The Palestinian cause of statehood is in crisis. The peace process that offered some hope of progress in the 1990s has imploded, with Israel annexing more land for settlements and building more walls that seem to doom prospects for a two-state solution – or any solution.
Khaled Meshaal is the former leader of the Hamas party, the Palestinian political group that controls the Gaza Strip. Its secularist rival, Fatah, controls the West Bank, with the geographic lines drawn following a brutal Palestinian civil war after Hamas won elections in 2006. Critics of Fatah say it serves as an accomplice to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, clamping down on political dissent and enforcing order on behalf of the Israeli government.
In a wide-ranging interview with TRT World’s Imran Garda, Meshaal describes his vision for the future of Palestinian resistance to Israeli rule and what a revamped charter for Hamas means for its relations with Israel and a future peace process.
Is Hamas changing? This is a new charter.
KHALED MESHAAL: Hamas is changing, it is evolving. Like any living organism it has vitality, and it regenerates, has its own personality and has a future. This is normal and we are proud of this. What Hamas presented is a document not a charter. The first charter of Hamas was in 1988, now we have a document in 2017. This reflects the natural evolution of Hamas’ political thought and performance. In the political document it presents a balanced, a creative and authentic model; how to resist and adhere to the rights of people and nationalistic ideals, that do not compromise and play games with principles while at the same time remaining open minded and open to the regional and international environment. Knowing the laws of conflict, how to manage a conflict, when to advance and when to stay back.
What do you most regret when you were leader?
KM: I am not sorry for anything. Because I did not do anything except to serve my cause and serve my people. We do not kill indiscriminately, we believe in resistance. We resisted on the ground against the Israeli occupation only. We did not enter into conflicts with others, we did not neglect the principles and rights of our people. I do not regret anything. It doesn’t mean that we didn’t make mistakes – if you look at the details, sure we have. We made decisions and they may not have been the best. Also, in the details there are successes and failures, a majority of the decisions were good and some were bad. But in general strategies and tactics, I don't think we made any mistakes and instead we were successful and offered a unique and productive model by the grace of God.
The core of the 1988 charter seems to suggest that Muslims and Jews fight each other. It also seems to suggest that there’ll be no compromise whatsoever on the land. The core of the new charter seems to suggest an implicit recognition of Israel. It says “we’re not fighting Jews, we’re fighting Zionists.” There’s a massive difference in the language between the two.
KM: The language of the original charter reflects the first moments of Hamas and the environment of the Intifada, the harshness of the occupation, and as you remember the Israeli bone-breaking approaches. So the expressions in the charter were emotional responses and didn’t contain much political jargon. But it reflected the feelings of the Palestinian nation and its natural emotions in facing the occupation.
This new document has the same spirit but is expressed in a more balanced, calm and straightforward way. But truthfully, the question about the war against the occupiers – our philosophy hasn’t changed since the beginning. We are not fighting Israelis because of their religion. We fight those who occupy our lands. If a Muslim occupied our land we would fight them. If it was a Christian, we would fight them. If they are Jewish, we will fight them. The basis for resistance is the occupation, not religious differences.
This is Palestine. The Holy Land. The blessed land. The land of prophets and messengers. The land of the Abrahamic faiths. Naturally coexistence and forgiveness are a general principle and part of this land and Hamas is part of this environment and this land.
The document is crystal clear, it’s states clearly a declaration of the illegitimacy of the occupation, our claim to all Palestine, Jerusalem, the right of return, and the resistance – these are clear principles.
The language in article 20 about the 1967 borders was also very clear. This is a project based on establishing a state on the 4th of June 1967 borders, with the capital being Jerusalem. It also includes the right of return granted to those forcibly displaced and refugees, to the areas that they were dispelled from. This is a national initiative that is shared with others, to make our national reconciliation easier so we can work together to resist the occupation, but without compromising our rights and our national principles, and without acknowledging Israel.
Only one player enforces the occupation. That’s Israel. But two players enforce the siege on Gaza – that’s Israel and Egypt, two countries. Is that the reason that Hamas has to get closer to Egypt?
KM: Since its founding Hamas has been keen to maintain a strong relationship with Egypt. And with all Arab and Muslim nations. And to open up to the world. Because the Palestinian issue is tied to regional and international currents as well as to the Ummah [Muslim community]. And Egypt, as the largest Arab country on one hand, and the fact that it shares a border with Palestine and Gaza, having a relationship is natural. We are the ones who initiated a relationship with Egypt starting in the 80s and 90s, and this is something that’s part of Hamas’ philosophy regarding managing relationships.
Today our family in Gaza is suffering under ten years of a blockade. An unjust blockade. And Gaza is paying the price of the strength of the resistance and not succumbing to Israel's will on the one hand, and on the other hand our winning of the elections in 2006. Whoever voted for Hamas was punished and blockaded. Even those who voted for us in the West Bank are struggling under occupation and settlements and security repression.
So we are struggling from this blockade, but our relationship with Egypt isn’t just tied to the blockade. It is tied to a political philosophy with important regional actors, with all Muslim countries and the people inside the countries, and also the governments, and the organisations. I've no doubt that Egypt is a key player in lifting the siege imposed on Gaza and opening up the border crossing. So that’s why we’ve worked hard to keep our relationship open with Egypt and visit them, and reach an agreement in which they open the border and lift the blockade that Israel is responsible for.
You went to South Africa in October 2015. The South Africa solution is something people bring up for Palestine. They talk of one state, one man, one vote. White people didn't get kicked out, there was a political resolution. Is that something you would want for Palestine: where Jews, Muslims, Christians can all live under one democratic state as equal citizens, and not a two-state solution?
KM: Of course I am really proud of my visit to South Africa, and the great people of South Africa who set a world-class example of how the will of people can liberate a country from occupation or a racist system.
The lesson is in the essence of the issue. What is that essence? You can call it a single state solution or any other name you want. That is not what was important in South Africa. The important thing was that the situation reached a point when the rights of the native people of South Africa were realised or not. I believe that the leaders of the racist system in South Africa, at that historic moment in history, at the end of the 20th century, realised their project had reached reached a dead end. The international community pulled away any cover that they previously had. For this reason, a solution was attainable. This is not the situation in the Palestinian cause today.
Israel, firstly, feels that it has a military advantage, unfortunately in the entire region. And then it has an international community that will protect it. It will protect it with vetoes. Support it with weapons, with political decisions, with money to its economy. So it does not feel that it needs to succumb to the logic of the moment and acknowledge the rights of the Palestinian people. As long as Israel thinks this way, and the international community does not lift its cover from this project that will definitely reach a dead end, then talk of a two state or one state solution is useless.
In addition to blaming Israel and Egypt, lots of people blame Hamas for the struggle they have in Gaza. What’s your message for those people who are living a really tough life in Gaza under siege and with no economic prospects?
KM: Of course our hearts and minds are with our people in Gaza who are suffering from this blockade and its impact on everyday life. On treatment, education, travel, and electricity. For sure, it is severe suffering. But I would like to tell my cherished people that your brothers and sisters in the West Bank are suffering from the occupation and settlements, and your people here and abroad are suffering as well. We are living under occupation, and we’re battling with this wicked occupier and everyone is struggling to different degrees. The big question is whether Hamas is working to end this blockade and whether it is working to end these electricity shortages and other issues? It is working. However, there is a difference between going through rational channels to solve these problems or executing an agenda that others would like us to follow through with.