nudity, alcohol and casinos,” al-Zahar said, speaking instead of a “tourism of resistance” that will attract Muslims and Arabs.
He said Palestinians should promote small industries, attract investments and separate “the economy from the Israeli enemy.”
‘The man wants reform’
To fight corruption, al-Zahar said Hamas wants to eliminate about 37,000 “imaginary jobs” in the Fatah-dominated security services - a possibly explosive prospect. He said no one would be fired as a matter of revenge.
“The sons of Fatah or any other faction should not be afraid because we will not do anyone injustice. Each of them should know that his blood, money and honor are safe,” al-Zahar said.
Addressing worries the movement will impose hard-line interpretations of Islam, he said “we will not force the religion on anyone or, as they claim, make them wear veils.”
Al-Zahar argued that Hamas’ ascension to power will usher in “a golden age” for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
“The man wants reform,” he said of Abbas. “We will cooperate with him in all possible ways.”
Zahar’s comments were frequently interrupted by applause and chants hailing Hamas. The audience - the men sitting on one side of the room and the women, almost all veiled, on the other - also sang religious songs glorifying jihad.