• February 10, 2006
  • 25 minutes read

Interview with Hamas chief Khaled Meshal

Interview with Hamas chief Khaled Meshal

Interview with Hamas chief Khaled Meshal 

 “The Super-Most Wanted” Meshal

DAMASCUS—The day of Hamas’ triumph, the supreme leader, Khaled Meshal, keeps his euphoria in check and weighs his words: “This is a first step. Yet, other steps are needed before the goal: the liberation from the occupation”.

It’s not easy to succeed in meeting Meshal (Abu’l Walid, for his followers). Being a moving target of Israel, he continually changes his headquarters. In Amman, the Mossad injected poison behind his ear with an air-compressed syringe. After being discovered and captured, the Israeli agents were released in exchange for the antidote. The fact raised an international crisis.

Now we’re being brought by an armoured, smoke-windowed Mercedes 200 to meet him. Off with the mobile phones, that have been disassembled and put in a metallic box, off with the bags, off with the shoes.

Mr. Khaled Meshal, what does victory taste like?

“You should ask that to the Americans and Israelis, judging by their dismay before the outcome of the elections. Washington invokes democracy. Well, the constituency expressed their vote. Maybe our democracy has a not much welcomed face to the westerners: however, this is a great day for our nation”.

Is it also for peace? Israel considers your victory as a catastrophe, the end of peace process.

“That depends on Israel, not on us. If it is willing to acknowledge the rights of the Palestinians, to live freely on their own lands, then peace is at hand. We’re ready. But are they?”

Mr. Meshal, are you willing to negotiate?

“Since Madrid and Oslo, accords have lead nowhere. The peace process is at a deadlock, the Palestinian life quality has worsened, the fence is moving forward and engulfing further lands. As to the Road Map, it is unacceptable. It imposes upon us detailed conditions: the disarmament and the arrest of mujaheddins, the giving up of resistance. Yet it’s vague as regards Israel’s duties: it doesn’t say a word about Jerusalem, the refugees’ fate, the extension of territories to give back”.

Nor does Hamas make clear about which part of Palestine it means to free. Please, say it yourself: do you mean to recover historic Palestine that comprises Israel or only the territories occupied in 1967?

“I’ll answer you with another question: why does the world ask the Palestinians to define the borders of its own homeland while it doesn’t ask the Italians to do the same thing with Italy? I know very well what is the map of my country.”

So Hamas won’t acknowledge Israel, will it?

“No, we won’t do it. Israel was born from an aggression, an occupation of another’s lands.”

Your statute calls for the destruction of Israel. It was said that, in view of the elections, you would delete that paragraph written in 1988.

“You westerners are wrong: the statute doesn’t invoke Israel’s destruction at all. In Arab it is written, “ to put an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine”. We don’t want to get rid of the other, we only wish to attain our rights. So, that paragraph will remain.”

Would you accept negotiations through a third party involved, such as Israel has done in Lebanon with Hezbollah?

“We still haven’t decided. We already are dealing with the Israelis, as regards municipalities, for practical reasons. Hamas doesn’t reject talks. It’s Israel’s philosophy that impedes us from negotiating. So, there’s nothing left for us but resistance”.

America, Europe and Israel ask you to put down your arms. Will you agree?

“Obviously not, as long as most of the territory is under occupation. Only force has produced some result, the Israeli withdraw from Gaza.”

Yet, you have negotiated a truce.

“It’s true, and we have respected it whereas Israel has not. Now, since 1 January it expired. This doesn’t mean that Hamas won’t take into account the reality: it will depend on the conditions of the people and on the land.”

How does Hamas think about entering into the political process?

“Hamas has been dealing with politics for a long time. Our political platform also provides for a second way, besides the resistance: to build the political life on a democratic and solid foundation, to fight against corruption and introduce a principle of freedom and justice.”

Marwan Barghouti, from prison, is proposing to you a coalition government together with Fatah.

“It’s too early. We have to evaluate the international situation, which is very delicate, to consider America’s pressures upon the Palestinian Authority, whether Abu Mazen will ask us to accept the Oslo Accords and recognise Israel, something that we won’t do. At any rate, we’ll partake in each decision-making process.”

Sharon has struck and liquidated your leadership. What have the results of this been, Mr. Meshal?

