By Khalid Mish’al
In August 2010, AMEC published the English translation of an interview with Khalid Mish’al, head of the Political Bureau of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas). The interview laid out the vision and strategies of Hamas at the time. A few months later, uprisings began in North Africa and spread across the Middle East and North Africa, changing the nature of politics and the balance of power in the region. In November 2012, the Beirut-based Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations hosted a conference with the theme ‘Islamists in the Arab World and the Palestinian Issue in Light of the Arab uprisings’ at which Mish’al presented a paper outlining the views of his movement regarding the uprisings and how they affect Hamas’ plans for the future. The paper was rewritten by Mish’al, published in Arabic by Al-Zaytouna Centre and translated into English by Middle East Monitor (MEMO). We publish an edited version here, in terms of a partnership agreement with Al-Zaytouna, in order to expose English-speaking audiences to the views and strategies of Hamas, a critical player in the Palestinian-Israeli context. The paper is an important document reflecting the views of an important player in Palestinian and broader Middle Eastern politics and is therefore an important reference document. It explores Hamas’ vision and the practical application of its strategies.
In the name of God, Most Merciful, Most Beneficent
I begin by thanking Al-Zaytouna Centre for holding this important conference at this critical time. God willing, this conference will result in important conclusions that will guide the Arab Spring, evolve its position on the Arab-Zionist conflict and produce two advantages: first, the advantage of an internal structure based on new foundations of freedom, democracy and combating corruption; and second, the advantage of a strong, coherent, and independent foreign policy that maintains its decisions and improves Arab and Islamic performance in relation to Palestine and the general issues of the ummah (nation).
The importance of this conference lies in the following:
1. Its timing. It is being held in light of the Arab Spring and the progress of the people’s will, their political role and their control over decision-making.
2. It is the result of the evolution of the role of Islamists and their rise to power in some Arab countries.
3. It is being held out of consideration for the growing role of the region’s resistance movements, especially following the decline in their official role over the past decades, and in light of their growing national roles, as well as their significant achievements.
4. It takes into account the decline of the Zionist project, despite its continued military and technological superiority in the region. This entity is undoubtedly declining and its image in the world deteriorating. It has not achieved any victories for a long time, and perhaps what happened during the eight-day Gaza War in which the Palestinian resistance emerged victorious is a significant indicator of this.
5. The report we are presenting today in this conference on the vision of Hamas and its positions addresses the reality and not just an anticipation of the future. Hamas has been working and striving for the past twenty-five years, and although it may slip up sometimes, it usually gets it right, and we ask God to accept our deeds.
Hamas’ vision for the Palestinian question
This section perhaps represents the fundamentals and declarations that are well known and familiar. However, a reiteration of these basic principles is always important. When we speak in this context, we do not only speak of Hamas as an Islamic movement, but also as a national liberation movement. . Some of what we articulate here fall under the category of fundamental principles, and some under policies and positions.
1. Palestine, from its [Jordan] river to its [Mediterranean] sea, from its north to its south, is the land of the Palestinian people; it is their homeland and their legitimate right. We will not relinquish an inch or any part of it – for any reason or under any circumstances or pressures.
2. Palestine, in its entirety, is an Arab and Islamic land. It has Islamic and Arab affiliations and is considered a blessed and sacred land. Moreover, it has a special place in the heart of every Arab and Muslim, and also has a status and respect in all religions.
3. We will not, in any way, recognise the legitimacy of the occupation. This is a principled political and moral position. We do not recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, nor do we acknowledge ‘Israel’ or the legality of its presence on any part of Palestine, no matter how long it remains – and, God willing, this will not be long. All that has occurred in Palestine, including its occupation, settlements, Judaisation, the changing of its landmarks and the falsification of facts in favour [of the occupation] is wrong and must end, God willing.
4. The liberation of Palestine is a national, domestic and legitimate duty. It is the responsibility of the Palestinians, the Arabs and the Islamic ummah. It is also a responsibility for all human beings in accordance with the values of truth and justice.
