In his column in the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat, senior political analyst Khalid Al-Dakhil presented his impressions from and comments on an interview he had conducted with Hamas political bureau head Khaled Mash'al several days before the latter's retirement and ahead of the publication of Hamas's new political program.
According to Al-Dakhil, Mash'al had asked to meet with him in order to present his doctrine on Israel, on Hamas-Fatah relations, and on Hamas-Syria relations. During the interview Mash'al stated that he accepts the Arab peace initiative but nevertheless continues to oppose recognizing Israel. As for Syria, Mash'al acknowledged the Syrian regime's generosity towards Hamas, which had included allowing Hamas to develop its rockets in the regime's factories, and described the background for the crisis that later developed when Hamas refused to support the regime's military campaign against the rebels.
In his column Al-Dakhil criticized Mash'al's position on recognizing Israel, saying that it is unrealistic and paints Hamas into a "tight corner" because it contravenes the position of all the Arab countries that have approved the Arab peace initiative. Al-Dakhil added that the status of the armed resistance in the Arab world has declined due to a lack of achievements and also because the resistance has been taken over by elements that seek only to exploit it to further their own goals. He added that there is a widening rift between the interests of the armed resistance and those of some Arab countries that do not need Hamas as much as Hamas needs them.
The following are excerpts from his column:
Khaled Mash'al (image: Aljazeera.com)
Mash'al: Hamas Opposes Recognizing Israel Prior To The Establishment Of Palestinian State
"I had [long] wanted to meet with Abu Al-Walid [Khaled Mash'al], head of Hamas's political bureau, [and the meeting finally] took place last week in Doha, Qatar, where I was visiting to attend the 11th forum of the Al-Jazeera Center for Studies. On Sunday (the second day of the conference), as I was on my way to the first session, a man approached me, greeted me on behalf of Khaled Mash'al and offered me to meet with him. I was glad and welcomed this. Since I was due back in Riyadh on Monday, I told [the man] that Sunday was the only day I could meet with [Mash'al], and so it was. I sat in the parlor and one of [Mash'al] two aides asked me to hand over my mobile phone. I asked why, and Abu Al-Walid explained that it was first of all for my own protection, since modern phones could be used as listening devices. I agreed and handed over my phone. We immediately began talking and our conversation lasted from 15:30 to 18:30... Abu Al-Walid largely steered the conversation. The flow of his speech left little room for questions, and [in any case] he touched on almost all of the topics I meant to ask him about. He addressed various topics as they occurred to him and which he knew were of interest to other people. I, for my part, [only] wanted to listen to the man in this first meeting and make a few comments. He spoke of his time in Kuwait; his ties with Saudi Arabia; the disagreements between Hamas and the PA, and especially Fatah; Hamas's position on the Arab peace initiative, and especially on recognition of Israel; the Mecca Agreement, and finally about what happened between him and the Syrian leadership when the [Syrian] revolution broke out in Deraa and until he left Damascus, which was in January 2012, he said. Finally, Mash'al said that in two weeks, Hamas would publish a new political plan, concurrently with his retirement that had been announced in advance."
"[In this column] I will do no more here than present my comments about the meeting. First, on Hamas-Fatah relations: I sensed from Mash'al's comments that the chronic reason for the Palestinian divisions remains. For instance, Hamas is willing to join the PLO if Fatah relinquishes its insistence on controlling the organization and makes Hamas the organization's second pillar (as befits its size) alongside Fatah. Another reason is that the Mahmoud 'Abbas-led Fatah opposes the option of armed resistance, to which Hamas adheres. The movement's leadership maintains that negotiations and resistance can be combined. The point that drew my attention in this context is that Khaled Mash'al defends [Hamas's] opposition to recognizing Israel under the current conditions. In our talk, he reiterated that Hamas accepts the 1967 borders, which is indeed a progressive position, but one that rejects recognizing the Israeli state before a Palestinian state is established. His argument was that recognizing [Israel] is a decision for the Palestinian people, and that no organization has the right to make such a decision on its own.
"Logically speaking, this is a legitimate position. But the problem is that it is incompatible with the Palestinian and Arab political reality. The PLO recognized Israel in accordance with the Oslo Accords, and did not make it conditional upon Israeli recognition [of a Palestinian state] or even upon halting the settlements. Therefore, if the PLO accepts Hamas's view, it would have to withdraw its recognition [of Israel], which means cancelling the Oslo [Accords]. In truth, Israel's disregard of the peace accords, particularly of those with the Palestinians, could mean that this option [of withdrawing recognition] will be the only one that remains in order to get the situation back on track.
Al-Dakhil: Hamas's Refusal To Recognize Israel Contravenes Position Of All Arab States That Have Approved Arab Peace Initiative
"As for Hamas-Saudi relations, Abu Al-Walid repeatedly expressed his admiration for the [loyalty] to Arabism shown by the late [Saudi] King 'Abdallah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz and by the current King Salman bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz. What grabbed my attention in this context is his comment that Hamas accepts all details of the Arab peace initiative besides recognizing [Israel], as I have said. The author of the initiative, King 'Abdallah, was displeased by this Hamas position, but nevertheless, relations between them were not tense and [Saudi Arabia] continued discussing this dispute with Mash'al behind the scenes. Additionally, the Mecca Agreement was arrived at in 2006 [sic] following the bloody Fatah-Hamas conflict and four years after the start of the schism [over the Arab peace initiative]. It became clear that one of the large Arab countries had worked to thwart the [Mecca] Agreement. The disagreement with Hamas over recognition [of Israel] is actually a disagreement with all the Arab countries that approved the initiative in the 2002 [Arab League] summit in Beirut, which paints [Hamas] into a tight political corner. [The question is] whether it can change the political reality and get all Arab countries to change their positions [on this topic]."
