Interview with Fawaz Gerges

Fawaz Gerges, the Head of Middle East Research Centre at the Sara Lawrence College in New York, joined Russia Today to comment on the current situation in Gaza.

Russia Today: The international community has pretty much given its full support to the Fatah-led Cabinet trying to isolate Hamas. Could you tell us the main differences between these two Palestinian movements?

Fawaz Gerges: Hamas gained the parliamentary majority last year and formed the government. Before Hamas, Fatah – the ruling party of the Palestinian authority – was the leading political player in Palestine. Since then, last year major skirmishes have taken place between Fatah and Hamas, and I think the struggle is much more serious than that. I think it is an internal struggle for the political identity, for the political character of the future Palestinian state. Hamas believes that Fatah did not deliver the goods. Hamas is much more uncompromising than Fatah is when it comes to Israel and peace talks with Israel.

RT: You say it is not an ideological and political struggle but it has manifested itself in a very physical way, and Gaza and the West Bank are now split and controlled separately. So where do you see this conflict is going and can any kind of a peace be reached, do you think?

F.G.:Well, it is truly a devastating humanitarian crisis. Now you have the Palestinians killing each other, massacring each other in a very brutish way. You have 1.5 MLN Palestinians in Gaza cut off from the world – no medicines, no food, no gas. This is a serious situation. Not only the Palestinians are living in the military occupation. The Palestinians are involved in all-out civil war. This is a serious situation. The very future of the Palestinian state and the Palestinian identity is at stake.

RT: Indeed, people say Gaza is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis at the moment. Well, today the Israeli PM Ehud Olmert is meeting with the U.S. President George Bush in Washington. What do you think we can expect to come out of those talks?

F.G.: It has been happening during the last two weeks or so. I think that both the Bush Administration and Mr Olmert are experimenting with the so-called 'separation idea'. The separation idea is that we will deal with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who formed the second government a few days ago, and let's isolate Hamas, not deal with Hamas. The question is: what are you going to do with 1.5 MLN Palestinians in Gaza? How do you basically provide the necessary conditions? As you know, the European Commission cut its aid projects in Gaza. My fear is that if Hamas is squeezed further, if Palestinians in Gaza starve further, Gaza could further descend into chaos and present major instability in the region. And I would argue that Al-Qaeda could easily establish a base in Gaza, in particular if the territory descends into all-out war and further chaos.

RT: Hamas did democratically win the election last year, but the international community is isolating that group for the various reasons, for example, it is refusing to recognise Israel. And so the international community has criticised Russia for holding talks with Hamas earlier. Do you think that since these latest skirmishes in the region Russia will change its position with regards to continuing dialogue with Hamas?

F.G.: One point must be made very carefully. One cannot understand what is happening in the Palestinian territories without understanding how the international community responded to the election of Hamas as a Cabinet. The international community led by the U.S. boycotted Hamas and the Palestinians were squeezed for space, for resources. The Palestinians found themselves killing each other as a result of the pressure. In fact I find the Russian position – truly – one of the most enlightened positions, because if the international community followed in the footsteps of Russia, I don't think we would see what we are seeing today. In fact I would argue and I would hope that the Russian government would play a pivotal role and would fill the vacuum of authority in the region, along with the international community with the UN and the European community in order to prevent further escalation and devastation in Gaza. If the international community now boycotts Gaza further, if 1.5 MLN Palestinians suffer further, I fear that we can witness more devastation, more escalation, more instability, more terrorism. And neither the Palestinians, not the Israeli, nor the international peace is served by this particular the situation.

RT: Do you see any other members of the international community following Russia's lead and holding dialogue with Hamas, and if so, who?

F.G.: No, I don't, and that is why I do hope that the Russian government plays a pivotal role. A pivotal role not by engaging Hamas. The question is not whether we like Hamas or not. Hamas won the majority, Hamas is a part of the reality in Palestine. How do we prevent the situation from further escalation? How do we prevent the further bloodshed? How do we prevent a major regional war? Now you have the potential. In fact I would say: if the international community continues on this particular path, Gaza could become the Southern Lebanon of the 1990s (as you remember, Israel occupied Southern Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s). It was a major terrible theatre. This is why Russia has a pivotal role to play in mediating, in bringing the international community to find the way out of this situation.