Reading the long interview with the No. 2 Hamas leader, Mousa Abu Marzook, reminded me of the first time I was given a chance to interview then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin for the Palestinian daily Al Quds. At one point in the interview (the first ever to a Palestinian daily), which took place in June 1993, I asked Rabin why his government was refusing to talk to the Palestine Liberation Organization despite the fact that it is talking to people appointed by the PLO. Rabin looked at one of his aides and muttered, “How can I answer this question in a nice way?” His aide took out a cigarette, which Rabin lit, and answered my question vaguely. When I asked the question, I had no idea that Rabin’s emissaries were in fact talking to the PLO in Oslo.
I have no idea if the Israelis are now talking to Hamas or any of Hamas’s emissaries, but there is no doubt that an undeclared détente is in place between the arch-enemies (Likud and Hamas).
Of course the Forward interview with the Hamas leader can’t be seen outside the context of the Arab Spring, which is likely to bring in more Islamists as leaders of Arab countries. This change is producing a much more moderate kind of Islamist who wants to gain the favor of the international community.
It is also impossible to ignore the fact that this interview took place in Cairo, which is quietly becoming the new de facto headquarters of Hamas after the organization abandoned Damascus. With the Bashar Assad regime daily killing fellow Islamic brotherhood activists (among other Syrians), it was impossible for Hamas to remain silent on the Assad butchery. Obviously, with Hamas breaking off relations with Syria, it also means that they must also side with the Arabs in the current Arab versus Iran quarrel.
While the majority of the buzz around the Forward’s interview has focused on the issue of the extended cease-fire or hudna, a reading of the Abu Marzook interview has all the elements of trying to legitimize the Islamic movement. Abu Marzook’s age (61), his demeanor and his soft-spoken nature all come across as an attempt to humanize the leader of what Israel still considers its terrorist enemy. A more humane face of Hamas rather than the specifics of what was said is perhaps the most important thing in the entire exchange with Mousa Abu Marzook.
Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.