Khaled Meshaal, former head of Hamas, sits down with TRT World to discuss the past, present and future of the Palestinian struggle, and the consequences of the deadly violence faced by the peaceful protesters at the Gaza border.
DOHA — The Great March of Return, an eight-week protest at the Gaza-Israel border, reached a violent peak last week when 60 Palestinians were killed in a single day, just as the United States opened its controversial embassy in Jerusalem.
In the aftermath of this deadly violence, Israeli and American representatives have laid the blame on Hamas, a Palestinian political organisation based in Gaza, highlighting both the differing accounts of Hamas’ influence and position amongst the Palestinian people.
In order to understand the positions of Hamas with regards to the many challenges Palestine faces, and in light of the recent violence at the border, we sat down with Khaled Meshaal, former chairman of the organisation.
TRT WORLD: At least 60 Palestinians have been killed in what is being described as the worst day for Palestinian killings since 2014. As the former head of Hamas, what is your assessment of the situation?
Khaled Meshaal: Yes, this is a great crime that Israel has committed against our people in Gaza. Tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands have gone out peacefully, unarmed, and carrying a clear message. They are demanding an end to the siege on Gaza and to the slow death in the largest open-air prison in the world.
The second message is to voice our opposition to the United States moving its embassy to Jerusalem.
The third issue is that we are the true owners of this land. We will remain on the path to return to our nation and our land, peacefully. But Israel is afraid of Palestinians—the mere existence of Palestinians. Israel is experiencing the feelings of a thief whose conscience does not let them feel comfortable living on someone else’s land.
Israel responded to this peaceful march with violence and ugliness. They have killed, as you have seen, more than 60 martyrs, including 8 children. There are more than 2,800 injured people including 86 women and 220 children. These are all Israeli crimes. They think they can overcome the will of the Palestinians and destroy the Palestinian dream. But they don’t realise that these people, who have resisted for decades, will defeat them at the end, God willing.
The IDF says that they were targeting Hamas, which was trying to make the protests violent, trying to break through the security fence and get into Israeli territories. How would you respond to that?
KM: There are two million people living in Gaza. They are not all Hamas. Hamas does not hide behind its people. Hamas leads its people with all the other Palestinian forces. There are nationalist and Islamic forces in the Gaza Strip that are leading these peaceful and popular protests against the occupation. These are accusations and excuses that Israel uses to justify its crimes. Israel is trying to ignore these protests and escape the consequences, but when the people rise up and send specific messages to confirm their right to return to their land—they will succeed in the end.
This is faulty logic Israel uses to trick the world. The world sees these peaceful protests, they see families, elderly people, women and children. This young child that was martyred today due to her injuries yesterday, she was just an infant of 8 months old. Is she Hamas? This is a reflection on the state of Israel’s tricks, they are attempting to fool the world, but people will no longer be misled by Israel’s stories.
But the Americans tend to agree with Israel. In fact, the Americans have blocked a Kuwait backed proposal at the UN Security Council which called for investigations and condemned the Israeli actions in Gaza. Why do you think the Americans are supporting Israel on this issue?
KM: Unfortunately, the United States of America, in its various administrations, but particularly with the Trump administration, have chosen to take the side of oppression and aggression and sticking to a position that goes against historical facts. It committed a great crime when it recognised the creation of the Zionist state, marking the Palestinian Nakba [catastrophe] in 1948. It continued its support with weapons with Apaches and F16s and all types of other bombs that were used to kill our children, women and people. It is insistent on covering up for Israel in regards to its settlement operations. It protected Israel hundreds of times with vetoes in the UN Security Council. And today, Trump commits an even bigger crime and adds to our 70-year-old Nakba with another Nakba.
He has taken the Balfour Declaration even further, making the unfortunate promise of giving Jerusalem to the Israelis, moving the embassy there and sending his delegation to show clear American support for Israel.
But as I was pondering the situation, despite the great anger we felt about the crimes in Gaza at the hands of Israelis, I was struck with an idea that gave me stronger hope for the future. This Zionist oppressive state still needs international support, even after 70 years, just like a vulnerable child. This is Israel that has ultimate power and carries out atrocities against our people, but still needs support – once from Britain, once from France, and today from the United States of America.