To this question, Mr. Meshal jumps to his feet. “Look,” he says pointing to a board on the wall: a huge diamond-shape board filled with photos of smiling faces, of the “martyred” Hamas leaders. On the right, glowing within a sun there’s Sheik Yassin. On the left, Dr. Rantissi “The results are under everyone’s eyes. That, notwithstanding all these dead men, America, Europe and Israel will have to deal with us from now on.”

“Let them govern, but without us”
An interview with Saeb Erekat by Fabio Scuto

RAMALLAH—Saeb Erekat, former minister and person in charge of negotiations with Israel on PNA’s behalf, is sitting in his office in Ramallah that, at the first evening lights, is surrounded by green flags waved by some thousand Hamas’ supporters celebrating the electoral victory in the streets. Car horns sound and slogans can be clearly heard even through closed windows.

Dr. Erekat, this rejoicing we’re hearing in the streets might have been yours. While instead…

“They have won, they’ve the right to celebrate. And they’re greatly rejoicing because what has happened is a political tsunami.”

You have won and been elected in your own town, Jericho; though, it has been a total defeat for Al Fatah; how do you feel?

“I have no problems acknowledging it, frankly, I’m shocked.”

And now what will happen?

“President Abu Mazen, after having accepted the Prime Minister Abu Ala’s resignation, will have to charge Hamas to form the new government, and we of Fatah don’t expect to take part in it. If they are thinking of involving us within a coalition to get us to do the task they don’t mean to or don’t know how to do, in which they’ll be taking merits while we’ll be concerned with the most awkward and, sometimes, difficult matters, they are totally wrong.”

In your opinion, is there any chance for an agreement with Hamas?

“We have our own agenda, founded on negotiations, on accords with Israel. If they accept this program, we might talk about it.”

What mistakes have you made during the electoral campaign? Why haven’t people voted for you?

“There have been a number of errors. We have been punished because we didn’t manage to reach a definitive peace in these past years, because the corruption we’ve had has been overly emphasized, because the negotiation with Israel has stopped and the occupation has been going on while in general life conditions certainly haven’t improved. Moreover, Israel decided to carry out the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza as well, without any accord with us, thus letting Hamas ascribe the merit of it to its armed resistance and to the no-agreement line.”

Behind the defeat there is also the lack of renovation of your party.

“Absolutely yes, unfortunately it’s not come about. We must start again from this defeat and go towards a deep reform inside the Fatah. We must change the leaders, the party’s structures, and, mainly, we must work to win back our people’s trust. I hope that we can have a congress by next July.”

Many are sure that a Hamas led government won’t be going too far. And that in one year you will have to call new elections.

“It was a vote to punish us, but those who voted for Hamas couldn’t imagine or didn’t want such a defeat. In fact, I’m sure that many of those who yesterday voted for Hamas, today are regretting and they would gladly change their vote.”

Translated by Diego Traversa and revised by Mary Rizzo, member of Tlaxcala, the community of translators for linguistic diversity ([email protected]). This translation is on copyleft. (from Peace Palestine blog)

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First Reflections On The Electoral Victory Of Hamas

by Gilbert Achcar; January 27, 2006

1. The sweeping electoral victory of Hamas is but one of the products of the intensive use made by the United States in the Muslim world, since the 1950’s, of Islamic fundamentalism as an ideological weapon against both progressive nationalism and communism. This was done in close collaboration with the Saudi kingdom — a de facto U.S. protectorate almost from its foundation in 1932. The promotion of the most reactionary interpretation of the Islamic religion, exploiting deeply-rooted popular religious beliefs, led to this ideology filling the vacuum left by the exhaustion by the 1970’s of the two ideological currents it served to fight. The road was thus paved in the entire Muslim world for the transformation of Islamic fundamentalism into the dominant expression of mass national and social resentment, to the great dismay of the U.S. and its Saudi protectorate. The story of Washington’s relation with Islamic fundamentalism is the most striking modern illustration of the sorcerer’s apprenticeship. (I have described this at length in my Clash of Barbarisms.)

