14.03.2008Israel's Settlement Policy"Hamas Is an Accomplice of the Jewish Extremists"In a move that undermines the peace process, Israel has announced plans to build hundreds of new homes in the West Bank. In this interview, Volkhard Windfuhr, correspondent for the newsmagazine
Volkhard Windfuhr: "Hamas is, if you like, an accomplice of the Jewish extremists and their political representatives, because Hamas does not actually want peace" In addition to the course of violence maintained by Hamas, Israel's continued settlement policy is a major obstacle to successful peace negotiations in the Middle East. Why, in your opinion, does Israel insist on pursuing such settlement projects?
Volkhard Windfuhr: There are several points to make in this regard. First of all, the current Israeli government under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is a weak one. Moreover, the Jewish religious party and the fundamentalists – I am thinking here of the Shas party and other extreme Jewish groups – are putting massive pressure on Olmert and his coalition government in order to prevent the government and the already weakened prime minister from doing anything that could pave the way for real peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
The construction of these settlements, or rather the approval given by the Israeli government to establish the planned settlements and build new housing units within the extended city limits of Jerusalem – city limits, incidentally, that Israel drew up wilfully and unilaterally in defiance of all UN principles – are proof of the fact that Olmert is caving in to pressure from the religious fundamentalists and other extremists in his own camp.
This, of course, puts a spanner in the works of any negotiations with the Palestinian government led by Mahmoud Abbas – negotiations that are, incidentally, worthwhile.
What role might Hamas play in the peace process?
Windfuhr: I must also say that Hamas has also exerted political pressure and bears some responsibility – albeit a minor, yet clear responsibility – for the current bleak situation. However, the way things are looking at the moment, I can only assume that it is likely that nothing positive – nothing ground-breaking – will happen to pave the way for peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel until the American elections are over.
An Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem. Under the terms of the US-sponsored road map peace plan, Israel was supposed to have frozen the construction of settlements I can imagine that there are several people in Europe, maybe even several governments and government representatives, that are critical of all that. However, the fact remains that Europe as we know it is certainly not willing or able to take unilateral action, i.e. to exert pressure on Israel. Unfortunately, I cannot imagine this happening, although it would promote peace.
Nor will Europe do anything that has not previously been given the green light by the Americans. All of this leads me to believe that the Israeli government's approval of the construction plans for new settlements in the north-west of Jerusalem has put a stop to everything.
Europe cannot do anything or will not do anything?
Windfuhr: It depends on how you look at it. You can use both words; it doesn't change the outcome in any way. No, I don't think it will change because Europe does not speak with one voice, does not dare to criticise Israel, let alone exert pressure on it – pressure that would be necessary – and because the Europeans will never do anything in the Middle East that the Americans don't approve of.
I don't think that this will change significantly during the election campaigns in the USA. Europe is still too weak and too divided.
Let us return to Palestine and Hamas. Among other things, Hamas is criticised for not recognising Israel's right of existence. Do you think that this position is set in stone?
Windfuhr: Hamas is, if you like, an accomplice of the Jewish extremists and their political representatives, because Hamas does not actually want peace. At best it would accept a limited ceasefire, but Hamas is not even willing to stop the senseless, pointless rocket attacks.
There is one simple reason for this, and this reason is, of course, just an excuse: they say that the resistance of the Palestinians must not be allowed to be broken. Although the decision-makers in Hamas know exactly what consequences this will have: Israel will just keep on attacking.
It's logical; any other country would do the same. However, if Hamas pursues its current course, although its people are suffering more as a result, then one is quite justified in saying that Hamas does not actually want peace at all.
If your description and analysis of the status quo are anything to go by, there isn't going to be any solution in the near future. You have been observing the situation in the Middle East for many years now. Do you hold out any hope for a solution at some stage? And what would have to happen – and who would have to make it happen – for a solution to be reached?
Windfuhr: Questions such as these are quite justified, and I don't believe that the problem has been gotten rid of once and for all. We are now in a situation where a peaceful solution is not likely to be reached for a full year. However, peace negotiations will take place, even if it is at a later date. The impetus is there.
Interview conducted by Khaula Saleh
Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan
Volkhard Windfuhr is head of the Arab office of the German newsmagazine "Der Spiegel" in Cairo.
Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan