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June 3, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 3000

Head of Hamas' Political Bureau, Khaled Mash'al, In Interview Two Days after Flotilla Incident: The Resistance Front Is Creating a Situation In Which Israel Can No Longer Win

June 3, 2010
Palestine | Special Dispatch No. 3000

On June 2, 2010, two days after the Gaza "Freedom Flotilla" events, the London daily Al-Hayat published a comprehensive interview with Hamas political bureau head Khaled Mash'al. In it, Mash'al said that the flotilla campaign, in which Turkey had played a welcome role, would bring about the complete end of the siege on Gaza; that his May 11, 2010 meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was held without preconditions and that Hamas had paid no political price; that Hamas is willing to accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with the right of return for the refugees, but rejects the Quartet's demand that it recognize Israel; and that Hamas would not reject a decision to recognize Israel should such a decision be taken by the majority of Palestinian people in both Palestine and the diaspora.

Mash'al added that resistance is a fundamental principle for Hamas, which cooperates with all the resistance forces; that the PLO should be rebuilt so as to represent the entire Palestinian people; and that the resistance front, consisting of Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas and other resistance factions, is gathering strength and creating a situation in which Israel "can no longer win its wars."

Following are excerpts from the interview: [1]

The "Freedom Flotilla" – The Final Move that Will Break the Siege

Mash'al opened the interview by expressing his appreciation and respect for the "Freedom Flotilla" and thanking all those who participated in it or expressed solidarity with it. He called it a brave initiative that came to break the siege and to designate an inhuman crime that must be stopped. "Allah willing," he added, "the Freedom Flotilla will be the final [move] that breaks the oppressive siege." He also said that opening the Rafah border crossing should be "the natural response to the Israeli crime," and called for popular and official expressions of solidarity with Turkey, "which bore the brunt of this crime since most of the martyrs came from [there], and which played the largest role in the campaign to break the siege on Gaza," along with humanitarian organizations and counties such as Algeria, Greece, Ireland, and Malaysia.

Hamas Does Not Pay a Price for Political Meetings

"Q: A few days ago you met with the Russian president in Damascus. [Did you pay] a political price for Russia's [willingness] to upgrade the dialogue with Hamas?"

"A: I met with President Medvedev in Damascus without [Hamas] paying any political price in advance, and the meeting ended without us paying any price. Hamas does not pay a political price for political meetings. We appreciate the courage of President Medvedev, but at the same time we think that meeting with the leaders of Hamas, which is a major player in the region and a central Palestinian faction, is only natural.

"As for our relations with Russia, they have been ongoing for many years. [Hamas leaders] have so far visited Moscow three times. The meeting with the Russian president was an important development and an upgrade of the relations, [a fact] that should be appreciated and respected."

"Q: Moscow demands that you recognize the conditions of the Quartet, or at least draw closer to them. Did Medvedev demand that you recognize the two-state solution?"

"A: The political positions and programs that Hamas has presented to date should be sufficient [reason] for the world to treat it as a major side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and [for the world] to reject the excuses used by Israel for not recognizing the Palestinians' rights."

"Q: What has Hamas proposed?"

"A: Hamas has agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital and with the implementation of the [refugees'] right of return. This is a position that is largely shared by all the Palestinian forces and all the Arab and Islamic elements. This position is more than sufficient, and in effect transfers the ball [from] the Arab and Palestinian court to Israel's court.

"That is why I always say to all the foreign [representatives] that meet with us that the problem does not lie with us Palestinians or Arabs, or with Hamas. It lies with Israel, so all the pressure should be exerted on [this country]."

"Q: What's the difference between [establishing a state within] the 1967 borders and a two-state solution?"

"A: The two-state solution includes recognizing Israel. We in Hamas have a clear position that [rejects] recognition of Israel, because the Palestinian situation is different from the Arab situation. When the Arab countries talk of the peace process and of a [political] settlement, they express a willingness to recognize Israel only after it returns all their occupied territories, to the last inch.

"The Palestinian situation in different. When all they give us is promises, without any guarantee of a withdrawal to the 1967 borders – [which in any case grant us] only a fifth of the Palestinian territory – and [when] these promises have already proved to be empty and false, the Palestinians cannot be expected to recognize Israel in return. This is an injustice towards the Palestinian people. So we propose to accept [a state within] the 1967 borders, but without recognizing Israel."