Whereas our people, who do not have any international support, but are struggling for their rights. This continued resistance is proof that there is a future for our cause and not for them. They are still afraid of the future. And our people, despite the difficult circumstances and the sacrifices they make, have more confidence in their future. This is the difference between the rightful landowners and those who have stolen land.
Gaza has a population of 1.8 million people. It’s surrounded by Israel on three sides and Egypt continues to blockade it from the south. Recently we saw Ismail Haniyeh go to Egypt for negotiations on the way forward. What was discussed in your opinion in those negotiations between Ismail Haniyeh and the Egyptians?
KM: There is a general concern in the region regarding the developments over the past six weeks. Gaza surprised the world and the Zionist enemy with the Great March of Return. This put significant pressure on the Israeli occupier and this caused widespread Israeli anxiety. They were concerned about the situation becoming even more volatile, especially when the protesters in Gaza decided that they wanted to return to their homes and villages that they were forced out of in 1948.
For this reason, there was a concern and in an attempt to avoid any victims, Egyptian leadership tried to discuss with the leadership of Hamas the possible scenarios that could develop out of the situation. The Hamas leadership is aware of what is happening. It is part of the people. It expresses the rights of Palestinians, and it refused to compromise these rights in any way.
The Israelis want to continue taking away the land, the security, the ultimate sovereignty, to besiege Gaza, to steal the land of the West Bank and Jerusalem, Judaize Jerusalem and build settlements and ignore the rights of Palestinians, and this is not acceptable.
The message of the people of the Gaza is that the siege cannot go on. Eleven years of siege, hunger and slow death is enough. No more bargaining on the issue of Jerusalem, no more settlement building, no more ignoring the right to return. We are demanding our legal rights and any side we meet with, Arab or non-Arab, we express our very clear position.
Yes, but who is listening? We see in the Muslim world, Turkish President Erdogan has called an emergency meeting of the OIC. The Arab League has condemned it. Egypt has also showed concern for the violence. Do you think that the Muslim community and the world community isn’t on the same page when it comes to Gaza and settling this issue?
KM: The Arab and Muslim and international response to Israel’s crimes in Gaza yesterday has been limited and not appropriate for the kinds of atrocities committed. Those who have taken brave stands like President Erdogan and calling for an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is a good step, but it is not enough. Palestinians have a clear message. We will not give up on Jerusalem, we will not give up the right to return, we will not accept the siege. And we will not accept to live under occupation.
So the position we expect from Arab, Muslim and international supporters is to stand next to the Palestinian people, supporting their resistance, supporting their persistence, aiding in breaking the siege of Gaza, rejecting the American position on Jerusalem, rejecting the deadly Israeli policies in Gaza and the West Bank, rejecting settlements, and supporting the Palestinian right to return without occupation and to live in an independent Palestinian state. This requires political pressure and financial support, as well as condemning Israel in the international community. Yes, European countries have a different position to the US on the issue of Jerusalem, and this is a good thing. But it is not enough. It is time that the international community put a limit to Israel’s crime and thuggery, just as it did for past criminals in Serbia and others.
Recently, at the beginning of these protests in Gaza, the Haaretz newspaper in Israel came out with a report that Hamas had proposed a 10-year ceasefire with Israel. Hamas then came out recently and said that this was untrue and that there was no such proposal on the table. Do you think a time will come or is there at a time to make a ceasefire proposal with Israel, considering Israel continues killing Gazans and Palestinians?
I can confirm that Hamas never presented such a proposal. There is always ceasefire discussion with Israel after violence, such as in 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2014. But Israel never committed to these quiet spells. The evidence is in what happened yesterday and in the previous weeks, and even in the years that have past. Israel is not trustworthy, and they are always trying to control Palestinians, regardless of the fact that they are violently reacting to peaceful protests.
We saw the Israeli PM speaking after the US embassy was moved. What do you make of these statements from the US president and Israeli PM?
