Cairo — Any agreement reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be subject to far-reaching changes if Hamas comes to power in a democratic Palestinian state, a top Hamas leader told the Forward in an exclusive and wide-ranging interview.
Mousa Abu Marzook, considered Hamas’s second-highest-ranking official, said that his group would view an agreement between Israel and the P.A. — even one ratified by a referendum of all Palestinians — as a hudna, or cease-fire, rather than as a peace treaty. In power, he said, Hamas would feel free to shift away from those provisions of the agreement that define it as a peace treaty and move instead toward a relationship of armed truce.
“We will not recognize Israel as a state,” he said emphatically. “It will be like the relationship between Lebanon and Israel or Syria and Israel.”
The exchange was but one part of an unprecedented five-and-a-half-hour discussion conducted over two days between Abu Marzook and the Forward, the first-ever in-depth exchange between a senior Hamas leader and a Jewish publication.
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Abu Marzook, deputy director of Hamas’s political bureau, for the most part used the opportunity to expand on long-standing Hamas positions. Contrary to some media reports, he indicated no new flexibility that would move Hamas closer to accepting conditions laid down by the so-called Quartet of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations for his group’s participation in the now moribund Middle East peace process. Abu Marzook did not, however, foreclose the possibility of a more accommodating relationship with Israel in the future.
Quite apart from the content of Abu Marzook’s remarks, several veteran observers of the hard-line Islamist group viewed the fact that the interview took place as a larger signal of change now roiling the organization.
“I think the mere fact of his speaking to you, independent of what he said, is almost more important than the specifics,” said Shlomi Eldar, who has reported on Hamas from Gaza for Israel TV’s Channel 10 and other media outlets since 1991. “Even granting such an interview is far away
from what he thought two or three years ago…. What [Abu Marzook] really wants is for Jewish Americans to convince the Israelis that Hamas is not like an animal.”
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Gershon Baskin, an Israeli peace activist who has acted as a liaison between Hamas and senior Israeli government officials, including in the process that finally freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, termed the interview an “historic landmark.”
“The amount of time he gave you is amazing,” Baskin said.
But David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, focused more on the actual content. “Unfortunately,” he said, “it’s a validation of those who believe Hamas has a far way to go before it becomes a legitimate Palestinian interlocutor.”
LISTEN TO ABU MARZOOK SPEAK ABOUT THE PEACE PROCESS:
LISTEN TO ABU MARZOOK SPEAK ABOUT THE HAMAS CHARTER AND ‘THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION’:
In a number of cases, Abu Marzook — who is one of three prime candidates in upcoming internal elections for Hamas’s top leadership spot — offered words that differ on a practical level with the organization’s actual stance or behavior. The discrepancy could cut either way: In his call for a hudna with Israel, Abu Marzook sounded almost beseechingly dovish, even though his underlying conditions and details suggested a considerably more hard-line stance. On the other hand, his defense of Hamas’s right to launch operations targeting civilians compared with the absence of such attacks in recent years within Israel’s pre-1967 boundaries.
Over the course of the two-day discussion, amid a lunch of salmon and Nile River fish the first day and takeout pizza the second, Abu Marzook expounded on a variety of topics, ranging from the Holocaust, American Jewish solidarity with Israel, and the impact of the Arab Spring on his organization, to anti-Semitic passages in the Hamas Charter.
But Abu Marzook appeared to speak most passionately when touting his proposal for a hudna — an idea he first proposed in 1994.
“Let’s establish a relationship between the two states in the historic Palestinian land as a hudna between both sides,” he said. “It’s better than war and better than the continuous resistance against the occupation. And better than Israel occupying the West Bank and Gaza, making all these difficulties and problems on both sides.”