Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas' political bureau, said that the efforts of US Secretary of State John Kerry to revive peace talks did not include a serious vision for a just solution to the [Palestinian-Israeli] issue.
According to Meshaal, Kerry did not put any pressure on the Israeli side, which occupies Palestinian land. Rather, Kerry was content with directing pressure at Arab parties and the Palestinian presidency, pushing them to carry out repeated pro forma projects that were far removed from the essence of the conflict and the issue. Therefore, Meshaal said, these attempts will fail, as they have in the past.
In an exclusive telephone interview with Adan Abu Amer for Al-Monitor — the first interview Meshaal has given since being re-elected as the leader of Hamas — Meshaal added that the recent elections carried out by the movement constituted a genuine opportunity to practice what it preaches in terms of democratic behavior. This was represented by a renewed formation of the movement's leadership and bringing in new blood. Meanwhile, all of the movement's leaders have maintained their roles, as well as their place of respect in the hearts and souls of all their brothers, Meshaal told Abu Amer.
Here is a full transcript of the interview:
Al-Monitor: What about the results of the recent elections carried out by Hamas, and the departure of some historic leaders from the [movement's] front ranks?
Meshaal: There is no doubt that the recent weeks have constituted a historic opportunity for the movement to apply what it has been calling for in terms of democracy in its internal politics. Without going into detail, Hamas carried out internal elections for its senior leadership body, represented by the general Shura Council and the political office. Thus, it deserves to be described as a democratic movement, despite its secretive and private nature, and the many security and logistical obstacles it faces in light of its geographical distribution at home and abroad.
The elections for the movement's leadership took place via highly democratic mechanisms, which paved the way, developed plans and set the compass. All levels of the party — from the base to the summit — participated in these elections. This means that Hamas embarked on a fully democratic process, in form, content and results. Meanwhile, all of the movement's leaders have maintained their roles, as well as their place of respect in the hearts and souls of all their brothers.
Therefore, in light of a genuine democratic election, it is natural for the movement to renew its leadership formation and bring in new blood.
Finally, Hamas' insistence on practical adherence to the principles of shura and democracy in electing its various leaderships is what has made the elections take so long — more than a year.
Al-Monitor: There is no doubt that reconciliation with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA) is one of the most important items on the agenda for Hamas' new leadership. What is the latest news in this regard? And when will you meet with President Mahmoud Abbas to complete [the reconciliation process]?
Meshaal: It's important to note at the outset that reconciliation is a national necessity and a necessity for Hamas. This is a critical position for the movement, for without it we cannot complete the national Palestinian project and mobilize efforts to confront the Israeli occupier. Likewise, without [reconciliation] we cannot carry out any presidential or legislative elections. The movement is serious about implementing all files related to reconciliation, and achieving partnership with others in the Palestinian arena. This was emphasized by the movement's leadership during its meeting last week.
The new Hamas leadership will carry on with their determination to end the division and achieve reconciliation, especially since the Israeli occupation exploits this state of division and puts obstacles in the way of reconciliation. Furthermore, there are other forms of foreign interference and the US veto on reconciliation. This requires us, as Palestinians, to insist on turning the page on division and overcoming the obstacles to national reconciliation.
As Hamas seeks to achieve national reconciliation, it does not abandon its principles and national constants. Rather, we are looking for points of intersection with our partners from Fatah and other factions, to serve the interests of our people and the national project in the face of the Israeli occupation. At the same time, Hamas does not fear elections and resorting to the polls, because they believe in the importance of democracy in constructing the Palestinian political system. Hamas trusts its great people, and respects their choices.
Partnership and not the alternative
Al-Monitor: Is it possible that in the coming stage we will see the title "Palestinian President" before your name, if reconciliation is achieved and the PA holds general elections?
Meshaal: Since I first entered the field of nationalist and Islamic work at an early age, and — by the grace of God — was able to participate in the establishment of the Hamas movement, along with a great group of Palestinian leaders more than a quarter century ago, I never aspired for a certain title or position. I consider myself a servant of my people and their just cause, regardless of [my] position.
I don't push anyone. Hamas does not propose itself as an alternative to anyone. Rather, it is just practicing its natural right to resist the occupation and partner with others in Palestinian decision-making institutions, whether the PLO or the PA. We practice this right on the basis of partnership with others, not as an alternative to anyone.
Al-Monitor: How does Hamas assess the recent efforts of US Secretary of State John Kerry in the region to revive the peace process? And where is Gaza in these efforts?
Meshaal: It became clear that Kerry did not have a serious project or vision toward the Arab-Israeli conflict. We in Hamas don't place our hopes or bets on the White House or any international capital. It is true that we have followed Kerry's announcements, including his statements and calls to renew negotiations. We saw how he chose to put pressure on the Palestinian presidency and some Arab parties, without going to the root of the problem — the Israeli occupation — and putting pressure on its leaders. It was the latter that killed the so-called peace process, and still refuses to recognize Palestinian national rights.