After the Establishment of a State, If the Palestinians Inside and Outside Palestine Decide to Recognize Israel, We Will Not Oppose This Decision

"Q: You told Medvedev that if the future Palestinian state decides to recognize Israel, Hamas would accept this."

"A: Hamas' position is clear and it is [a position of] non-recognition, because over half of the Palestinian people belong to the 1948 territories, [since] they were born there or else their parents or grandparents were born there. So they belong to this land and are not newcomers to it; they were expelled from it by force. [Therefore], it would not be fair for any Palestinian movement to come along and recognize Israel.

"What I told President Medvedev is that when a Palestinian state is established, with real sovereignty over its land, it will hold a referendum among all the Palestinian people in its territories and outside them [about the question of recognizing Israel]. We will respect the free decision of the Palestinian majority, even if it contradicts Hamas' position."

"Q: In other words, if the Palestinian state that is to be established within the 1967 borders recognizes Israel, Hamas will not oppose [this decision]?"

"A: That is not what I said. I said that when a Palestinian state is established with true sovereignty over its territory, and when the occupation of the 1967 territories ends and the Palestinian people receive their rights in [terms of] Jerusalem and the right of return, then this state will hold a referendum among the Palestinians [both] inside and outside it, and the decision of the Palestinian majority –"

[Interviewer interrupts] "Q: Even if [the decision] is to recognize Israel?"

"A: Hamas will respect any real democratic decision of the Palestinian majority, even if it runs counter to its position and views."

"Q: This is a further shift in Hamas' position. In 1996 you were opposed to elections, and then you changed your minds. In 2006 you rejected the establishment of a [national unity] government, but then you agreed [to join it]."

"A: Every political movement is given to natural changes. Some political positions are not a matter of principle, especially since circumstances change as well. It's only natural that we respond to these changes.

"In 1996 we assessed that it is in our interest to avoid [participating in the elections]. Ten years later, in 2006, the second intifada was behind us. Israel had destroyed the Oslo [peace] process by [launching] the Defensive Shield operation and invading the West Bank, by destroying the Palestinian Authority's institutions, and by refusing to commit to anything it had signed with the PA. So there was a new reality: the Palestinian forces began to draw closer, [in recognition] of the need to fight for our rights. [Moreover,] the corruption of the PA was a burden for our people.

"The Palestinian people began to demand that Hamas play a political role in the PA, alongside its role as a resistance [movement], in order to combat the corruption. That is why we decided to take part in the elections, especially since one of our goals was to defend the resistance program."

"[In Gaza,] the Resistance Is Completely Free to Develop and Arm Itself – Although Our Abilities are Humble Due to the Siege"

"Q: Is your position on the resistance tactical or is it a matter of principle?"

"A: Resistance is a different matter. As long as the occupation persists, resistance will remain an unchanging principle."

"Q: But [in practice] you are not implementing it."

"A: [Resistance] is an ongoing principle and policy. How to carry it out is a different question. We adhere to [the policy of] resistance, but carry it out according to circumstances. Sometimes we escalate it and sometimes we tone it down. Sometimes you [need] a lull, a ceasefire."

"Q: What sort of period [are we experiencing] right now?"

"A: The options are open. We have two [concurrent] situations: in Gaza there is one situation and in the West Bank there is a different situation. In Gaza, the resistance option is well established and is supported by all the forces and by the government of our brother Isma'il Haniya. [There,] the resistance is completely free to develop and arm itself, though our abilities are humble due to the siege on Gaza.

"In light of the difficult situation in Gaza, and the suffering caused by the devastation and losses of the last war, it is only natural for a reasonable leadership to manage the resistance in a realistic manner that takes into consideration the Palestinian circumstances. This is how we manage the resistance. In Gaza the options are open. There is no ceasefire agreement. True, there is a lull, but we are not committed to anything."

"Q: But Hamas is pressuring Islamic Jihad to stop firing missiles [into Israel]?"

"A: No. In Gaza there is consent and dialogue among all the Palestinian factions, so as to reach understandings about how to manage the resistance."

"Q: How [do you accomplish that]?"

"A: By adhering to the program of resistance and of defending our people and opposing the occupation... We manage the resistance in a way that maximizes its results, while taking into consideration the circumstances in the Gaza Strip and while [taking care] not to provide Israel with a pretext for launching [another] war on Gaza...