2. The Palestinian scene was no exception to this general regional pattern, albeit it followed suit with a time warp. Although the Palestinian guerilla movement came to the fore initially as a result of the exhaustion of more traditional Arab nationalism and as an expression of radicalization, the movement underwent a very rapid bureaucratization, fostered by an impressive influx of petrodollars and reaching levels of corruption that have no equivalent in the history of national liberation movements. Still, as long as it remained — in the guise of the PLO — what could be described as a “stateless state apparatus seeking a territory” (see my Eastern Cauldron), the Palestinian national movement could still embody the aspirations of the vast majority of the Palestinian masses, despite the numerous twists, turns, and betrayals of commitments with which its history is littered. However, when a new generation of Palestinians took up the struggle in the late 1980’s, with the Intifada that started in December 1987, their radicalization began in turn to take increasingly the path of Islamic fundamentalism. This was facilitated by the fact that the Palestinian left, the leading force within the Intifada in the first months, squandered this last historic opportunity by eventually aligning itself one more time behind the PLO leadership, thus completing its own bankruptcy. On a smaller scale, Israel had played its own version of the sorcerer’s apprentice by favoring the Islamic fundamentalist movement as a rival to the PLO prior to the Intifada.

3. The 1993 Oslo agreement inaugurated the final phase of the PLO’s degeneration, as its leadership — or rather the leading nucleus of this leadership, bypassing the official leading bodies — was granted guardianship over the Palestinian population of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This came in exchange for what amounted to a capitulation: the PLO leadership abandoned the minimal conditions that were demanded by the Palestinian negotiators from the 1967 occupied territories, above all an Israeli pledge to freeze and reverse the construction of settlements which were colonizing their land. The very conditions of this capitulation — which doomed the Oslo agreements to tragic failure as critics very rightly predicted from the start — made certain that the shift in the popular political mood would speed up. The Zionist state took advantage of the lull brought to the 1967 territories by the Palestinian Authority’s fulfillment of the role of police force by proxy ascribed to it, by drastically intensifying the colonization and building an infrastructure designed to facilitate its military control over these territories. Accordingly, the discredit of the PA increased inexorably. This loss in public support hampered more and more its ability to crack down on the Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist movement — as was required from it and as it began attempting as early as 1994 — let alone its ability to marginalize the Islamic movement politically and ideologically. Moreover, the transfer of the PLO bureaucracy from exile into the 1967 territories, as a ruling apparatus entrusted with the task of surveillance over the population that waged the Intifada, quickly led to its corruption reaching abysmal levels — something that the population of the territories hadn’t seen first-hand before. At the same time, Hamas, like most sections of the Islamic fundamentalist mass movement — in contrast with “substitutionist” strictly terrorist organizations of which al-Qaeda has become the most spectacular example — was keen on paying attention to popular basic needs, organizing social services, and cultivating a reputation of austerity and incorruptibility.

4. The irresistible rise of Ariel Sharon to the helm of the Israeli state resulted from his September 2000 provocation that ignited the “Second Intifada” — an uprising that because of its militarization lacked the most positive features of the popular dynamics of the first Intifada. A PA that, by its very nature, could definitely not rely on mass self-organization and chose the only way of struggle it was familiar with, fostered this militarization. Sharon’s rise was also a product of the dead-end reached by the Oslo process: the clash between the Zionist interpretation of the Oslo frame — an updated version of the 1967 “Alon Plan” by which Israel would relinquish the populated areas of the 1967 occupied territories to an Arab administration, while keeping colonized and militarized strategic chunks — and the PA’s minimal requirements of recovering all, or nearly all the territories occupied in 1967, without which it knew it would lose its remaining clout with the Palestinian population. The electoral victory of war criminal Ariel Sharon in February 2001 — an event as much “shocking” as the electoral victory of Hamas, at the very least — inevitably reinforced the Islamic fundamentalist movement, his counterpart in terms of radicalization of stance against the backdrop of a still-born historic compromise. All of this was greatly propelled, of course, by the (very resistible, but unresisted) accession to power of George W. Bush, and the unleashing of his wildest imperial ambitions thanks to the attacks on September 11, 2001.

5. Ariel Sharon played skillfully on the dialectics between himself and his Palestinian true opposite number, Hamas. His calculation was simple: in order to be able to carry through unilaterally his own hard-line version of the Zionist interpretation of a “settlement” with the Palestinians, he needed two conditions: a) to minimize international pressure upon him — or rather U.S. pressure, the only one that really matters to Israel; and b) to demonstrate that there is no Palestinian leadership with which Israel could “do business.” For this, he needed to emphasize the weakness and unreliability of the PA by fanning the expansion of the Islamic fundamentalist movement, knowing that the latter was anathema to the Western states. Thus every time there was some kind of truce, negotiated by the PA with the Islamic organizations, Sharon’s government would resort to an “extrajudicial execution” — in plain language, an assassination — in order to provoke these organizations into retaliation by the means they specialized in: suicide attacks, their “F-16s” as they say. This had the double advantage of stressing the PA inability to control the Palestinian population, and enhancing Sharon’s own popularity in Israel. The truth of the matter is that the electoral victory of Hamas is the outcome that Sharon’s strategy was very obviously seeking, as many astute observers did not fail to point out.

6. As long as Yasir Arafat was alive, he could still use the remnant of his own historical prestige. Contrary to what many commentators have said, the seclusion of Arafat in his last months by Sharon did not “discredit” the Palestinian leader: as a matter of fact, Arafat’s popularity was at an all-time low before his seclusion, and regained in strength after it started. Actually, Arafat’s leadership has always been directly nurtured by his demonization by Israel and his popularity rose again when he became Sharon’s prisoner. This is why the U.S. and Israel’s nominee for Palestinian leadership, Mahmud Abbas, was not able to really take over as long as Arafat was alive. This is also why both the Bush administration and Sharon would not let the Palestinians organize the new elections that Arafat kept demanding as his representativeness was challenged very hypocritically in the name of “democratic reform.” The very nature of the “democrats” supported by Washington and Israel under this heading is best epitomized by Muhammad Dahlan, the most corrupt chief of one of the rival repressive “security” apparatuses that Arafat kept under his control on a pattern familiar to autocratic Arab regimes.

7. The electoral victory of Hamas is a resounding slap in the face of the Bush administration. As the latest illustration of the sorcerer’s apprenticeship that U.S. policy in the Middle East has so spectacularly displayed, it is the final nail in the coffin of its neocon-inspired, demagogic and deceitful rhetoric about bringing “democracy” to the “Greater Middle East.” It is, of course, too early to make any safe prediction at this point regarding what will happen on the ground. It is possible, however, to make a few observations and prognoses:

· Hamas does not have a social incentive for collaboration with the Israeli occupation, at least not in any way resembling that of the PLO-originated PA apparatuses: it has actually been thrown into disarray by its own victory, as it would certainly have preferred the much more comfortable posture of being a major parliamentary opposition force to the PA. Therefore, it takes a lot of self-deception and wishful thinking to believe that Hamas will adapt to the conditions laid out by the U.S. and Israel. Collaboration is all the less likely given that the Israeli government, under the leadership of the new Kadima party founded by Sharon, will continue his policy, taking full advantage of the election result that suits its plans so well, and making impossible any accommodation with Hamas. Moreover, Hamas faces an outbidding rival represented by “Islamic Jihad,” which boycotted the election.

· In order to try to rescue the very sensitive Palestinian component of overall U.S. Middle East policy that it managed to steer into dire straits, the Bush administration will very likely consider three possibilities. One would be a major shift in the policies of Hamas, bought by and mediated by the Saudis; this is, however, unlikely for the reason stated above and would be long and uncertain. Another would be fomenting tension and political opposition to Hamas in order to provoke new elections in the near future, taking advantage of the vast presidential powers that Arafat had granted himself and that Mahmud Abbas inherited, or just by having the latter resign, thus forcing a presidential election. For such a move to be successful, or meaningful at all, there is a need for a credible figure that could regain a majority for the traditional Palestinian leadership; but the only figure having the minimum of prestige required for this role is presently Marwan Barghouti, who — from his Israeli jail cell — made an alliance with Dahlan prior to the election. It is therefore likely that Washington will exert pressure on Israel for his release. A third possibility would be the “Algerian scenario” — referring to the interruption of the electoral process in Algeria by a military junta in January 1992 — which is already envisaged, according to reports in the Arab press: the repressive apparatuses of the PA would crack down on Hamas, impose a state of siege and establish a military-police dictatorship. Of course, a combination of the last two scenarios is also possible, postponing the crackdown until political conditions are created, that are more suitable for it.

· Any attempt by the U.S. and the European Union to starve the Palestinians into submission by interrupting the economic aid that they grant them would be disastrous for both humanitarian and political reasons and should be opposed most vigorously.