5. Jihad and armed resistance is the correct and authentic means for the liberation of Palestine and the restoration of all rights. This battle must, of course, be accompanied by all forms of political, diplomatic, media, national and legal resistance, as well as the investment of the entire nation’s energies and the summoning of all the various strengths we possess.
6. Resistance is a means and not an end. If we had any other way to liberate the land, end the occupation and regain our rights without the shedding of blood and other painful sacrifices, we would have taken it. However, the experiences of nations throughout history have proved that the only option available to expel the occupiers, counter aggression and restore the land and rights of the people is resistance in all its forms, starting with armed resistance.
7. We are not fighting the Jewish people merely because they are Jewish. We are, however, fighting those who are Zionist occupiers and aggressors. We will fight anyone who tries to attack us, seize our rights or occupy our land, regardless of their religion, affiliations, race or nationality.
8. The Zionist project is a racist, hostile and expansionist project based on murder and terrorism. Hence, it is the enemy of the Palestinian people and poses a real threat to them, as well as to their security and other interests. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that it is a danger to the security of the entire human community, its interests and stability.
9. We hold onto Jerusalem and its Islamic and Christian sacred sites. We will not give them up, nor will we relinquish any part of them. They are our right, our essence, our history, our present and our future. Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine and is cherished in the hearts of Arabs and Muslims as a sign of their status and pride. ‘Israel’ has no legitimacy or right to Jerusalem at all, nor does it have any legitimacy or right to any part of Palestine. All Israeli actions in Jerusalem, such as Judaisation, entrenchment of settlements, falsification of facts and attempts to usurp our history are unacceptable.
10. We stand firm on the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees and displaced individuals, and their right to their homes from which they were expelled or were prevented from returning to, whether in the occupied territories of 1948 or 1967 – that is, to all of Palestine. We refuse to compromise on this right in any way. At the same time, we reject all land resettlement and alternative homeland projects.
Brothers and sisters, this is an opportunity to pause at the ‘symphony’ that plays from time to time; there were once fears of resettlement in Lebanon, Jordan or an alternative homeland, and nowadays it is the Sinai. To the Palestinian, there is no compensation for Palestine but Palestine itself. The actions of our people in the recent Gaza War and wars of the past, as well as in the ongoing intifadas and revolutions is proof of this great nation’s insistence on, and attachment to, its land.
11. The unity of the Palestinian land: The West Bank (including Jerusalem), the Gaza Strip, and the occupied lands of 1948 are all one land, one unit with no part separated from the other. It is, as a whole, the homeland of the Palestinian people. The current situation in Gaza is an exceptional case that has been imposed upon us. We cannot accept that Gaza will be separate from the West Bank, for they are one, and together they are a part of the Palestinian homeland.
12. We stand firm on the unity of the Palestinian people, both Muslims and Christians, and all its intellectual, political and ideological elements, as well as its resistance, militants and political forces and factions.
13. The unity of the Palestinian political system and its institutions and the unity of its national authority through the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which needs to be rebuilt on valid grounds to include all Palestinian forces and components. The current division does not reflect our origin, nor does it reflect reality. This division has been imposed upon us after international and regional forces rejected the results of the 2006 Palestinian elections in which Hamas was victorious. However, the unity of the Palestinian political system is imperative and we are sparing no efforts to achieve this, God willing.
14. Liberation first, the state later. A true state is the fruit of liberation, but a state that is the fruit of an agreement is merely a symbolic entity or a self-governing authority. Call it what you will, but a real state is the fruit of liberation first, and there is no alternative to establishing a Palestinian state with true sovereignty over the entire territory.
On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority is a reality we want to manage through a national partnership with others to serve our people, their rights, and their liberation project in a manner that is consistent with their national principles.
15. Independent Palestinian national decision: This is a principle that is based on non-dependency or reliance on any other country or party in the world, whether it is friend, ally, enemy or opponent. However, this does not mean, nor can we accept it in the context of limiting the Palestinian issue to the Palestinians and terminating or weakening the Arab and Islamic roles. The issue of Palestine was, and will remain, not only an Arab and Islamic issue, but also a humanitarian issue.
