The Head of the Hamas Political Bureau, Khaled Meshaal, has been the focus of much Arab media interest in the wake of the historic reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas.
Cairo correspondents for the London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (The Middle East) newspaper quoted Khaled Meshaal in a lengthy article saying that the new Arab world will witness an integrated approach towards interests that do not conflict with each other because there is now a depth to the national, Islamic, Arabic and humanitarian dimensions, none of which clash. Arab aspirations will be fulfilled, he said, which will justify this kind of integrated approach to the region’s problems. “What I want to see is the whole Arab nation opening up to the world in positive moderation while retaining resistance capabilities,” said Mr. Meshaal. “We want to create a new political map in the region, and for everyone to unite on one front so we can reach decisions which express successful internal and external Arab policies.”
Meshaal pointed out that everyone wants to turn the page and move on from division in the Palestinian fold. “That phase is over,” he said, “and we have serious procedures in place to stop it happening again.” There is now an opportunity to maximise the roles of Egypt and Turkey, and Arab states, to prevent the possibility of negative foreign interference.
When asked about the Hamas view of Bin Laden’s killing, Meshaal said: “We disagree with Al-Qaeda on many things, especially with regard to killing innocent civilians, but this does not give America the right to kill Arabs and Muslims outside the law.”
Speaking about the moribund peace process, Meshaal called for a comprehensive Arab and Palestinian strategy to end the stalemate of the past 20 years. Such a strategy would, he said, require diplomatic action, resistance [to the Israeli occupation], legal efforts and the harrying of Israel anywhere and everywhere in order to extract Palestinian rights and establish an independent Palestinian state.
The political chief of Hamas said that the movement has a positive relationship with Europe but has not yet decided on its position with Washington. He welcomed unconditional dialogue with the international powers. Meshaal said that he holds [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu responsible for the death of the peace process and accused him of obstructing a deal which would see Palestinian prisoners released by Israel in exchange for Sergeant Gilad Shalit, who was captured while on active duty against the people of Gaza.
According to Meshaal, “there are no divisions within Hamas, but there are different opinions and our institutions enjoy a large degree of democracy”. The movement is governed by an elected leadership; decisions are examined by the Political Bureau and an elected Consultative Council. “We may agree or disagree, and that’s healthy, but when issues are put to a vote everyone stands by the majority decision.”
Palestine, he added, is different to the situation in the Arab states which have seen revolutions taking place because everyone is against the occupation and everyone is aware that division is counter-productive. “From the first day of the split we were keen to end it,” he claimed. The Palestinians have benefited from the Arab Spring and Netanyahu’s hostile response as they sought reconciliation.
From now on, said Mr Meshaal, resistance will be sensitive to the “reality of reconciliation”, as will media discourse. Political and military decision-making will be consensual so that the success of the agreement is not jeopardised. It has been agreed, he added, that political prisoners will be released quickly and a date will be given for choosing the provisional leadership framework; the interim government “will not be preoccupied with the political situation but will have specific tasks to carry out”.
In addition, Meshaal said that joining the PLO (the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, currently dominated by Fatah) is a natural right for everyone because “we are partners in this homeland”. This will be the leadership framework which was part of the Makkah agreement.
Commenting on the peace process, Meshaal said the Palestinians had tested Israel’s intentions for 20 years. “Today, for the sake of Egypt and the reconciliation agreement, we give Israel another opportunity.” However, he said that the Palestinians must prepare a new strategy, “because we have a golden opportunity to pursue the anti-peace bloc in Israel”. The features noted above will, he said, be carried out “in the best interests of the peace process”.
The Palestinians will not accept anyone imposing conditions, “no matter who and what they are”, whether on the reconciliation agreement or any other aspect of the conflict resolution. “If the pro-Israel lobby expects us to accept their conditions on our political agreements,” stressed Meshaal, “then they will have to accept our conditions on the results of the next Knesset elections.” The Palestinians, including Hamas, “are ready for talks with Europe and America, but not with preconditions.”
Contacts between Hamas and Europe are “positive”, he claimed. “With the United States we keep up an unofficial relationship through the efforts of ex-President Jimmy Carter.” The current administration, said Meshaal, is still undecided on its options for Hamas. “We await Egypt’s efforts in this regard, and we hope they succeed, but we are not holding our breath for anything from Israel.”