"Nobody can compete with Hamas; it is the spearhead of the resistance. Before the last war, some accused us of relinquishing the resistance, but [then] we surprised them by being prepared, and by defending the Strip and standing fast, along with all the other Palestinian factions and with our people. [We] faced the [huge] Israeli arsenal in an extraordinary fashion. [Hamas] stood fast for three weeks, thanks to Allah, our people, the Arab and Muslim nation, and free people everywhere."

"Q: It has been claimed that Hamas' management of the resistance in Gaza is no different from the PA's management of the resistance in the West Bank."

"A: It is completely different. In the West Bank, resistance is considered a crime and it is pursued: its weapons are pursued, and its people are pursued, arrested and tortured. The PA leaders in the West Bank say no to resistance and no to military action."

"Q: [But] the Haniya government has [also] arrested some people who fired missiles from Gaza."

"A: No, we have never arrested any members of other factions for firing missiles, and nobody has been arrested for involvement in the struggle."

It Was Ahmad Yassin Who Conceived the Idea of Accepting the 1967 Borders

"Q: Does the Hamas [political] platform include the acceptance of a state within the 1967 borders?"

"A: The movement has signed some Palestinian documents that include [such a clause], including the National Accord document of 2006."

"Q: Is that new?"

"A: Yes, but the martyr Sheikh Ahmad Yassin raised the notion of [accepting a state] within the 1967 borders as early as the beginning of the 1990s. Hamas is clear and committed to its principles, especially when it comes to national rights and resistance. Hamas is evolving in terms of its policy and political positions, but [all this] is within the framework of the fundamental national principles of the Palestinian people."

"Q: So there have been three developments in Hamas' policy: acceptance of a state in the 1967 borders, [consent to] a long-term truce, and [willingness] to refrain from foiling the Arab peace initiative."

"A: That's right. Take the Arab peace initiative: From the very beginning we said that we had reservations about, and were fundamentally opposed to, some of its clauses, mainly to recognizing Israel and normalizing relations with it. But we said that despite this we would not stand in the way of the Arab initiative, because we did not want to instigate a crisis between [Hamas] and the Arabs.

"This is part of our political position, which is mature and reasoned but does not relinquish our principles. Our real conflict is with the Zionist enemy and not with the Arabs, even if there are some political disagreements about certain Palestinian or Arab [issues]. The fact is that, during the eight years since [the Arab peace initiative] was first introduced at the Beirut summit in 2002, it has been clearly proven that Israel is the one who has destroyed it and nipped it in the bud and is still disregarding it. In other words, the problem is not us, it’s the enemy."

"Q: Hamas' pragmatism has created a vacuum, which has been filled by extremist cells. Are there Al-Qaeda cells in Gaza?"

"A: No, there are some extremist ideas, but no Al-Qaeda presence."

We Do Not Intend to Establish an Islamic Emirate in Gaza

"Q: The policies presented by some senior Hamas officials, and their actions, imply that the movement wishes to establish an Islamic emirate."

"A: That's not true. It's part of the accusations and incitement against Hamas, and the attempts to blame it for the failure of the [inter-Palestinian] reconciliation. Hamas' top priorities are liberating the homeland, eliminating the occupation, and implementing the national programs, together with the other Palestinian factions. The character of the [state] is an issue to be discussed after the liberation [and determined] by the majority of Palestinians. We took turned to the democratic game during the elections, and after the liberation we will turn to the democratic game and to the decision of our people [to determine] the character of the [state]."

"Q: Is there Salafist activity in Gaza?"

"A: The government in Gaza does not compel people to commit to one religious [strain]. Everyone has the freedom to maintain his own thoughts and opinions. Like all governments, we have general rules that pertain to ethics and social behavior, just as in every country, religious or secular... This is not based on [any aspirations on our part] to establish an Islamic emirate or to force our religion on the people. We do not do this.

"No sensible person in the world thinks that Hamas wants autocratic rule in Gaza and sees Gaza as its emirate. Gaza is part of the homeland and is not isolated from the rest of Palestine. The Palestinian people in Gaza are part of the Palestinian people as a whole. Therefore, we insist upon Palestinian reconciliation, so that Gaza and the [West] Bank will be a single unit... [even though] others are perhaps satisfied with the schism between Gaza and the [West] Bank."

"Q: Are you referring to Israel or to Palestinian elements?"