Al-Dakhil: There Is A Widening Rift Between The Armed Palestinian Resistance And The Interests Of Some Arab Countries
"...Hamas is aware that the prestige of the concept of resistance has been damaged. This phenomenon, along with other indications, points to the difficult situation that the Arabs are facing, and its increasing complexity following the Arab Spring. Hamas experienced this directly in Damascus even before other [organizations did]. The main point is that resistance as an option has not gone away, but in recent decades, resistance [supporters] are in a state of confusion, ranging from unshakable faith in the legitimacy [of the resistance] to doubting its efficiency and the credibility of its proponents. This is the complete opposite of the situation that existed in the days of movements liberating [Arabs] from imperialism, chiefly the Palestinian resistance in the 1960s and 70s. The reasons for this are varied. Some are old and have accumulated over time, and some are new and stem from developments, mainly the Arab Spring, and specifically in Iraq and Syria. The old reasons [include] the meager achievements made by the resistance in the face of the growing loss of territory and rights; this is in addition to the divisions among the Palestinian factions and the inability to bridge them, alongside incessant intra-Arab schisms. Schism was one of the prominent attributes of the Palestinian resistance movement when it was 'secular,' and this situation persisted with the emergence of the Islamist Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad [PIJ] movements.
"Yet another old reason that continues to gain momentum is the widening rift between the option of armed Palestinian resistance and the interests of some Arab countries [with regards to] the Arab-Israeli conflict. This problem stems from the ever-increasing discrepancy between the rationale of the resistance and that of 'the state', [a discrepancy that impacts] intra-Arab ties, including Arab-Palestinian ties. This has exposed how the Arab dimension has become a burden for the Palestinian cause, as the Palestinian cause has become a burden for some Arabs.
"[For example,] compare the Three No's proclaimed at the Arab [League] summit in Khartoum after the defeat of June  with the Camp David Accords, signed between Israel and Egypt some 10 years later, and the changes that followed in the positions of many Arab countries regarding the entire conflict. Which of these harmed the other: Did Arab policy [harm the Palestinian cause] or did the Palestinian resistance [harm Arab interests]? In this context, or, more accurately, as a result of it, [elements] claiming to be the resistance but which had no ties to it emerged in public. These claims are destructive and have appeared in Iraq, and later in Syria after the [onset] of the revolution. The Arab citizen in general, and the Palestinian citizen in particular, is at a loss when faced with a true but unrealized resistance and a destructive imposter resistance, which has no interest in achievements but rather [only] in the slogan [of resistance] and the benefits it can bring."
Mash'al: Assad Allowed Hamas To Develop Rockets In His Factories – And Demanded Support For His Military Campaign Against The Rebels
"This issue came up in the conversation, or [more accurately, the issue of] Abu Al-Walid's and Hamas's ties to the Syrian regime after the onset of the revolution. Mash'al was in Damascus when the [Syrian] revolution broke out in Deraa. The wave of the revolution and its many consequences for Syria were of great concern to him and to Hamas. In [my] conversation with him, he stressed that the Syrian regime had been generous to Hamas and had let it conduct political activity and develop its rockets in its factories, he said.
"Mash'al worked hard to convince the regime not to take security measures against the [Syrian] revolution, but rather to choose reforms and a preventative political solution. He wanted to preserve ties [with the regime], but at the same time, he supported the people's demands. That is why a crisis between the sides developed. The regime wanted Hamas to support without question the security option that it chose, but Hamas could not bear to pay the political price involved. It became clear from my talk with Abu Al-Walid and from reports on the topic over the years that Mash'al and the movement's leadership understood the heavy price that the Syrian regime expected [Hamas to pay for Syria's support of it]. It wanted to play the Palestinian card in its political game in Syria itself before it did so in other [places]. [The Hamas leaders] also knew how, before their time and before the Arab Spring, the regime treated Fatah and Yasser Arafat when he was in Syria and later in Lebanon.
"After meeting Assad and some regime officials, Mash'al went to Beirut to seek the assistance of Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, who expressed willingness to help. However, the important point raised by the events, rather than in my talk with Mash'al, is that following Nasrallah's [subsequent] visit to Damascus, the Syrian regime doubled down on the security solution. This indicates that Nasrallah encouraged it to follow this path, contrary to what Mash'al had hoped for. After Assad's fiery speech after Nasrallah's visit, Mash'al was asked to meet with Assad, but refused so that he would not be seen as supporting what was said in the speech and as standing with the regime and against the revolution. Apparently, after that Mash'al was facing a closed iron door, so he left Damascus in January 2012, and has not returned since."
Al-Dakhil: Unlike Syria And Iran, Other Arab States Have No Need For Hamas
"The question that Mash'al repeatedly raises is: If the Syrian regime and its ally Iran have benefited from Hamas, as they indeed have, then why aren't others trying to benefit from relations with it [Hamas] as well? This question is backed by the fact that the Syrian and Iranian regimes claim to [represent] the resistance, and therefore they need Hamas and other [resistance organizations]. Others [i.e. other Arab regimes] do not have a similar need for Hamas, and Hamas's need for them is no different than its need for others. This difference in needs and priorities requires understandings between the sides. Will Mash'al's retirement from Hamas leadership in a few days change anything in [the organization's] relations with active Arab countries... or will the situation remain the same?"
 Al-Hayat (London), April 23, 2017.
 An agreement signed by the PA and Hamas in Mecca in 2007, dealing mostly with the relations between them. On the agreement see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 331, The Mecca Agreement – A Strategic PLO-Hamas Alliance for Establishing a Palestinian State Without Hamas Recognizing Israel, February 28, 2007.
 The "Three No's" were: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel.