The enterprising, Bucharest-based researcher Manuela Paraipan published an interesting, revealing interview with Khaled Meshaal in Open Democracy last week. I’m sorry I don’t have time to analyze it very thoroughly right now– things are really hopping in the publishing business, with two JWB titles about to come out, and another following fast behind!
Anyway, Paraipan’s interview reveals several intriguing aspects both of the personality of Hamas leader Meshaal and of the movement that he leads.
When Paraipan asks Meshaal how he defines himself, he answers thus:
- I am a Palestinian, an Arab, a Muslim and a human being. I am looking for freedom and self-determination. I have two purposes in life: to serve Almighty God and my people.
… In this struggle I am ready to pay any price in order to accomplish the aims of my people and the Ummah.
I combine two personas; one, the soul of humanity, who loves people, who wishes them well, respects all of them and believes steadfastly in values of justice and equality. I do not discriminate based on race, or affiliation to any country or religion. The second persona will not surrender to any aggressor, and will never surrender to the occupiers. I am not afraid of any threats or other forms of intimidation. I have ‘a long breath’ and I am quite confident that together with my people, we will win through against our enemies.
We will not relinquish our destiny to Israeli military might. We can endure and we have the patience to endure the stages of the resistance to come. This is Khaled Mashal.
That first sentence there is significant. See how Meshaal’s self-identification as a Muslim comes third– after “Palestinian” and “Arab”. Then, see how he seems to differentiate between “my people” and “the Ummah”, putting his commitment to serving “my people” before that to serving “the Ummah”. The Ummah is of course the entire body of Muslim believers worldwide. “My people” is presumably– and it would have been great if Paraipan had actually pinned this down– the Palestinian people.
Of course, the business about the “long breath” is also very important.
The periodization of Hamas’s history that Paraipan elicits from him is also significant. It ends with this exchange:
- [KM:] … From 2000 till 2006 there was another phase. This was a crucial stage but it was also one in which we lost the most senior members of our leadership to martyrdom: Sheikh Yassin, Dr. Abd al Rantissi and others. This was a huge loss but at the same time we also gained ground – especially once it became clear that Oslo and the peace process project had in practise, failed.
Like other resistance factions at that time, we were able to offer an alternative.
Q: What kind of alternative?
A: As I was saying, given the failure on the ground of the Oslo agreement, we offered an alternative.
Q: An alternative, meaning armed resistance?
A: This is what I was about to say: we offered a practical alternative for our people, which is of course the resistance; a resistance that is able to defend its people and able to accomplish their goals. What was not accomplished by Oslo has been achieved through our resistance. It compelled Sharon to withdraw from Gaza and to dismantle the settlements.
This is interesting. Paraipan asks about “armed resistance”. He answers by referring only to “resistance”, without specifying what kind. This, too, would have been a good point to draw him out on a bit more… It is, after all, the case that in 2005, during the months that the Sharon government was pulling the Israeli soldiers and settlers out of the Gaza Strip, Hamas along with Fateh and all the other significant Palestinian movements all committed to, and implemented, a completely unilateral cessation of hostilities against Israel in Gaza. Without that unilateral ceasefire, it is highly probable that Sharon’s withdrawal plan would have been accompanied by high levels of Israeli violence, or would perhaps have been curtailed or abandoned altogether…
You could perhaps say that the policy Hamas (and the other Palestinian movements) were pursuing during those months constituted a form of resistance– but notably not armed resistance. You could also perhaps say that Sharon would never have been motivated to undertake the withdrawal policy if it had not been for earlier instances of armed resistance from Hamas and other movements. But even if we accede to both these arguments, it is still the case that Sharon did not execute his withdrawal under Palestinian fire; and that the withdrawal itself was not directly accompanied by Palestinian “armed resistance”.
In the next portion of his answer, Meshaal describes the extremely important decision Hamas made in 2005 or so, to enter into the two key Palestinian institutions that, until then, it had always both stayed out of and strongly criticized: the pan-Palestinian PLO and the Oslo-derived Palestinian Authority (which exercises some very limited forms of self-governance within Gaza and portions of the West Bank.)
As he described that decision:
- We looked then for a new framework of the Palestinian national political project, for a redefinition of authority and the role of leadership, at the level of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the PLO. Should we see our role as providing security for the Israelis, or should we seek a national outcome in favour of the Palestinian people? Through posing this question, we wanted to unite all factions and be part of the new programme going forward. Within the PLO our initiative succeeded in intensifying the call for real reform.
The last stage, which has lasted from 2006 till now, started with the participation of Hamas in the [PA’s] election process and the sweeping victory which was such a surprise to everyone around the world.
Paraipan then asks whether the victory Hamas won in the PA’s 2006 parliamentary elections came as a surprise to Meshaal and his colleagues in the leadership. His answer:
- The winning as such was not so surprising to us but the size of the vote maybe was. In the immediate aftermath of elections the results were rejected by the Americans, some Palestinians and regional parties.
The Palestinian people was now collectively punished for this result by besieging it and cutting off its aid. This is the first time in history that a people has been so punished for exercising its democratic choice.
Paraipan asks an important question– namely what Meshaal means when he says he is opposed to Israeli “occupation”. The sub-theme in the question seems to be to elicit whether he is referring only to Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, or also to the Yishuv/Israeli military takeover of all of the land that became the State of Israel in 1948.
His answer clearly indicates that he holds to the latter view:
- The Palestinian people have lived in Palestine as of right: and we are not talking about history, or back in the middle ages. We are talking about 60 years ago. There is a land called Palestine which belongs to Palestinians. That it was a land for Christians, Muslims and some Jews also does not detract from this. They were living in peace under a Palestinian and Arab regime. A Jewish issue erupted outside the region. Europe wanted to get rid of this problem and it exported it to our region. It thereby ‘killed two birds with one stone’. There was no more ‘Jewish problem’ and, moreover, they were able to exploit a Zionist project designed to expropriate the region’s resources. It is clear to us that Israel was established as part of an offensive against our people. Israel deported them from their own land. To conclude: it is an illegal occupation and we consider its existence illegal in the region.
But he immediately goes on to add this:
- However, because Hamas is realistic we have come to an agreement among the Palestinian factions and Arab countries to accept the established state of Palestine on the basis of the borders of 1967, with Jerusalem as the capital, and the right of refugees to return.
There is then another intriguing short exchange between Paraipan and Meshaal:
- Q: Maybe you are also calling for compensation for the refugees?
Q: If you were able to participate directly in the negotiations, you would have to compromise on that position. In that eventuality, you would not only be representing Hamas as a group, but also those who support you as a political party.
A: The biggest compromise has already been made by the Palestinian factions and the Arab states. It was to accept the 1967 borders, leaving us 20% of the whole piece of territory in dispute. [Actually, about 23% ~HC]
It is no longer admissible for some powers to continue to put pressure on the Palestinian side asking it for further compromises, because it perceives it as the weaker player.
What we offered then was the maximum. The pressure should now be redirected towards Israel. It is immoral to keep pressuring the Palestinians simply because the Americans and the international community are failing in the face of Netanyahu.
Negotiating parties currently making up further compromises have no constituency and their action is without value, because a solution that does not cover the nation as a whole is no solution. The refugees still cannot return, yet they (Israel) pass a decree for every Jew who has never seen the land to come to Palestine.
Anyway, those are what I see as the highlights of the interview. There is a lot more there. Go read it all!