GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hamas deputy leader Mousa Abu Marzouk caused a stir in Gaza when on Sept. 11 he publicly mentioned the possibility of direct negotiations with Israel. Speaking exclusively to Al-Monitor, Abu Marzouk explained that his statement was a “quiet cry of anger to whom it may concern” after Gaza was “turned into a pile of rubble and a pool of blood” in the most recent war with Israel.
The Hamas leader elaborated by saying the practice of indirect negotiations with Israel was “difficult,” as mediators (without naming names) “burden the file with their interests and others.’” He reaffirmed, however, that Hamas’ official policy “does not recognize Israel and does not negotiate with it. This policy is still in place.”
Asked why Hamas agreed to a cease-fire deal that excluded its previous condition of a seaport and airport, Abu Marzouk said, “It was not possible to achieve more. At this stage of the battle, we couldn’t have gained more,” he said. The Hamas deputy was vague about the movement's alternative plans should upcoming negotiations in Cairo fail to result in a full lifting of the siege against Gaza, stating, “If we cannot achieve our demands today, we will achieve some of them tomorrow.”
Abu Marzouk defended the public executions of alleged spies during the war, saying it was society’s “inherent right” to punish those who bring harm to it. He asserted, “These spies are one of the most important pillars and the true tools of the aggression that happened to the people. Because of the great harm that they inflicted on the people, they demanded their execution. The harm that the spies caused was greater than envisioned by anyone.”
He offered thanks to Iran, which he said provided “an essential part of the capabilities of the resistance” in the recent conflict. Abu Marzouk said little in regard to Qatar’s decision to expel several Muslim Brotherhood leaders from the country, only stating that it is “one of the changes in the relationship between Qatar and Saudi Arabia,” and that he does not expect it to affect Qatar’s hosting of Hamas leaders.
The text of the interview follows:
Al-Monitor: Your latest statements about the possibility of negotiating with Israel caused a lot of controversy. Was that the point of view of the movement or your personal opinion?
Abu Marzouk: So far, the movement’s policy is not to negotiate directly with the occupation. The reasons for not negotiating directly are still present. My statement was a message that we care about the interests of the people in the Gaza Strip, and it came in response to the political blackmail caused by the war. Israel bears [responsibility] for all the war’s outcomes and consequences on the legal, humanitarian and international levels because it is the main cause of the [war] and the main tool that created death and destruction. The Gaza Strip turned into a pile of rubble and a pool of blood, in Israel’s last aggression. So my statement was a quiet cry of anger to whom it may concern.
Al-Monitor: What is your view on the experience of indirect negotiations with Israel? Is it possible for Hamas to change its entire political strategy?
Abu Marzouk: Indirect negotiations with Israel have gone through more than one stage. There are the negotiations of 2008 and 2012. And there are the negotiations of the prisoners’ deal, that lasted five years and that we consider the most difficult.
We know that when there are mediators in the negotiations, they burden the file with their interests and others’. And therefore, we know without a doubt that indirect negotiations are difficult. Direct negotiations may be more difficult, but this is not the only consideration for refusing [to negotiate]. Rather, it is the movement’s policy of not recognizing Israel and negotiating with it. This policy is still in place.
Al-Monitor: Although Hamas stood firmly on the ground, the pressures around it left it politically weak [in trying to] achieve its demands in the negotiations. Do you agree?
Abu Marzouk: There is no political weakness in the movement. It may be that for a variety of reasons, this political investment of the victory that was achieved does not please some people. And this is a fact. I think that people were expecting on the political level that the siege on Gaza would be lifted because of this battle, which the resistance and the people won.
The main observation is that the people stuck with the resistance in an unprecedented way, as the citizens who were the most affected were the ones most committed to the resistance. This aroused admiration. And they expected that at least there will be demands commensurate with the victory, such as lifting the siege, [opening] the seaport and airport. But we could not get that in the cease-fire. It was postponed until upcoming negotiations.
Al-Monitor: At the beginning of the war, Hamas vowed to continue striking Israel until its demands on the seaport, the airport and the release of prisoners were met. Why did you change your position?
Abu Marzouk: I think that all things were leading to the cease-fire, in the wording, and in what was achieved in the last statement. It was not possible to achieve more. At this stage of the battle, we couldn’t have gained more. But negotiations are coming up, and the cards are still in the hands of the resistance, not in others’.
Al-Monitor: What is Hamas’ alternative plan if the negotiations in Cairo next month fail, particularly on the issue of the seaport and airport in Gaza?
Abu Marzouk: Our original demand is much more than that. It is mainly the liberation of Palestine and the return of Palestinian refugees. Thus, the current demands seem small [compared with] what we seek and what we want to achieve. Among these demands is still the establishment of a Palestinian state, which we seek to achieve in the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital.
So there are many rounds ahead of us, as we cannot achieve all of our demands in one day. And certainly, if we cannot achieve our demands today, we will achieve some of them tomorrow. If we do not achieve all of them tomorrow, we will achieve most of them the day after tomorrow, and so on. We insist on our complete rights.
Al-Monitor: It is as if you are talking of a new confrontation while the people in Gaza fear another war.
Abu Marzouk: Of course, the people are always right. And of course, people really do not want war. And I say that both sides do not want war, not only in the Gaza Strip. The other side is more afraid of returning to war. Perhaps one pressure point for a cease-fire was the desire of the people on both sides to stop the war and that 51 days of war are enough.
This was the longest of the Arabs’ wars [with Israel], and aspects of it were the fiercest. It had the most fighting and was the most brutal. The two massacres in the areas of Shajaiya and the city of Rafah were unprecedented in ugliness and brutality. So was the case of Khuza’a. At the same time, heroism and victory were manifested in an unprecedented way in the [battle] on the ground, which left more than 1,400 Israelis injured. The military tactics were also unprecedented in the history of wars between us and the Israelis.
Al-Monitor: Qatar has expelled leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood from its territory. What is the story behind the collective rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood?
Abu Marzouk: There is certainly a popular and revolutionary wave that emerged in most Arab countries demanding freedom and democracy. Afterward, there were free and unprecedented elections that produced a particular current that may be called political Islam. There was no regional or international consensus on it, and there is no doubt that its popular cachet was not decisive. Because of those circumstances, a backlash emerged from countries that did not experience popular reactions.
A severe collision occurred in the region between these two forces. There is no doubt that the Gaza Strip was part of this equation. That the Palestinian elections produced a popular desire that Hamas be in the foreground was a precedent and an inspiration to these peoples in the later stages. So this battle, in all its details, had its implications, the most important of which is Israel’s failure to eliminate this current. I think that the victory achieved in Gaza goes beyond the Strip and reaches the entire region.
Al-Monitor: Why has the Brotherhood been expelled from Qatar now?
Abu Marzouk: Gulf politics have a lot of complexities and changes. I think this is one of the changes in the relationship between Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Al-Monitor: Does this mean that Qatar will expel Hamas soon?
Abu Marzouk: I think that this measure has not and will not affect Qatari policy.
Al-Monitor: President Mahmoud Abbas criticized Hamas’ public execution of spies and described it as unreasonable. Don’t you think that these executions affected Hamas’ image in the international community?
Abu Marzouk: Abbas’ criticism of the matter was not based on the fact that punishing them was society’s right, but on a principled rejection of the act. We do not view the matter from this angle. But we think that society punishing them is an inherent right and was not something transient or a reckless event.
These spies are one of the most important pillars and the true tools of the aggression that happened to the people. Because of the great harm that they inflicted on the people, they demanded their execution. The harm that the spies caused was greater than envisioned by anyone.
Al-Monitor: What about Hamas’ image in the international media?
Abu Marzouk: There may be a difference in views on the executions in public. Some believe that it is a deterrent to others to stop harming the people. Others believe that this image [should be avoided], so it does not get negatively exploited by the foreign media. The disagreement is only over this. No two people in Gaza disagree that these spies must be punished.
Al-Monitor: Do you think that the assassination of the three [military] leaders in Rafah was caused by one of these spies?
Abu Marzouk: No doubt. The one who fingered their location was a spy. Three buildings were bombed because he did not specify the apartment they went into. I think that this spy fled to Israel, and some of his helpers were arrested. The details will be declared later. Mohammed al-Deif’s family was bombed because of a spy and his sister. The spy was executed, and his sister is in prison, and she will face the same punishment.
Al-Monitor: Do you think that the 12-day period of calm was the main reason behind their assassination? Was it a mistake by the resistance or by the negotiator?