When asked what his vision is for peace, Mr Meshaal replied, “What peace are you talking about? We want peace for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and in the Diaspora and within the Green Line [inside Israel] but we’re also looking at the rights of the Palestinian people. When we establish the state of Palestine, then you can ask me about peace and about Israel.”
With regards to growing international recognition of the Palestinian state, Meshaal argued that the rights of the Palestinian people should not be limited to the recognition of a state: “What’s even more important is for [Israel’s] occupation forces to withdraw to the borders as they were on the 4th June 1967 and for a Palestinian state to exist with sovereignty over its skies, land, wealth and water; for this land to be free of Jewish settlers and settlements.” Asked if the Hamas headquarters is to be moved from Syria to Egypt, he said, “There is no truth to reports about this and no major changes to our situation in Syria which would necessitate such a transfer.”
The Quds Press correspondent in Cairo asked Mr. Meshaal about an agreement to open the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza. Details of such an opening, he replied, will be discussed with Egypt “at a later date”. Hamas, he said, hopes that Egypt will achieve internal stability first, so that it can take a strong leadership role in the Arab world.
“The Gaza Strip is a security issue and line of defence for Cairo, and we do not want to throw the problem of Gaza in Egypt’s face, as some fear, and let Israel off the hook. Gaza is still occupied officially by Israel, but that shouldn’t prevent the opening of the Rafah crossing.”
Meshaal told Quds Press and other news agencies that Hamas wants “a new Arab axis which supports resistance using positive, logical and moderate means”. He dismissed Israeli threats post-reconciliation as the Zionists’ attempts “to confuse and overwhelm the Palestinian issue”. We expect anything and everything from our enemy, he added. “Israel may seek to block this.”
The united Palestinian front, he said, has reached a consensus on the resolution of struggle and dealing with the enemy’s “provocation through arrests in the West Bank and assassinations in Gaza”. A “Higher Security Committee will determine policies” and it will be “committed to the West Bank and Gaza Strip working together”. The government in Cairo, he added, “is forming an Egyptian and Arab team to support the implementation of the reconciliation agreement.”
The Hamas leadership hopes that the new regime in Egypt will no longer use the movement and the Muslim brotherhood as a “bogeyman” to keep the people divided. “The Muslim Brotherhood is a matter for the Egyptians; Hamas is Palestinian. Each has to work within its own area and sensitivity about any links left over from the Mubarak era should end.”
Reuter’s has published Meshaal’s statement in which he urged the United States and the European Union to support the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, saying that reconciliation is the choice of the Palestinian people. In an interview with the agency, Mr Meshaal said that Palestinian recognition of Israel cannot be considered until the establishment of an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“We’re waiting for the Europeans and Americans to support our right and not interfere in it,” he said. “The international community must put pressure on Israel to recognise a Palestinian state, not the other way round.” Israel needs to face real pressure, he claimed, including both armed and popular resistance. In response to the question of Hamas being ready to recognise Israel, he answered, “The Palestinian right to an independent state should be recognised and implemented first”.
The Aljazeera.net website said that Khaled Meshaal and Hamas have no objection to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas benefitting from reconciliation and resistance in order to achieve Palestinian interests; Hamas, he pointed out, has waived such formalities. He told the Doha-based station that Abbas should use the agreement to put pressure on America and Israel.
When asked about Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to sit next to him, Meshaal responded that “when the other side does not want to respect the logical practicalities of reconciliation the agreement could be spoiled.” Hamas, he added, has chosen not to spoil things for the people who were awaiting reconciliation and for Egypt which exerted great efforts to achieve it.
“I think that we shall all, including Fatah, restore our real spirit, but we cannot discount the influence of Netanyahu who has slammed the doors shut.”
Speaking about the next steps following the agreement, Meshaal said that three points have been agreed between Fatah and Hamas:
1. The immediate release of political prisoners being held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
2. Set a date for the meeting of the provisional leadership framework for the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
3. Set time for detailed discussion between Fatah and Hamas and other factions to agree on the formation of the government and the rest of the issues such as the formation of a Higher Security Committee and security issues.