Interview with Khaled Meshal – Supreme Leader of Hamas
From the 27 January 2006 print version of La Repubblica (Italy)
by Alix Van Buren
“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 withdrawal 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org). This translation is on copyleft.