"A: Certainly the Israelis have an interest [in this schism], but I am afraid that there are also Palestinian and Arab elements who say to themselves: Let Gaza remain isolated, and we will besiege it until it surrenders – and now we will be free to making a political arrangement in the West Bank."

The Quartet's Conditions Are Completely Unacceptable

"Q: Before we talk about reconciliation, did President Medvedev promise to convey what happened in the meeting to President Obama?"

"A: I was clear with him. I thanked him for his attitude regarding the meeting. I told him that a number of international and European elements were meeting with us, some of them secretly, some openly, and some indirectly, and that the Americans themselves are maintaining indirect contact with us. The Russian president laughed and said: I am not doing this secretly, but openly. I will update the Americans on what happened [in our meeting] so that they will know Hamas's true stance."

"Q: Is Hamas prepared for dialogue with the American government?"

"A: We are prepared for direct dialogue with any country other than Israel – but without preconditions – in order to fulfill our duty to defend the rights of the Palestinian people and its just cause, and to gain it international support."

"Q: Is there anything new in [your] contacts with the Europeans?"

"A: There has been no substantial change, but we have started noticing two things: The first is that the siege on Gaza has begun losing its political justification and has become a moral burden for the international community. The second is that [the Europeans,] who still demand that we accept the Quartet's conditions, have apparently begun to understand that these conditions limit them more than they limit us."

"Q: But they spoke of softer conditions [based on] the Quartet's principles."

"A: Some of them [indeed] spoke of softer phrasing, thinking that this might help us to comply with the Quartet's conditions, that maybe we would tolerate them [if they were stated] in milder language. Our clear answer was 'Absolutely not.'"

"Q: Why?"

"A: We refuse to accept the notion of preconditions. It is unreasonable to present me with conditions just in order to talk to me. [Whoever does so] belittles my humanity [and thinks] that I am not his equal, as if there were degrees and ranks among human beings. This is disdain for the other – and something we do not accept.

"Our human dignity and patriotism obligate us not to submit to preconditions just so that the other will speak to us – no matter what the other's stance is. In principle, the dialogue should be without conditions.

"So when [should] there be conditions? When both sides want to reach an agreement, each side presents its conditions and demands, and whatever they concur on becomes the basis for the agreement."

The U.S., Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority Are To Blame for the Failure of Reconciliation

"Q: What are the obstacles to completing Palestinian reconciliation?"

"A: There are four obstacles. The first is the American veto that [American special envoy to the Middle East George] Mitchell announced to Egypt and the PA presidency, according to which Hamas must submit to the Quartet's terms as a condition for reconciliation – and if we did not, aid to the P.A. would be stopped.

"The second is that reconciliation today is no longer on the table, since the American government is currently giving priority to renewing the proximity talks or indirect negotiations. Maybe the Americans think that a Palestinian who negotiates without reconciliation is preferable, since he is weaker and will be easier to isolate and to be made to comply, especially in light of the harsher Israeli [stance] under Netanyahu.

"The third obstacle, quite honestly, is the Egyptian persistence in disregarding the changes and the principled, rational comments by Hamas – which are aimed at making the [National] Reconciliation Document compatible with what we agreed to in the [previous] rounds of dialogue... so that it would include the clauses that were in the drafts of this dialogue. [These changes] concern primarily our partnership and our basic resolutions as part of the temporary leadership of the PLO pending its rebuilding; partnership in resolutions regarding security, to be implemented through the Higher Security; and partnership in overseeing future elections. These two issues are matters of principle, and we believe that the Egyptians' rejection of them is unjustified and unacceptable.

"The fourth obstacle is the position of the brothers in the PA and in Fatah in the [West] Bank who seem satisfied with the Egyptian position, the American veto, and the preference given to renewing negotiations; they are not doing what they should in order to complete the reconciliation..."

"Q: Are you saying that President Mahmoud 'Abbas, the PA, and Fatah are satisfied with the schism?"

"A: It seem that they are satisfied with the current situation – as if they trust that continued pressure on Hamas will force it to back down, instead of joining it in a true reconciliation based on genuine partnership in fundamental issues."

"Q: But you said that Israel benefits from the [Palestinian] schism and that it is the Palestinian people who are being harmed [by it]. Why don't you demonstrate maximum flexibility in order to achieve Palestinian unity?"

"A: For the sake of the national interest and Palestinian unity, there is no choice but to show flexibility and [make] sacrifices. Hamas has made many sacrifices and [shown] great flexibility in order to bridge [between different] positions and to make reconciliation possible. But to allow changes to the [National] Reconciliation Document at the last minute, in contradiction to what we agreed on in previous rounds of dialogue, and then to ask Hamas to submit to this – this is not a demand for flexibility from Hamas, but rather part of the attempt to subdue it [and impose on it] a discriminatory and false reconciliation."

"Q: Why don't you [hold] new elections so that the street can decide?"

"A: We are prepared for that, but first there is no alternative to reconciliation, after which natural conditions will be created on the ground, following this bitter schism. [There is a need for conditions] that will enable real elections which will give equal opportunities [to Hamas and to Fatah] while guaranteeing that the elections will be fair. As long as the [National] Reconciliation Document is not revised to reflect what we agreed upon throughout the rounds of dialogue, it will [only] be a formal reconciliation. Indeed, what is the significance of something called 'reconciliation' if there is no partnership in political and security decisions and in overseeing the elections? What will remain of such a reconciliation? This raises serious questions regarding the other side of such a reconciliation.

"If reconciliation is a codeword for removing Hamas from power... there is no reason to call it reconciliation. It would be better for this agenda to be presented clearly and spoken outright: [We] refuse [to accept] Hamas, and it must choose either to submit to the Quartet's conditions and to the plan Mahmoud 'Abbas is adopting, if it wants to participate in political decisions – or to leave the political game completely. Things should be called by their right names, but this cannot be called reconciliation."

"Q: If so, then this is a struggle for power and not a disagreement over words. Will this issue be resolved if the [National] Reconciliation Document is signed after the changes [Hamas demands] are accepted?"

"A: We are not struggling with anyone for power. It is our people who brought us [to power] via the ballot box. It is the others who are trying to remove us [from power], after acting in contradiction to the results of the elections.

"We have had bitter experience that raises many doubts. However, it is phrased, the other side ultimately has a clear agenda – to try to remove Hamas [from power]. The proof of this is that ever since Hamas came [to power] in the 2006 elections, it has been under siege and the people have been punished. [The PA] worked to isolate it and cut off its funds. Afterwards, Israel launched a war against us. All this confirmed our suspicions that their agenda had not changed.

"But in the interest of our people, and because we were convinced of the importance of reconciliation, we insisted upon signing on to the reconciliation program – despite our fears and suspicions regarding the other side's intent and behavior."

"Q: Do all the members of the movement's leadership agree on this? Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, in fact, made different statements."

"A: We have diverse opinions and beliefs within the movement, but ultimately the movement's position is one. There are elements who are trying to play that broken record of internal [Hamas-Gaza] versus external [Hamas-Damascus], and of the flexible one versus the inflexible one. Some have occupied themselves with [this issue] for 20 years and returned empty-handed, because Hamas's power as a movement and that of its leadership is much more established than others imagine it to be."

The Resistance Front Is Not an Alternative to the PLO

"Q: Is the [notion] of establishing a front of rejectionist forces still on [the table]? Is it an alternative to the PLO?"

"A: The establishment of a leadership for the opposition forces is something that was put [on the table] and is still being assessed and debated, but it is not an alternative to the PLO. We do not wish to fight over the Palestinian source of authority, as this will exacerbate the schism in the Palestinian arena. The natural [thing to do] would be to rebuild the PLO so that everyone would join it, so that it would represent a source of authority for the Palestinian people as a whole.

"The other side still rejects this, despite prior agreements between us in this matter that were [reached] again and again since 2005 [the Cairo agreement].

"Until the PLO is rebuilt, we will work to develop [co]operation among the resistance forces, in order to strengthen the opposition platform and restore honor to the right of return and to the role of the Palestinian diaspora as a partner in decision[-making] and in the Palestinian national struggle."

"Q: How do you assess the rejectionist front that includes Syria, Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas, and the rest of the Palestinian factions? Is it united?"

"A: It is united and continues to unite and to gain power, thanks to Allah. Its political stance is gathering strength and advancing on both the regional and the international level. It has not succeeded in creating a power balance to vie with Israel, since Israel continues to maintain its military superiority in light of the unrestrained support of the American government and the Western countries. But it has succeeded in creating a reality in which Israel is unable to decide its war or to win them."

Endnote:

[1] Al-Hayat (London), June 2, 2010.

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