Abu Marzouk: The decision to calm things down was taken because the people needed to buy necessities and extract the bodies from under the rubble, or because of the need to negotiate. The matter regarding the truce decisions was only about these two points. Of course, the moves of the resistance and its men made Israel renew its activity in the spy network, causing losses to the resistance.
Al-Monitor: So it was a lack of precaution by the resistance fighters?
Abu Marzouk: Each case must be evaluated. We cannot take a general line and apply it to everybody. There are many cases involving casualties among the resistance fighters because of an action. But this action would eventually be figured out and dealt with. Among these actions is using the means of communication at the beginning of the battle.
Al-Monitor: Media reports confirm Egyptian contacts with Israel during the cease-fire talks. Why did Hamas agree to allow Egypt to be a mediator instead of Qatar or Turkey?
Abu Marzouk: There was no room for [anything] but to accept Egyptian mediation. The latter worked exclusively on the subject of the war and on how to stop it. The mediator must be accepted by both sides. Without a doubt, we have no veto on the Egyptian role or any other mediator who wants to help stop the battle and achieve the goals of the Palestinian people and the resistance. But Israel had put a veto on all mediators except Egypt. So the only way to negotiate was through the Egyptian mediation. Even the US mediation was unable to do anything at the time.
Al-Monitor: During the negotiations, news spread that Egypt itself rejected the airport and seaport issues because of its own interests and that it was even more rigid than Israel.
Abu Marzouk: I would not say that, but without a doubt, the head of Egyptian intelligence clearly said that some Palestinian demands cannot be accomplished at this stage and would require a comprehensive peace deal to achieve them. Among them were the two issues of the airport and seaport. [He said] that they will not be achieved during the cease-fire negotiations.
Al-Monitor: According to some leaks, during the cease-fire negotiations there was a deal on disarmament in return for the airport and seaport.
Abu Marzouk: Indeed, Israel requested disarmament, but the Egyptian side rejected this before presenting [the idea] to us. The issue of disarmament was not on our agenda, so the Egyptian mediation rejected even proposing it [to us]. Israel had put forward disarmament as a condition for the seaport and airport. From the outset, the Egyptians thought that these issues would be part of the agreements in a comprehensive solution. But we insisted that they be part of the demands on the next agenda.
Al-Monitor: The residents of the Gaza Strip have withstood three wars, the siege and the separation of Hamas and Gaza. Isn’t it time for Gaza to live like other cities of the world?
Abu Marzouk: Yes it is true, this must be achieved. The round is not over. This does not mean that the demands that were not achieved will be canceled or written off. We will continue to call for them. The Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip need a lot and have paid a lot. They didn’t get anything yet, while there is a great sense that war and peace, and life and death are equivalent. This is causing more tension, wars and instability. So I say that these people deserve a lot, and all their needs must be met.
Al-Monitor: There have been squabbles between Fatah and Hamas after the war. How will Gaza be rebuilt if the division returns and the resistance is put in the corner?
Abu Marzouk: The resistance was not put in a corner, and the political blackmail was unacceptable and short-lived. The reconstruction of Gaza is next, and there are no other options. It is a matter of time. The measures have already started, and several meetings were held between the United Nations, the Palestinian Authority [PA] and Israel. I think that the money was presented to the UN and other funds will come. The data gathering on the ground has started.
If the PA dawdles and keeps blackmailing, then I do not think that it is the only choice and the only destiny for the people of the Strip. The PA should be aware of that. Hamas did not respond to this bickering and media attacks. We still believe that unity is our chance as Palestinians. We must teach our brothers in the PA that the basis of unity and stability will be justice and equality, and without that, nothing will happen in the Gaza Strip.
Al-Monitor: As I understand it, Hamas has no guarantees for anything.
Abu Marzouk: I do not think that there are guarantees except the cards held by Hamas and the resistance. That is the only guarantee.
Al-Monitor: How can Hamas replenish its rocket stock after the destruction of the tunnels on the Egyptian border and the drop in Iranian support and sympathy, which during the war was neutral to say the least?
Abu Marzouk: We should not be unfair to Iran. I think that its position was on the side of the resistance and the people. Let me also acknowledge that an essential part of the capabilities of the resistance was from Iranian aid in the recent war and the war that preceded it. So we say that Iran’s position was positive, and it deserves thanks for that.
As for how the resistance will rearm, everyone knows very well that we have always been able to get weapons and manage our affairs. There is no worry about that.