By Stuart Littlewood –
“Negotiation today does not serve the Palestinian side… Just as there is currently no parity in the field of confrontation, there is also no parity around the negotiating table,” says Mesh’al
Hamas have been criticised recently for dragging their feet over the need to re-think their image.
They now seem to have at least made a start on this important task judging by a remarkable interview with Hamas chief Khaled Mesh’al by the Jordanian Arabic-language Al-Sabeel newspaper in July 2010 and translated into english by The Afro-Middle East Centre AMEC.
Headed ‘Khaled Mesh’al lays out new Hamas policy direction’, the interview runs to 14,000 words and is not an easy read unless you find yourself on a long train journey without an attractive companion.
Nevertheless it makes a real effort to begin the process of ‘coming in from the cold’ and deserves a wide audience.
I hope Mr Mesh’al won’t mind too much if, for convenience, I reduce his lengthy and carefully worded position statement – for that is what it is – to a few bullet-points…
- Hamas is a grassroots movement rather than a military group which exists to serve the interests of Palestinians at home and abroad. It is also a national liberation movement with resistance its main tool.
- Hamas’s objective is ending the Zionist occupation and restoring Palestinian rights. Resistance is the means of achieving this.
- Hamas only employ “legitimate resistance” – i.e. against the enemy occupying Palestinian land and holy places. They do not use resistance against their enemy’s allies who supply the weapons and munitions used to kill Palestinians. Nor do they extend resistance outside Palestine.
- Resistance is a realistic option for Hamas. It has succeeded in removing the occupier from southern Lebanon and Gaza and is clearly effective in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- Armed resistance against Israel is the result of Israeli occupation, injustice and oppression, not religious differences.
- In Palestine there is a ‘special relationship’ between Muslims and Christians and they are united in the defence of Jerusalem and the cause.
- Women are playing a wider role at the organizational level in Hamas.
- Hamas believe that negotiations right now would only benefit Israel. Peace cannot be made when one party is so powerful and the other so weak. For the Palestinians negotiation under these circumstances means surrender.
- Hamas do not recognise Israel. Doing so would effectively legitimize the occupation and the rest of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people. Such recognition would be unacceptable in terms of international law and human values.
- Israel’s drip-drip demand for recognition is a sign of weakness bordering on an admission of illegitimacy.
- Hamas is not looking for recognition by the West. It already has the legitimacy of the ballot box and its long struggle for justice.
- Hamas aim to promote their just cause and win more friends internationally to support their legitimate right to resist the occupation.
- There will be no peace in the region until the powers deal with Hamas and respect their interests and rights and quit favouring Israel at Palestine’s expense.
- Hamas believe the Zionist entity is weakening and its “Greater Israel’ project is doomed. Israel is in a state of moral collapse and its ugly face has been exposed. Reading all the signs it is unnecessary to bow to demands to negotiate a political settlement.
- Hamas are in no great hurry. They’ll wait.
It will be hard for western readers, unless they are dyed-in-the-wool Israel stooges, to find much that’s objectionable in the new policy. Given the decades-long suffering and the 90 years of betrayal, many will feel it makes perfect sense from the Palestinian perspective. So it is a powerful weapon – or would be if edited down to a manageable size and presented as a discussion document or released as a promotional leaflet.
Mesh’al is at pains to explain that resistance is a means not an end; it is a strategic tool for liberation and the backbone of their working system. He introduces a chilling note, however, in the context of jihad and the struggle when he talks about innovative methods, tactics and tools “such as expanding martyrdom operations and developing them to become a lethal weapon against the enemy, and striking deep at its security”.
And this is where he nearly derails himself. People who were with him up to that point are likely to leave in droves. Saying such a thing is shocking to western ears and Mesh’al is committing public relations suicide if he doesn’t ruthlessly blue-pencil that bit.
Right now negotiation is “a fruitless gamble”
Addressing the thorny question whether Abbas, a minority factional leader propped up by the US and Israel, should be negotiating with Israel on behalf of the Palestinians, Mesh’al scores some good points: “Negotiation needs to be based on unity at a national level. If one party sees benefit in a certain step towards negotiation, and pursues such a decision alone and without referring to the people, they will be placing themselves in a difficult situation and will grant the enemy an opportunity which it will certainly use against them…
“Negotiation today – under the current balance of power – is in the service of the enemy, and does not serve the Palestinian side. The conflict on the ground has not developed in a manner that has forced the Zionist enemy to resort to negotiation; it refuses to this day to withdraw from the land, and does not recognise Palestinian rights. Thus negotiation in such conditions is a kind of fruitless gamble.
“Israel is exploiting negotiations to normalise its relations with the Arab and Islamic world and to penetrate it, and to distort the nature of the conflict; Israel is the sole beneficiary of the negotiations as they stand…
“Just as there is currently no parity in the field of confrontation, there is also no parity around the negotiating table.”
As regards the mantra endlessly mouthed by western powers that Hamas must recognize Israel, Mesh’al says: “We refuse to recognise the legitimacy of Israel because we refuse to recognise the legitimacy of occupation and theft of land.”
Well, who can argue with that?
He makes a nice point about religion and how this is not the driver of resistance: “For us, religion is a cornerstone to our lives, belonging and identity, our culture and our daily actions; it is the energy that promotes patience and steadfastness, and gives rise to more sacrifice and generosity. This is a tremendous energy in the face of injustice, aggression and the powers seeking to harm our people and our nation. But we do not make of religion a force for engendering hatred, nor a cause or a pretext for harming and assaulting others, or grabbing what is not ours, or encroaching on the rights of others.”
Mesh’al points to how Palestine is famed for coexistence and tolerance among all faiths, and to illustrate the relationship between Muslim and Christian he quotes a verse from the Qur’an: “You will surely find that, of all people, the most hostile to those who believe are the Jews and those who are polytheists; and you will certainly find that, of all people, the nearest in friendship to those who believe are those who say: ‘We are Christians.’”
Looking ahead, Mesh’al acknowledges Israel’s military might but points to its increasing failures. “Yes, it is capable of waging war, but it has long been unable to achieve victory.”
The Greater Israel project is dead, he says, “because the Zionist enemy is no longer able to accomplish it, and because Israel continues on the same path as did apartheid South Africa”.
Hamas see no quick fix but are sounding pretty upbeat. Are they deluding themselves?
Perhaps the answer lies in this appealing little saying from the Qur’an, which ends the interview: “For it is by turns that We apportion unto people such days of fortune and misfortune”.
Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk