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Hamas leader says American envoys making contact, but not openly

January 28, 2014 at 3:03 pm

By David Hearst

The United States is sending a succession of envoys to engage with Hamas but lacks the bravery to talk to the Islamist movement openly, its leader, Khaled Meshal, said in an interview with the Guardian.

Meshal praised President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia for meeting him in Damascus and the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, for hosting the discussion 10 days ago. He told Medvedev that the US was also talking to him. “I thanked him for that meeting and told him the Americans contact us, but are not brave enough to do so openly,” said Meshal. “I am confident that in the very near future, everyone will realise that they will have to deal with Hamas.”

The claim that the US is engaging with a group it lists as a terrorist organisation will upset the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, whose security forces have locked up and allegedly tortured leading Hamas members in the West Bank..


But four years into Israel’s blockade of Gaza, the revelation could be seen as a sign that cracks are opening up in the western consensus that Hamas should remain isolated. Russia is a member of the Middle East Quartet, which demands recognition of the state of Israel as a precondition to a seat at the negotiating table.

Hamas says that recognising Israel was one of the Fatah leadership’s biggest mistakes, and resulted in 17 years of fruitless negotiation. Meshal predicted that the conditions, which he called a trap for the Quartet itself, would change.

The Hamas leader claimed many western officials recognised that the blockade of Gaza had failed and the time had come to end it. This, he said, was the significance of efforts by a flotilla of eight ships, including four cargo vessels carrying construction and medical supplies and a Turkish passenger ferry carrying 600 people, heading for a confrontation with the Israeli navy off Gaza tomorrow.

Meshal said the tectonic plates in the Middle East were shifting, with Iran, Turkey and Syria emerging as regional powers. Egypt was in the throes of a battle for succession that would paralyse it as a regional player. As a result, Israel was losing its power to impose conditions on a weakened Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.

As it felt its power ebbing, Israel needed a new war but was crippled by self-doubt, Meshal said. He claimed the attacks on Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, and against Hamas in Gaza in 2009, left both organisations stronger politically and militarily.

“Israel is conducting exercises threatening Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria. It needs a war, but choosing the front to fight on will not be a picnic and this reflects the crisis in Israel. It does not want peace, but the option of war is not easy for it,” he said.

The Hamas leader added that Israel might be tempted to strike Gaza again. “A war in Gaza might appear the easy option. But that would be an illusion, not because we have adequate weapons, but because Israel this time would be fighting against a people with nothing to lose. Gaza is small in size but it has become a large symbol for the rest of the world. This has become very clear in the last week.”

Senior Hamas officials said they had conducted a study of their military tactics in Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2009 and were now working with rockets that could hit tanks effectively at longer range.

Meshal said Barack Obama had made a brave speech in Cairo, but within months had retreated, with administration officials actively vetoing efforts to seek agreement between Fatah and Hamas on a national unity government. Citing senior Fatah sources, he claimed George Mitchell, the US negotiator, told the Palestinian Authority and Egypt that the US would cut off aid to the PA if it formed a national unity government with Hamas and the other militant Palestinian factions.

“Palestinian reconciliation is not on the table at the moment, because the priority for America is to resume the proximity talks. Mahmoud Abbas is better for America’s purpose without reconciliation, because he is weak and a deal with Hamas would strengthen the Palestinian position in the negotiation. America prefers a weak Palestinian negotiating party, because it believes this is the best chance for a deal with an intransigent [Israeli prime minister Binyamin] Netanyahu.”

Hamas claims that nine or 10 of the 22-member Arab League now either publicly or tacitly back its formula for a unity government, not least Saudi Arabia, a country still thought to be furious with Hamas about its takeover of Gaza in 2007, which tore up an agreement with Fatah.

Meshal said that four days before the last Arab League summit in Sirte, Libya, the Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, took a one-page Hamas document to Egypt, containing its latest proposal.

The document called for the creation of a Palestinian leadership representative of all factions, a high security council to reform the security forces of Gaza, and a committee to organise new elections. Palestinians outside the occupied territories would also take part in the vote.

The Egyptians came back with three additions: that the new Palestinian unity government would recognise a two-state solution, the borders of 1967 and the Arab Peace Initiative. Meshal said that these demands were tantamount to a recognition of Israel.

“What Mahmoud Abbas is seeking is to restore his authority over Gaza and to draw Hamas into an electoral process in conditions in which it would lose. Egypt’s position is a real obstacle, too. It raises the question what is reconciliation for, to exclude Hamas, or to bring it into the process to participate?”

Nonetheless, Meshal said he would pursue negotiations, now being brokered by Libya. He rejected the claim that Hamas was on the sidelines of efforts to find peace in the Middle East, refusing to lay out its vision of solution. He said the Palestinians and Arabs were ready to accept a state within 1967 borders, with its capital in Jerusalem, and the return of its refugees, but that Israel was not prepared to pay the price.

“After 17 years of negotiations, it has given nothing to those Palestinians who recognise it. It just demands more concessions like security co-operation. It is only when Israel is forced to make concessions that peace will come, but that will only happen when it is faced with a strong Palestinian partner. So Hamas will continue to reserve the right to resistance until Israel returns to the ’67 borders.”

Source: The Guardian

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.