KM: The US President Donald Trump is ignorant about history, about the resistance and resilience of the people. He is living in a world of business, making him short-sighted and materialistic. He thinks he is making history and was convinced of this by Netanyahu, but he is only shortening the life of the Israeli occupation. Although he believes he is helping, he is actually bringing closer the end of this illegal occupation of Jerusalem and Palestine. Trump and the American administration will realise that they made a big mistake with their stupid decision in time.
As for [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, he is our enemy and is known for his trickery. He is trying to rewrite history and to find strength from the support of this American administration. He believes that Trump’s presidency is an opportunity to overtake Palestine and Jerusalem, and to push forward his wars in the region. He is trying to create a new status quo in the region and to change the nature of the conflict between Israel as an occupying force and the Arab and Muslim world. From listening to Netanyahu, I can tell that he realises that he is personally defeated even though he tries to show that he is strong.
In his statement, Donald Trump specifically said that he extends a hand in friendship to Israel and the Palestinians and to all of their neighbours. Can you expect the US to be a neutral arbiter after this embassy move?
The United States of America and its administrations were never a neutral party in the Arab-Israeli conflict. They were always biased in favour of Israel, supporting Israel and protecting it. For Trump, the issue is much clearer. America was surely not an unbiased arbiter in the past and today it is not neutral either. It does not have the proper moral attitude. Historically, it has worked against the Palestinian people and their demands for their rights.
And for us in Hamas, we never trusted the United States of America, even for a day.
There are some Arabs and some Palestinians who hoped that there would be a role for America at some point, however, today even they are questioning this. And now Trump has made the picture very clear to us. For this reason, the true solution is for us to depend on ourselves, for us to seek the unity of the Palestinian people. For us to organise our most powerful assets and joining the global community and standing with our friends. We, ourselves, will defeat Israel regardless of the American support for it.
You’ve spoken very forcefully, and Hamas leadership has taken a very forceful stance against the US embassy move. In fact, the protests picked up in Gaza at the onset of this embassy move as well. How do you think the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas has responded to this embassy move?
KM: Very clearly and specifically – President Mahmoud Abbas’ response to the embassy move has been acceptable, but it is not enough firstly, and secondly, it is incomplete.
Mahmoud Abbas is not an ordinary person. He is the president of the Palestinian people. Whoever rejects the moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem should take real actions on the ground. He should work towards ending the embargo on Gaza, fast track the Palestinian reconciliation, join his people regardless of any difference he may have with them and gather his most powerful assets, which we failed to protect in the past. We should return the resistance to the ground. We should end intelligence cooperation with Israel. We should engage in international and legal discussions on the American and Zionist presence in Palestine. There are actions that give legitimacy to the position that he took that, although positive, require follow up.
Well, these efforts began late last year when Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation deal in late October ending a decades-long rift. But there are still some issues there. Do you think the PA and Fatah, under Mahmoud Abbas, especially considering he is 82 years old, can be brought into a new direction for the Palestinians, can be united?
KM: Yes. Seeing the suffering of the people in Gaza and this criminal killing warrants the need for immediate action to restart the Palestinian reconciliation and to unite all Palestinian forces. This is first.
Second, we need to apply the concept of partnership with the PA and the PLO in matters of political decisions, the resistance, and decisions on the ground.
Third, we need to rebuild our national institutions.
But there are pressures. Especially from some Arab leaders that are pushing the Palestinian leadership to accept the so-called US-backed deal of the century. Do you think the Palestinian leadership and authority can withstand these pressures from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere?
KM: Until now they have resisted the pressures coming from a number of directions, and this is a testament to their resilience. I believe that there is no Palestinian from any party inside or outside Palestine that will accept “the deal of the century.” As long as the Palestinians are united in rejecting the deal, then it will fail, whether it is offered by Trump or anyone else. It is unfortunate that the Israelis and the Americans are talking big, claiming that there are some Arab countries that support the deal and are putting pressure on the Palestinians. These parties, who are consorting with the Americans and the Israelis, should adjust their positions.
Yes, in the latest Arab League meeting they announced an acceptable position. But this position needs credibility and thus must be a public and private position. The message to America and Israel should be clear, that these countries stand with Palestinians and their rights. Unfortunately, without mentioning any specific names, there are many recent messages, voices, positions and even actions – such as going to take part in athletic events under the Israeli flag – that betray their statements. This is a treacherous stab in the back of the Palestinian people that is unacceptable. Despite this, the Palestinian people are the ones who will decide. The Palestinian people are the ones who will finish the battle. The Palestinian people will stand in the winners' circle and will be the honourable ones. And whoever stands on the other side will be the loser, and history will record their names on a blacklist.
What would you say to Palestinians that say the two-state solution is dead, that we want one state and we will let demographics decide?
KM: The idea of a two-state solution was created by the international community. You can see this in the numerous United Nations and Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. There have been a number of international and Arab discussions about the two-state solutions, and Palestinian leadership has accepted the two-state solution for many years. The whole world wants a two-state solution, and Israel alone rejects it, and the United States supports it—which means the two-state solution is on the ground now. It is dead.
Although others believed in the two-state solution, we never believed in it. No solution comes from begging or negotiating without any position of power. The real solution comes from the ground, from resistance, from struggle, from sacrifice. We believe in all of Palestine. It is our right. And we want to establish a state in Palestinian land. Although there were discussions on a potential united political view among Arabs and Palestinians, this is no longer relevant because Israel has closed the door on it many times.
You will turn 62 in two weeks and you were the Hamas political chief for decades. How has your struggle played out and what is the future of the Palestinian struggle?
KM: The ongoing occupation, settlements, Judaization of land, of Jerusalem, the siege of Gaza, the fact that half of our people are displaced, the fact that half of our people are living under occupation, these are all reflective of difficult circumstances.
There is Palestinian disunity; there are external pressures. The region is busy dealing with a variety of hot issues, removing the Palestinian issue out of its natural position as a focal point for the Ummah. The situation may seem dark. But look at it from a different angle.
The Palestinian people have been fighting for over 100 years. They resisted the British Mandate in the 1920s. Resisted the Zionist gangs and invasion. Then it resisted Israel. It fought a number of wars. Generation after generation they fought wars in Gaza. They persevered in the face of all this. Now there are three generations of Palestinians inside and outside Palestine who believe in the same cause – that this is our land and this is our Jerusalem – and we will continue to struggle and continue to be ready to sacrifice. This reflects that ... the 70 years of the Nakba and the 100 years of the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate and the ongoing Palestinian suffering haven't weakened the Palestinian people’s will or affected our confidence in what are our rights. Yes, Israel has overwhelming power, but it is internally defeated.
If you compare the Palestinian generation today and the Israeli generation, you’ll find there is a big difference. The Israelis are dependant on their military might alone. The Palestinians believe in the future, and I am telling you with full confidence that we will be victorious. Israel will be defeated. Soon, Israel will regret not accepting a number of offers that were presented by Arabs and the international community, and the Palestinian people will be the ones that force it to retreat, God willing.
Israel continues to insist that Hamas is a terrorist organisation and that it is independent because Israel does not occupy it anymore.
KM: Hamas is a resistance movement and a national liberation movement; it is not a terrorist organisation. The terrorists are those who occupy our lands.
Secondly; yes, Gaza was liberated from occupation and from the Israeli military forces in 2005, when [then Israel's PM Ariel] Sharon retreated. But Israel continues to exploit the land of Gaza, the border of Gaza, the air space and water around Gaza. It is responsible for this suffering in Palestine. Israel continues to kill the people of Gaza, and continues to tighten the siege. It prevents Palestinians in Gaza from travelling [and] controlling their lives, turning Gaza into the largest open-air prison in the world.
Furthermore, the people of Gaza did not come from the moon. The people of Gaza are part of the Palestinian people, part of the Palestinian nation. What is happening in Jerusalem, in the West Bank, the 1948 borders and Shataat are all part of their concern. So the people of Gaza are struggling for their land in Gaza ... and the rest of their land ... Seventy percent of the people of Gaza are refugees, they have villages and cities in the 1948 borders. So this is an Israeli lie. We are one people, one land, one nation; this is our message. It is impossible to create a single Palestinian state in Gaza.
The Palestinian state is in our land with the participation of all our people.
NOTE: The interview has been edited for clarity.