In the elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council, which took place on January 25 on the Western Bank of the Jordan, in Eastern Jerusalem and in Gaza Strip, the Hamas radical Islamic movement won 76 seats out of 132. The Middle East quartet including the European Union, the UN, Russian and the USA, on its part, urged Hamas, an organization which has made terrorism the basis of its political struggle, to renounce violence and recognize the right of Israel to exist. What are the prospects for a Middle East peace settlement after the Hamas’s victory? Is it possible to conduct dialogue with a government formed out of members of this party? An answer to these and other questions is given by Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar in his interview to Interfax-Religion.
- What do you see as the future for the Middle East settlements in light of the victory of Hamas in the recent elections?
- Of course, the outcome of this election has thrown the political process in this region into reverse. Unfortunately, the victory of Hamas is not the first victory of extremists in the Middle East in past years. A year ago, in exactly the same way, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected Iran's President, although his militant speeches are no different from those of Hamas. In fact, Iran was the first country to express support for terrorists coming to power in the Palestinian Autonomy. This tendency towards the strengthening of clearly extremist forces can be seen in various other countries in Asia and North Africa. We have to admit honestly that there are many countries in the world, where preaching hatred remains the easiest way of attaining popularity and success in elections. One can say much about the fact that many voted for Hamas in simple protest of the corruption of Fatah's leadership, but the fact remains the same: the Palestinians have brought to power a group, which is not only incapable of living in peace with Israel, but also repeatedly advocates terror. Hamas has officially claimed responsibility for hundreds of terrorist attacks against peaceful populations; for Hamas, terror is a normal way of resolving political problems. So, this is not only a problem for Israel and the Middle East, but a problem for the entire world, a problem of global resistance to terrorism.
- Is it possible to maintain any dialogue with a government which has enrolled members of this party?
- There is no way to negotiate with those who don't want you to exist at all. Moreover, if today European politicians begin insisting on the continuation of negotiations with Hamas, tomorrow they will demand we negotiate with the people like Basayev, and eventually, with Al-Qaeda. If this indeed happens, the entire civilized world will be threatened. Thank God that Russia, the USA and even the EU have voiced strict conditions for the legitimization of Hamas: rejection of violence and terror, the dismissal of military groups, and the recognition of Israel. If these conditions are met (not verbally, but through real action), the situation will be completely different. But while Hamas maintains its current position, any negotiation with this terrorist group constitutes 'the policy of Munich', which we know well from history, and which eventually led to world war.
- What do you think of the Hamas initiative to introduce the Shariat legislation in Palestine?
- I believe this is an internal matter for the Palestinian people. But for Hamas, just as for other terrorists in the Middle East, the Shariat slogan is a declaration of war on the values we were raised to uphold. This is a declaration of war not only on their controlled territory, but on the entire world. Don't forget that the final goal of Hamas is not the formation of a Palestinian state, but the establishment of a worldwide Caliphate.
- Do you think it is possible to avoid military conflict in the Middle East?
- Yes, of course, it's possible. Here, a great responsibility lies on Israel. As long as it will give a harsh and uncompromised response to terrorist provocation, there won't be any massive war. This strategy has been successful so far: a harsh reply leads to a decreased terrorist threat. On the other hand, if Israel tries to "bargain" with terrorists, the consequences will be catastrophic for the entire world. It is said in the Talmud: He who is merciful to a murderer is destined to be cruel to the innocent.
A great responsibility also lies on the countries of the West. I am very hopeful that these countries won't deviate from the position established in the past days, which excludes any partnership with Hamas, including financial assistance, until this organization fulfils the three aforementioned conditions: the rejection of violence and terror, the dismissal of military groups and the recognition of Israel. Those who, under the guise of "humanitarian" slogans, call to continue financial assistance to Hamastan must know that they will bear responsibility for shedding the blood of victims in terrorist attacks in Israel, Russia and other countries.
- And here is another question. What do you think of the Public Board's idea to prohibit the publication of extremist books?
- I believe this proposal comes at the right time, especially in the context of the struggle against extremism. I am convinced that those who hurried to call this "a rebirth of censorship" and "a threat to the freedom of speech" simply didn't take the time to think what kind of "speech" they wanted to be free. A free distribution of writings that call for genocide, terror and pogroms is representative of neither freedom nor democracy. Rather, this is anarchy. I would also like to remind all that criminal prosecution for the publishing of similar literature also exists in the majority of Western European countries. In Germany, for example, a man is likely to get several years of prison for keeping a copy of Mein Kampf at home, and this doesn't hamper Germany in being one of the pillars of European democracy.
And here is another important issue. Authoritative research proves that if, at the age of 13-14, a teenager begins to be fond of literature that propagandizes drugs, there is a quite strong probability that he or she will begin taking drugs. So, in my opinion, a society must ban the distribution of extremist literature not simply because it is necessary to combat the existing extremism, but also in order to protect the next generation - our children - from harmful illusions. This is especially true considering the Russian experience of permissiveness when, in the past 15 years, everything became possible. Now, in the country that played the leading role in defeating Fascism, we have thousands of wild youths shouting "Heil Hitler." Some of them are already equipped with knives to slaughter praying people in synagogue.
Of course, I'm not calling for the complete destruction of such harmful literature. Let some copies lie in special archives of scientific libraries. Let historians, psychologists and sociologists study these books. But I am sure that free access to Nazi and extremist literature not only harms non-professionals and unprepared people, but also strikes at the foundation of democracy.