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“We accept that,” he said. “[It] can now make reconciliation easier.” But giving up both the right and the opportunity to conduct military operations? “It doesn’t mean that,” Abu Marzook stated flatly.
Indeed, a careful look at the original Agence France Presse report from which Vick drew Meshal’s comments reveals some important remarks the Time correspondent left out. “Now we have a common ground that we can work on,” Meshal said then. But he added, “As long as there is an occupation on our land, we have the right to defend our land by all means, including military resistance.”
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“Hamas is not going to voluntarily surrender what they see as a strategic and tactical option,” Baskin, the Israeli peace activist, said. “That would be in their eyes like surrender. So they say the option remains on the table. But what they tell people in the West who are engaging them is, ‘Watch what we do, not what we say.’”
Speaking in a different context, about the effects of the Arab Spring, Abu Marzook himself offered an additional consideration.
“Hamas before the  election is not the same as after they are elected,” he said, “because as an opposition party, you can say anything, but no one expects you to do anything. But after election, you have to implement on the ground. And there are many, many difficulties when you implement anything on the ground.”
Still, in a long exchange about terrorism, the Hamas leader resolutely defended his organization’s past acts of violence targeting civilians. He asserted that Israel, under the rubric of collateral damage, had killed thousands more Palestinian civilians than vice versa. He dismissed the notion that it made some moral difference that Israel generally issues statements of public regret for the deaths of civilians it hits in pursuing what it characterized as military targets, while Hamas leaders often publicly celebrated the group’s successful actions targeting civilians.
“You cannot compare between the civilians killed by Israel and the civilians killed by the resistance,” Abu Marzook said. The Israeli numbers, he stressed, “were huge, really huge…. The action’s the action. You killed 17 children here. And there are 16 civilians killed in Israel. If you evaluate what the Israelis said or what the resistance said — okay, you can compare between just the talk. But in reality, the Israelis killed more than 1,000, and they said, ‘We are sorry.’… The killing is killing.”
At some points, Abu Marzook seemed to claim that the Hamas leaders who publicly celebrated such killings — who have included Meshal himself — were not speaking for the organization, or that Hamas had not itself directed and planned the actions or, at least, had not planned them as civilian hits.
“There’s no one speaker [within] the resistance,” he said. “Everybody talks about their actions, and you can make what you want of those speakers. They make it as [if this is] the policy of the resistance. And this is not right. Our policy is… against targeting any civilian.”
On those occasions when civilians die in such actions, “there is no planning” for this, he claimed, “because it’s very difficult to make something like this to be perfect…. When you killed his brother or his [fellow Palestinian] civilians, he wants to retaliate. It’s very difficult to say anything bad to him.”
Mouin Rabbani, a Jordan-based Middle East contributing editor to Middle East Report who follows Hamas closely, expressed surprise at such distancing remarks.
“I’m surprised he didn’t repeat their traditional justifications,” he said.