16. The establishment of national Palestinian institutions and authorities should always be based on democracy, starting with free and fair elections with equal opportunities. Moreover, the principle of partnership and national coalition work should be present in every phase, regardless of the chances of success, with emphasis on the fact that opposition is a legitimate right for everyone, provided that the opposition is constructive. In addition to this, everyone must refer to the results of the ballot boxes and respect the will of the people, as well as accept the peaceful change of authority. We must also be reminded that we are a special and unusual case since we are still living under occupation.
17. We will not intervene in the affairs of other countries, and we will not engage in debates, conflicts or alliances with other nations. We have adopted a policy of opening up to the different countries of the world, especially Arab and Islamic countries. We certainly strive to have balanced relations, the scale and standards of which will be in the interest and service of Palestine and its people and will support their steadfastness and determination. The criteria for these relations are, of course, the nation’s interests and security and the rejection of dependency on any country or party in the world.
18. The unity of the nation, including all its ethnic, religious and denominational elements. It is one nation in its interests and history – present, past and future – and we deal with it accordingly. As we acknowledge the diversity and variety in our ummah, we realise the need for everyone in our nation to distance themselves from incitement and conflict, as well as to avoid taking sides on this basis. Instead, we must coexist as we have in past centuries. Moreover, everyone in this nation must know their limits and claim their rights without violating the rights of others. The greater good of the nation must outweigh any sectarian or factional interests.
19. Any progressive tactical or detailed political programme must be in line with national Palestinian principles and may not contradict them. Moreover, every partial or full judgement must be subject to this principle, and, therefore, we reject any projects, agreements or peace settlements that diminish these fundamentals and principles and affect Palestinian national rights.
As you can see, this last point on the matter of fundamentals, policies, attitudes, and principles is an important summation of what has been mentioned thus far.
Practical application of principles and positions
Some may wonder what the reality of this strong rhetoric is. Where is its application on the ground?
We say that the movement’s performance on the ground is similar to the performance of all humans: it may be right or wrong. However, as a movement, our performance has mostly been right, thanks to God. Our performance is largely in line with our announced principles and values. Occasionally, there are gaps, mistakes, or sometimes ambiguous images that suggest there are contradictions or conflict with what is announced. However, we clearly say, even if we have a lapse in judgement, or if some images are misleading, that our standards are identical to the principles, fundamentals, policies, and attitudes we have mentioned.
I will give four examples to illustrate this:
1.Resistance: This is a primary principle and our strategic choice. Some have had doubts that talk of a truce means giving up on the resistance; this, of course, is arbitrary. In short, the path of resistance, in terms of its preparation, organisation and performance for the liberation of Palestine is a path that cannot be interrupted. In addition to this, the management of the decision of escalation and truce, as well as diversifying our methods and manners, all fall under the process of managing the decision, and not the principle of the decision, as the principle cannot be changed.
Moreover, while the enemy and the settlers are out of Gaza, Gaza cannot be taken out of the circle of the conflict, even though necessity calls for a change in its role in the battle by virtue of its circumstances. Thankfully, Gaza is still a source of hope, not only for Palestine but for the entire region. We have just emerged from an aggressive war on the Gaza Strip, which ended with a victory for the Palestinian resistance, and succeeded in ending the war on its terms.
In the case of the West Bank, the absence of the resistance for several years does not change the authenticity or principle of resistance. The absence of resistance in the West Bank has been the necessary course for our people because of the massive security pressures from every direction, both close and distant. We consider the decline of the resistance role in the West Bank as inevitable and a forced reality that we strive to overcome by maintaining our intention and preparing for a new start. God willing, the resistance will return to the West Bank, reassuming its effective and essential role in every phase of the Palestinian struggle, as the enemy will not withdraw from our land without the pressure of resistance.
