Getting inside the head of Khaled Meshal

Dec 12, 2012 | Or Avi Guy

Getting inside the head of Khaled Meshal
Meshal during his Gaza speech

December 7th was a big day for Khaled Meshal, head of Hamas political bureau. Hamas marked its 25th anniversary, and on the occasion Meshal made his first ever visit to Gaza, which was not only a personal experience, but also his opportunity for a political resurrection. Meshal, the exile leader, has had a tough time lately; as the civil war in Syria intensified, he had to relocate, along with Hamas’ headquarters, from Damascus to Qatar; he announced his intention to resign repeatedly; and he had to deal with increasing tension within Hamas, and between Hamas and other militant organisations within Gaza, as the voices urging a more aggressive and violent line towards Israel grew, undermining his political position.

In his speech, Meshal proved once again that he is just as committed to the “resistance” and “liberation” of Palestine as the most extreme voices. He also proved that not much has changed in the 25 years since Hamas first emerged, with its hateful, antisemitic charter and the call for the annihilation of Israel. Meshal’s speech is crucial for the understanding of Hamas’ ideology and vision today, and the political path they chose. This is an important speech for those who mistakenly believe that Meshal is a ‘pragmatic’ or ‘moderate’ politician – and he is clever at telling Western audiences what they want to hear, or at least enough so that they hear what they wish to hear. (Khaled abu Toameh dissected a good example of such a supposedly conciliatory interview with CNN last month, in which Meshal says “I accept a Palestinian state according to 1967 borders” but left it unsaid that he was accepting it only as an interim step to facilitate Israel’s destruction.)

Meshal’s own words serve to disprove such misconceptions. The speech also points to some realities ignored by those who still believe that there is any possible solution other than a two-state outcome.

The speech is composed of a few themes. Meshal opens with a reiteration of his commitment to the liberation of Palestine. For his listeners’ convenience and to prevent any confusion or mixed interpretations, he also clearly states his definition of Palestine, clearly stating that he is not talking only about Gaza and the West Bank, but about the pre-1948 borders:

“First of all, Palestine – from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea, from its north to its south – is our land, our right, and our homeland. There will be no relinquishing or forsaking even an inch or small part of it.”

So much for territorial compromise. It is safe to say that Meshal is not a fan of the two-state outcome, but what is his vision then? Democratic coexistence in one state, as advocates of the so-called “one-state solution” seems to suggest? Not quite:

“Second, Palestine was, continues to be, and will remain Arab and Islamic. It belongs to the Arab and the Islamic world. Palestine belongs to us and to nobody else. This is the Palestine which we know and in which we believe. Third, since Palestine belongs to us, and is the land of Arabism and Islam, we must never recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation of it. The occupation is illegitimate, and therefore, Israel is illegitimate, and will remain so throughout the passage of time. Palestine belongs to us, not to the Zionists.”

Again, by ‘occupation’ Meshal means Israel-proper, as well as the West Bank and Gaza. Three sentences into his speech, and already he rejected the two-state outcome, any territorial compromise, recognition of Israel and any prospect of negotiations. So how will his vision of an Arab and Islamic greater-Palestine be achieved? Meshal provides an answer:

“The liberation of Palestine – all of Palestine – is a duty, a right, a goal, and a purpose. It is the responsibility of the Palestinian people, as well as of the Arab and Islamic nation.
[…] Jihad and armed resistance are the proper and true path to liberation and to the restoration of our rights, along with all other forms of struggle – through politics, through diplomacy, through the masses, and through legal channels. All these forms of struggle, however, are worthless without resistance.”

First of all, if there was any doubt, Meshal clearly established that that by “resistance” he really means terrorism and other forms of armed violence. Also, by mentioning “diplomacy” and “legal channels” Meshal is referring to efforts made by the Palestinian Authority (PA), run by Hamas’ political rivals, the Fatah movement, to advance the cause of Palestinian statehood through international bodies, primarily the UN. This is an implied criticism of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, suggesting that his diplomatic success in gaining non-member observer state status at the UN, and the possibility of subsequent diplomatic and legal actions against Israel through the UN and the International Criminal Court (ICC), are worthless in the absence of armed struggle – Hamas’ specialty.

This was his preface to the next part of the speech, in which he goes on to establish the primacy of armed resistance over politics and statesmanship:

“Politics are born from the womb of resistance. The true statesman is born from the womb of the rifle and the missile […] Oh Palestinian statesmen, oh Arab and Muslim statesmen, learn your lesson from Gaza. Anyone who wishes to take the path of diplomacy must take a missile along with him. He must rely upon the infrastructure of the resistance. Your value, oh statesman, is derived from the value of resistance.
I, along with my dear brother Abu Al-Abd Haniya [Hamas’ leader in Gaza], the entire Hamas leadership, both here and abroad, our comrades, the leaders of the resistance, in Gaza, in the West Bank, here and abroad – by Allah, we are indebted to the leadership of the Palestinian military wings. If not for the great commanders of the military wings, we would have no statesmen. This is thanks first to Allah, and then to the heroes of the resistance.”

He then moves on to congratulate the terror groups in Gaza for their recent attack on Israel:

“How wonderful was your shelling of Tel Aviv. May your hands be blessed. May your hands be blessed. We are proud of what you have done.”

Meshal then explains that the choice of violence over negotiations is a ‘pragmatic’ and realistic one:

“Jihad and resistance are the path. This is not mere rhetoric. Events have shown us that Jihad and resistance are the most advantageous and reliable option. This option is not a delusion or a mirage. By no means. The resistance is a palpable, visible, and envisioned thing. It marches on the ground, spreading light to its people, and unleashing fire upon its enemies. That is the resistance.”

A veteran politician, Meshal turned to pay lip service to the international community and global public opinion:

“For us, resistance is the means, not the end. I say to the entire world, through the media: If the world finds a way other than through resistance and bloodshed to restore Palestine and Jerusalem to us, to implement the Right of Return, and to put an end to the loathsome Zionist occupation – we will welcome it.”

This is the most moderate statement in the entire speech, and the willingness to compromise expressed in it – though only about means, not about ends – is completely contradicted by the end of the next sentence:

“But we gave you a chance for 64 years, and you did not do a thing. That is why we opted for resistance. Don’t reproach us. If we had found another way – one that did not involve war and battle – we would have proceeded upon it, but history and the laws of Allah tell us that victory and liberation cannot be achieved without resistance, battle, and sacrifice.”

In a rhetorical somersault that would win him an Olympic gold medal, Meshal is quick to reject any path other than violence, based on “history and the laws of Allah.” 
The historical revisionism here, of course, is ignoring the chronological progression of events, since Hamas, and other Palestinian national liberation groups before it, opted for ‘resistance’ against the Jewish population in the region even before the State of Israel was even formally established. However, Meshal’s use of the 64 years (since Israel’s establishment) is significant. What he is basically saying is that since there is evidently no political or diplomatic way to eliminate the State of Israel, only to negotiate an mutually agreed outcome with it, Hamas has opted for violence instead because elimination, not negotiation is its goal.

This view is completely mainstream in Hamas of course. Just two weeks ago, another Hamas senior leader and co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahhar said “Anyone who wants to liberate Palestine by complaining [to the International Criminal Court] – I will send him handkerchiefs to wipe his tears. Whoever wants to really liberate Palestine should pick up a gun.”

And no political resurrection speech would be complete without mentioning the two most problematic issues at the core of the conflict; Jerusalem, where according to Meshal, Muslims and Christians have rights, but Jews apparently do not, and the ‘Right of Return’ of Palestinian refugees and their descendents to Israel-proper, thus demographically ending Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. On those two issues Meshal also expressed a hardline and complete unwillingness to compromise:

“Jerusalem is our soul, our history, our collective memory, our past, our present, and our future. It is our eternal capital, to which we hold fast and which we will liberate, inch by inch, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, stone by stone, every place sacred to Islam, and every place sacred to Christianity. Israel has no right to Jerusalem.