Kerry arrived in the region already knowing that he was faced with an incredibly right-wing Israeli government; a government of settlers. Thus, he avoided any confrontation with the government and put forward ideas of economic peace and investment projects in the West Bank, without addressing the real crux of the conflict, which is the occupation.
This choice was a mistake on the part of the US administration, and therefore they will fail in these endeavors as they have failed in the past. We are convinced that the future of the Palestinian cause and achieving our people's rights — first and foremost freedom and liberation from the occupation — will be made here on [our] land. This will be achieved via the options we have and the trump cards we possess, most notably the resistance in all its forms. While we will remain open to the regional and international situation and will take advantage of all opportunities, we have not and will not beg anyone.
Here I must say something clear: the wheel of history and the people's march toward freedom and liberation cannot be stopped by anyone, no matter how great his power.
Gaza has been absent from the efforts of the US administration, because these efforts are not aimed at a just solution to the issue or an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people. These efforts are limited to crisis management, buying time, and maintaining the "peace process" without genuine peace.
Al-Monitor: What about recent examples of "Islamization" in Gaza, and the government's steps to impose certain behaviors and confront others? Do you not think this might harm the movement?
Meshaal: The truth is that most of what has been covered in the media recently, including reports and information on this topic, is nothing more than overstepping on the part of some individuals. It hasn't reached the level of being a government policy or an organizational decision from Hamas. I have been personally following these cases and working to address them and prevent them from recurring. It has been confirmed to me that they are individual actions, not a stated policy.
The movement's leadership firmly believes it should not impose religiosity or behavioral matters on people. Personal freedom is a right for all guaranteed to all, whether religious, social, political or press freedom. Thus, I see no reason to inflate some small events here and there.
Keep in mind that Palestinian society in general, and the people of the Gaza Strip in particular, are naturally religious, and religiosity is based on choice and not coercion.
Al-Monitor: Concerning the situation in Gaza; what about the Salafist phenomenon, its spread and the true nature of its scope?
Meshaal: The Salafist phenomenon is not exclusive to Gaza. It is a general one that has a presence in a number of countries and milieus. It represents part of the pluralism and diversity within the Islamist framework. The Salafist concept is an old one, and entails a return to early Muslim traditions espoused by the Prophet’s companions and followers. In this sense, Salafism is part of centrist moderate Islam, the true nature of the religion.
But sometimes, extremist and hardline factions appear that call for a very stringent interpretation of Islam in their everyday lives. Such groups exist in all religions and ideologies, and are not exclusive to Islam and Muslims. In the Arab World, they emerge, most of the time, as a result of some regimes’ oppression and cruelty against their peoples, and as a reaction to the pro-Israeli policies of some great nations that also practice other forms of aggression or direct occupation, as was the case in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Gaza is a safe place for all; its inhabitants as well as its guests. No one poses a threat, nor is anyone threatened. The recent reports’ aim was to portray Gaza as a hotbed for these factions; which is completely contrary to the truth.
Al-Monitor: You have a strong relationship with the Islamic Jihad movement. Can you tell us about any coordination on the ground, and political connections between you two?
Meshaal: The relationship that binds us with our brothers in Islamic Jihad is undoubtedly strong and resilient, as was practically proven during the last two wars against Gaza, when military and political coordination was at its highest. Political interaction and coordination remain at their best because we believe that such a relationship defines the natural state of affairs between us both.
Yet, this does not preclude the fact that competition between our two movements has, on occasion, led to negative repercussions which we quickly overcame because we are confident that the things that bind us far surpass those that divide us. Furthermore, our ideologies, beliefs and methods are nearly identical; as such, we strive to develop and improve our mutual relationship as well as cooperate on various levels: politically, militarily, and developmentally; especially considering that we face extensive challenges that require greater cohesion and solidarity. Let us not forget that we are both embroiled in the same fight against Israeli occupation.
Al-Monitor: Some think that Hamas benefited the most from the Arab Spring revolutions. What can you tell us about your relationship with your new allies: Egypt, Qatar and Turkey?
Meshaal: At the outset, it is important to note that Hamas endorses the aspirations of Arab peoples for freedom and self-determination, as well as their fight against corruption and tyranny. We support them without interfering in the internal affairs of other countries; as a result Hamas’s positions have been consistent with those of these revolutions without differentiating between different peoples and revolutions.
On the other hand, our relationships with new regimes are neither new nor revised. This has been Hamas’s policy since its founding; to establish political relations with all, and not close the doors on anybody. We have never endorsed the policy of forming regional axes or international alignments. Our criteria for having good relations with this state ... has always been dependent on the level of support that they give to the Palestinian cause on various levels, in a manner that safeguards everybody’s general interests. You may confirm this fact if you wish by reviewing Hamas’ historical record pertaining to its Arab, regional and international relations.