2.Participation in the Palestinian Authority: Doesn’t this contradict the movement’s position on the Oslo Accords? This is a legitimate question, and there is no doubt that the matter is vague on the surface, but we believe the answer is clear. Our positions on Oslo and all the agreements of surrender are decisive. However, there are obligations that compelled us to enter the authority to change its role and combine the service of the people and the management of day-to-day affairs on the one hand, with the right to resist the occupation on the other. Today we are an authority in the Gaza Strip, while we resist and develop and strengthen this resistance, with the realisation that it is difficult to practically combine all these considerations. However, our support of the principles and our commitment to them allows us to mould the reality to our principles and not the other way around.
3.Agreeing to a state on the 1967 borders: Some people worry that this is following in the footsteps of those before us and that, eventually, the bigger dream will shrink. To this we say ‘No’. We are not necessarily convinced that the liberation of the occupied territory of 1967 is a practical goal. Personally, I believe, in terms of the prevailing reality, that anyone who can liberate the territories occupied in 1967 is able to liberate the rest of Palestine. Furthermore, there is a need to unify the Palestinian as well as the Arab stance on a common position and vision, regardless of how the programme to achieve that vision may vary from one party to another. This is what drives us, the Hamas movement and other resistance movements, to take this political stance – as long as it is not at the expense of the rest of the Palestinian land and does not contain any abandonment of our rights on any part of our land, nor includes any recognition of ‘Israel’.
4.The matter of the division: This is also a reality that has been forced upon us; we did not choose it. As everyone knows, it was imposed on us in 2007 when several international and regional parties rejected the results of the 2006 elections. I attest, at this historical moment, that the division occurred on 13, 14 and 15 June 2007. On 15 June I called the Egyptian authorities and informed them we were ready to settle the matter and reconcile, because the division was not our choice and had been forced upon us. Since then, we have been continuously working on putting an end to that outcome, and striving to achieve reconciliation on national foundations that ensure the rearrangement of the Palestinian internal situation within the framework of the Palestinian Authority and PLO, and the adoption of a national political programme that aligns with Palestinian fundamentals, rights and national interests.
Changes in the Arab World and their effects on the Palestinian question and Hamas’ role
We now move on to the second part of the topic: an understanding of the changes in the Arab world and their impact on Palestinian question and on the role of Hamas, as well as the challenges and opportunities resulting from them.
1.In addition to its significance to the nation in the context of its historical regeneration, the Arab Spring was also a major strategic development in the path to liberating Palestine and confronting the Zionist project. This is because Palestine’s battle and liberation needs a strong and robust nation on its internal front, and a foreign policy that is based on the people’s will and has their approval.
2.There is no doubt that the Arab Spring has increased Israeli concerns and muddled their calculations because the rules of the game to which the enemy is accustomed have begun to change. We will be satisfied with addressing just the main points on this topic due to the limited time.
3.We have no doubt that the Arab Spring and the changes it brought about in the Arab world give Hamas and the Palestinian resistance movements an opportunity to work in a better Arab environment that is more in line with the resistance and consistent to national Palestinian principles and rights.
4.Obviously, the revolutions and the major events succeeding them change the map of Hamas’ political relations, and have added to and impacted on them. Hamas’ political relations with Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco have certainly seen a qualitative improvement in comparison to the former situation. Keeping in mind that Hamas has had varied relations with most Arab countries over the past two decades, the Arab Spring enhanced some of these relations, as well as continued others. We are, of course, concerned about all of them.
As for the impact of the Arab Spring on the movement’s international relations, one issue that is well-known is that our unique relationship with Syria has suffered. We did not wish for events to happen as they did and, from the very first moment, as history will attest, we were keen for matters to evolve differently. We want Syria to remain strong in terms of its security, stability and foreign policies which, over the last few years, have been aligned to the resistance. This is a historical truth, and with the Arab Spring and its natural shift to the Syrian arena, the Syrian people are no less concerned with democracy, freedom and their involvement in decision making than any other Arab nation. We also hope that an internal policy is adopted that responds to the people’s will. We have given many pointers in this direction, not as interference in Syria’s internal affairs, but as honest advice in our attempt to be protective of Arab, including Syrian, interests. Syria will remain the resistance’s fortress, through its foreign policies based on an internal policy that satisfies its people and responds to its demands. However, unfortunately, things moved in the tragic direction we are witnessing today. Resistance is not an official choice made strictly by countries, but has always been the choice of the people first. When a leader feels his people support the resistance, he will be stronger. The people have always supported the resistance, but among the regimes, some support it, some are negative towards it, and some are enemies of the resistance.