The Right of Return means the return of all the refugees, the displaced, and the exiled to the land of Palestine – to its cities and its villages, to the neighbourhoods of Gaza, the West Bank, and within the 1948 borders. We own every inch of our land. Our fathers and our forefathers were born there. We lived there. It retains our memory and our history. The Right of Return is sacred to us, and it cannot be depreciated. When my brothers and I entered the Gaza Strip yesterday, we began the fulfilment of the Right of Return, Allah willing […] Hamas has a clear-cut principle: no to resettlement of refugees and no to an alternative homeland. There is no substitute for Palestine.”

And just in case someone still had doubt that Meshal was talking about a Palestinian state alongside Israel, let him reiterate:

“The unity of Palestinian land refers to Gaza, the West Bank, and the land within the 1948 borders. That is the land of Palestine – it is all Palestine, every part of it is Palestine. No part of it will be separated from the other parts. Anyone who believes that Gaza can be kept far from the West Bank is delusional. Gaza, the West Bank, and the land within the 1948 borders are all beloved parts of the great Palestinian homeland. Isn’t that so, Abu Al-Abd [Haniya]? The West Bank is inseparable from Gaza, Gaza is inseparable from the West Bank, and they are both inseparable from Haifa, Jaffa, Beersheba… and Safed.”

Here Meshal mentions Safed as a specific dig at Abbas. Abbas was born in Safed and recently stated in an interview that he would like to visit there, but not to return and live there. This was criticised as a concession on the “Right of Return”, and Abbas had to quickly clarify that he was only stating his personal opinion.

Meshal concluded his speech again rejecting the path of negotiation or any prospect of compromise to advance statehood:

“Hear me well, my comrades in the various factions. Liberation will precede statehood. A real state will be the fruit of liberation, not of negotiations. There is no alternative to a free Palestinian state with real sovereignty on the entire land of Palestine.”

This speech, revealing the political position of Hamas, is clearly not moderate. It is also clearly not in line with the vision of a two-state outcome. The expressed desire is to establish an Islamist state over the entire land, thus annihilating Israel completely. Moreover, its replacement will not be a democratic “state of all its citizens”, as one-staters often purport to advocate in the West, but an explicitly “Arab and Islamic” one. This is to be done through violence. This is Meshal’s vision of the one-state outcome.

One might expect some kind of reaction to this historical speech. Some misconceptions shuddering, some condemnations, some concerned voices over Meshal’s vision, which is not so much “an obstacle for peace” as a rejection of any notion of peace. But instead, the reaction of the international community to the speech was, as Benjamin Netanyahu described it, a “deafening silence.” Netanyahu accused the international community of double standards, after condemning settlements that have not yet been built in the West Bank and taking diplomatic measures, while remaining silent while Khaled Meshal is calling for the destruction of Israel by force:

“This weekend the leader of Hamas, sitting next to the Hamas leader of Gaza, a man who praised Osama Bin Laden, this weekend openly called for the destruction of Israel. Where was the outrage? Where were the UN resolutions? Where was President Abbas?
Why weren’t Palestinian diplomats summoned to European and other capitals to explain why the PA president not only refused to condemn this but actually declared his intention to unite with Hamas. There was nothing, there was silence and it was deafening silence.”

Interestingly, Meshal in Gaza later went on to show that he is not immune to propagandistic fantasies often perpetrated by Hamas in claiming glorious victories over Israel. He claimed Hamas rockets “destroyed [Israeli Defence Minister Ehud] Barak’s home.” Of course, nothing of the sort occurred, and while some analysts interpreted this as a poetic reference to Hamas rockets fired at Tel Aviv, the fact of the matter is that no rockets actually struck that city, thanks to Iron Dome.

The international community should listen to Meshal’s words, and take them seriously, as he clearly means what he says. As long as the international community continues to ignore the words, actions and stated intensions of Palestinian leaders and as long as it refuses to hold them accountable, the real obstacles for peace in the Middle-East cannot be tackled, much to the detriment and despair of many Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Or Avi-Guy



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