SPIEGEL: Mr. Dahlan, your Fatah movement was driven out of the Gaza Strip by Hamas one and a half years ago. Are you pleased that Israel is now waging war against your rival?
Dahlan: No, because it is not the Hamas leaders who are suffering as a result of the attacks. They are sitting safely in their bunkers and watching as people outside are dying. And once again, it is the Palestinian people who are paying the price. They've been the pawn of different interests -- primarily the Israelis -- since 1967. In the 1980s, Israel put Fatah people like me in jail and supported Hamas. What is happening in Gaza today is a consequence of this policy.
SPIEGEL: Does Hamas share responsibility for the Israeli air strikes?
Dahlan: With their rockets, they gave Israel a pretext for the war. Hamas is one of the worst organizations in the region. People are afraid of the Islamists and no one in Gaza dares to express criticism. Otherwise they face imprisonment or even death. Just like Israel, Hamas shows no consideration for ordinary people -- its fighters fire rockets right from the heart of residential areas.
Dahlan: It's not that simple. Didn't the Americans too think the Iraqis would welcome them with flowers? The Palestinians will only begin to hate Hamas when Israel offers us a genuine peace and Hamas attempts to block this opportunity.
SPIEGEL: But Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are still negotiating with each other.
Dahlen: These talks are meaningless. The Israelis are just stalling us with meetings, conferences and so-called peace processes. By doing so, they're just playing into Hamas' hands.
SPIEGEL: Your Fatah movement has made its own share of mistakes.
Dahlen: Yes, we still haven't learned from our election defeat. The election of a new leadership is long overdue.
SPIEGEL: Rumors are circulating that the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the Israeli government came to an agreement on the air strikes.
Dahlan: Those are conspiracy theories. These attacks are helping neither Mahmoud Abbas nor Fatah.
SPIEGEL: How realistic is the Israeli goal of destroying Hamas?
Dahlan: In reality, they don't actually want that. Israel needs Hamas in order to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. The motive behind the offensive is to achieve better conditions for the next cease-fire.
SPIEGEL: But doesn't the war offer Fatah a new opportunity to assume power in Gaza again?
Dahlan: We will only return to Gaza after we have won an election -- not through military force. If you ask me personally, though, I am happy about the coup of Hamas.
SPIEGEL: What do you mean?
Dahlan: The Palestinians have now realized that Hamas is not capable of governing. Their leaders were celebrated as resistance fighters and for fighting corruption, but since their election they have lost all legitimacy. Their sole strategy is destruction and chaos. Hamas has lost its appeal -- and it will lose the next election.
Correction: A translation error has been corrected in this interview. In Mr. Dahlan's response, "If you ask me personally, though, I am happy about the coup of Hamas," was initially incorrectly translated as "coup against Hamas" in both his answer and the photo caption. SPIEGEL ONLINE apologizes for the error.
Interview conducted by Juliane von Mittelstaedt and Christoph Schult. Translated from the German by Daryl Lindsey.
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