This is undoubtedly an example of how our relations have been impacted, and there are other well-known examples as well. However, Hamas – and this is an important point that must be emphasised – has not moved from one axis to another; Palestine and the Palestinian resistance are the essence of the resistance axis. Resistance, and the axis of resistance, is not just a hotel where we merely reside in or leave at whim, and resistance is not linked to geography. When the Hamas leadership was in Jordan, along with its presence inside Palestine, Hamas was supporting the resistance and exercising resistance. Later, even after we moved to Qatar, then Syria, then other countries such as Egypt, Hamas remained a resistance movement. Hamas has and always will be a supporter of the resistance and will be a resistance movement – regardless of its geographical location – because this is its essence and its strategic choice until, God willing, we liberate Palestine.
5.The Arab Spring and its major events temporarily distracted the world from the Palestinian issue. This is certainly a loss, but it is a short and a temporary loss. Arab nations have a right to pursue their interests and concerns, and we are sure that even when Arab nations are busy with their internal affairs, Palestine is present in their minds, hearts, and in their slogans. The last war on Gaza provided us with renewed and concrete evidence that Palestine’s status never changes in the eyes of the nation, even when different parts of it are busy with their internal affairs and developments.
Challenges, problems facing Arab Spring countries
It is clear that there are challenges and problems facing the Arab Spring and its countries that call for a series of observations and alerts. It is also essential for there to be a high degree of directness, honesty and transparency when dealing with this subject, for a leader does not lie to his people. Based on this, I will make a series of recommendations and blunt observations on this subject, only for the objective of contributing to the greater good of our great nation.
1. There is a need to strike a balance between internal priorities – meaning national concerns and national priorities – with foreign priorities. This can be done without creating a conflict between them as success internally strengthens a country’s foreign position, and vice versa. It is wrong to adopt a policy of isolation. What we are saying is that being concerned with the bigger issues does not only enhance a country’s regional and international role, but also serves the country’s internal policies in facing pressures and attempts at external intervention. It is wrong to protect oneself by hiding away; instead, protect yourself with openness, by taking initiative, and by getting involved in broader issues.
2. It is necessary not to manage the substantial current phase in the nation’s history from a small individual location, but to do so from the broader context of the Arab and Islamic nation through cooperation and integration. I assure you that this serves the concerns, interests and the individual internal issues of a country. Economic, security and political integration between Arab countries, particularly during this difficult transitional phase that some Arab Spring countries are going through, serves these countries and their people and eases this transitional phase. The people and their leaders are in their own countries and are busy with their individual concerns, and this is their natural right. But while they are rebuilding their countries, they must think of the nation’s concerns and interests! Where does it stand? What is its role? Where is its place under the sun? The nation has been a field for others to play in and wrestle over, while it has been absent from this field. The time has come for the nation to become a key player and contribute to rebuilding the regional map. This is the responsibility of everyone; we must build our countries and, at the same time, the greater Arab nation. The Arabs have been absent for many decades, and today is the day they return to the stage, not to wrestle with anyone – except for the Zionist enemy and anyone who invades their land – but to build a map of balance, integration and cooperation along with other regional and neighbouring countries, without forgetting the Arab position or their role.
3. The relationship with the West and major countries outside the West must be managed, and this is normal in today’s world for political and economic purposes. However, this must not be at the expense of the Palestinian issue and the Arab role and responsibilities related to it. I say this while I am confident that the nation, God willing, is aware of this. This is just a reminder. We believe that it is necessary not to give free concessions to the West while managing our relations with it. The legitimacy of the Arab Spring countries stems from their people’s will, not foreign support, and addressing major issues strengthens these countries, not weakens them.
4. There is a need to raise the bar of the Arab stance, the Arab League, and for every country in the region, particularly in terms of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Moreover, it is necessary to reconsider and review the current Arab strategy. To begin with, this requires changing the political language. It is true that the people need time, but it is not right, after this Arab Spring, to keep the same language, initiatives, projects and attitudes. I know that full transformation and development requires time, but we must take the first step towards this now; the political language and terms of the Arab political dialogue must change. We must initiate and research reorientation of the Arab strategy on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and from there we must move towards changing the attitude towards the resistance and resistance movements. What in the past were strange, rejected or taboo topics in terms of Arab official norms – such as not supplying arms to the resistance – must become possible today. A strategy must be drawn for the nation on how to support the resistance movements with funds and arms, and how to back it politically. Parts of such a strategy will be announced publicly while others will remain covert. This will be a strong message from the nation that times have changed, and the world must respect the nation’s will, rights and interests. We cannot remain biased to ‘Israel’ and stand by helplessly while it disregards the nation and violates its rights, interests, and sanctities.
If there are no official wars between armies, the nation should at least support the golden option that has proved its worth, with the help of God, especially during the past years. Since 1967, ‘Israel’ has not won a true war, unless we consider 1982 when it expelled the Palestinian revolutionaries from Beirut and Lebanon. Thereafter, ‘Israel’ has not been victorious, neither in Lebanon nor in any part of Palestine, especially Gaza, and this is credited, after God, to the resistance, the heroes of the resistance, the weapons of the resistance and the support of the nation.
Furthermore, there is a need to turn the page on old projects and initiatives, and to search for new visions, projects and strategies, beginning with obtaining assets of real strength, and keeping the nation’s options open.
5. The peace agreements with ‘Israel’ and the positions of the Arab countries that are party to them is certainly a heavy legacy that needs to be reconsidered. However, the question is how, in what way, and when. What is extremely important is that it must be done. Political settlements and agreements with ‘Israel’ are unfair to the nation and to Palestine; they are neither an advantage, nor do they represent a normal situation. ‘Israel’ is not and will not be a friend or a neighbour, but is an enemy to the Palestinians and to the nation as a whole. If we characterise the agreements as such, we must make it a priority to address the relations, contact and normalisation with the Israeli occupier. This is unacceptable, especially in light of the Arab Spring, because the nation’s leaders must realise that the anger of their people is not only a result of internal policies but also a result of the nation’s shame and weak position, weak policies and weak strategies in terms of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
6. With regards to the rise of Islamists to power and the significance and impact this has on the issue, it must be clear that this does not imply that Palestine needs only Islamists, or that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad – as national Islamic Palestinian powers – are only in need of Islamists due to their importance, distinction and firm position on the issue. On the contrary, we need all the nation’s trends and elements: Islamists, nationalists, liberals and leftists. This is our nation, we need everyone in it, and Palestine was and will remain an issue for the whole nation. It is also necessary to dissociate ourselves from any divisions or sectarian, racial or religious alignments. May God rid us of the hateful sectarianism that has spread over the region. May God rid us of racial, religious and denominational divisions. Our nation has always been characterised by this beautiful diversity; this is a history that we have inherited, which has formed the nation’s civilisation and course throughout history. Today, it is wrong for us to explore these gaps into which our enemies pour oil and light fires to destroy us. This not only requires us to instil correct ideas and concepts, but also requires that our behaviour – as countries, movements, academics, or intellectuals – must be in line with these positions and concepts, and does not promote sectarian or ethnic feelings.
In this Arab Spring, we want our nation to be unified for Palestine, and we want it to build its internal front based on the interests of its people. These people are today thirsty for freedom, democracy, development, making a dignified living, progress, advancement and technology. At the same time, they look forward to having an advanced nation comparable to other nations, and a firm grip on managing their relations, foreign policies and their battle with the Zionist enemy.
These are our humble experiences that we wished to convey, and perhaps they will be beneficial. We hope that Hamas continues, as it has always done, to meet your expectations and gain your confidence.