Hamas was never hostile towards a country, nor did it ever become subservient to a country. It maintains good and strong relations with most Arab states, because it is confident that such relations bolster and strengthen the Palestinian people’s fight against Israeli occupation. There is no doubt that our relations with Egypt, Qatar and Turkey are excellent. We value their outstanding positions in support of our people and cause. At the same time, we strive to expand our political relationships with everyone, so that the interests of all may be advanced.
Al-Monitor: Do you agree with those who characterize Hamas’ relationship with Egypt as being “fragile and lukewarm,” in light of the recent accusations flung at Hamas in the Egyptian press?
Meshaal: On the contrary, Hamas’ relationship with the Egyptian state has undergone unprecedented and steady improvement. We have excellent relations with its leadership and institutions, for Egypt to us constitutes Palestine’s nurturing bosom. Our hope is for Egypt to overcome its transitional phase and emerge better than it was before, in a manner that would safeguard its good people’s interests and security, so that it may resume the historical role that the Arab World expects of her.
Furthermore, Hamas’ leadership has held meetings with numerous official and partisan Egyptian factions in order to rebut and refute the slander and baseless accusations leveled against Hamas. As a result, these accuations’ invalidity has become clear to all, as reflected by the recent statements issued by some Egyptian military and interior ministry officials. It has become clear that the accusations made by some Egyptian media outlets were but fabrications and lies aimed at Hamas with the sole purpose of entangling it in internal Egyptian affairs.
We in Hamas respect Egypt’s national security and the particularity of its internal affairs. We respect its privacy and don’t interfere in its affairs. We therefore are not a party to the internal polarization that Egypt is experiencing right now.
Al-Monitor: What about the situation in Syria, especially following the release of some Western reports that talk about Hamas militants training Free Syrian Army (FSA) soldiers?
Meshaal: In short, we back all peoples’ aspirations toward freedom, dignity, reform and democracy. We therefore stand with the Syrian people in that regard. We believe in those values and rights, just as we practice them. They are the rights of all Arab and Muslim peoples; the rights of all humankind, in fact.
Yet, at the same time, we do not meddle in the internal affairs of any nation. We do not interfere in the Syrian crisis, nor are we a party to it, despite the great pain we feel about the continued spilling of the Syrian people’s blood, the large number of casualties, and the sustained destruction of Syria as a country and state.
In light of this clear position and clearer policy, I confidently affirm that those Western reports have no basis in truth concerning Hamas’s participation in training FSA soldiers. They are all lies meant to confuse and shuffle the cards.
Al-Monitor: I know that close relationships bound you with Hezbollah and Iran. Do these relationships remain?
Meshaal: Yes, it is well known that, during past years, we had strong relations with the brothers in Hezbollah and Iran, as well as with other factions and countries. These relations were all predicated on the concept of resistance and the fight against Israeli occupation. Ours is a just cause, and we have always endeavored to mobilize the efforts of the Arab World and the free peoples of the world in support of this cause and the Palestinian people. There is no doubt that our relationship with Hezbollah and Iran was greatly affected lately by the disparity in views concerning the Syrian crisis. Our position in this regard is different than theirs, but the relationship still stands, even while it has been affected by the situation in Syria.
Al-Monitor: The differences between your position and that of Iran have been very obvious vis-à-vis the Syrian crisis. How will you make up for the lost support that was provided: both financially and militarily?
Meshaal: Hamas greatly appreciates all those who supported and backed it in its fight against the Israeli occupation. It is grateful for all that Iran has offered in this regard. But Hamas, at the same time, does not rely on one single source of state support; on the contrary, it strives to diversify its sources of support. Hamas is keen to maintain former and future relations despite the presence of differences or disagreements on some issues. Having political relations is not synonymous with espousing the same positions but is predicated on cooperation on common concerns.
Al-Monitor: Many here in Gaza ask the following question: When will you visit the strip again?
Meshaal: Gaza holds a special place in my heart, as well as in my mind and thoughts, for more than one reason and consideration. In addition to being part of my dear Palestinian homeland, my visit there a few months ago, and my being close to its people and communicating with its leaders, only exponentially increased its standing and the fondness I have for it. As a result, I constantly long to visit Gaza, which may not come soon, but will happen when the opportunity arises. Every Palestinian city, village, valley, mountain and shoreline is dear to my and every Palestinian’s heart.
God willing, the day will soon come when I can visit a West Bank liberated from occupation. Just as the resistance’s blows forced Israel’s army to withdraw from the Gaza Strip; our people, through resistance and struggle, will also succeed in pushing the occupation out of the West Bank. The visit then will hold special meaning because it will not be predicated on receiving permission from the occupier, but will come as the result of our free Palestinian will.
Adnan Abu Amer is dean of the Faculty of Arts and head of the Press and Information Section at Al Ummah University Open Education, as well as a lecturer in the history of the Palestinian issue, national security, political science and Islamic civilization.