Report on the Hamas website about a so-called "strategic” interview granted by Khaled Mash’al to Al-Sabil, the Muslim Brotherhood organ in Jordan (July 21, 2010). It is our assessment that the photograph of Hamas founder Sheikh Yassin in the background is meant to provide ideological validity to Mash’al’s statements (Palestine-info, August 3, 2010).
1. Hamas' political bureau chief Khaled Mash’al recently gave a belligerent, aggressive speech at the graduation ceremony of a summer camp organized by Ahmed Jibril's PFLP-General Command in Damascus. In his speech, he called to continue jihad and the armed struggle, slammed the leadership of the PLO and the PA ("thugs”, "stuck on the path of negotiations”), and categorically denied any possibility of talks with Israel, claiming such negotiations would be illegitimate and could result in destruction and surrender to the Americans (see Appendix A for a summary of the speech).
2. Prior to that (July 21), Khaled Mash’al had granted a comprehensive programmatic interview (referred to on the Hamas website as "strategic”) to Al-Sabil, the Muslim Brotherhood mouthpiece in Jordan. In the interview, Mash’al discussed at length the issue of negotiations with Israel. He did not completely rule out negotiations "under certain circumstances”; however, he strictly opposed any talks (direct or indirect) in the current timing. According to Mash’al, the Palestinians should start negotiations from a position of power, "the product of jihad and resistance”, by which Israel could be forced to accept the Palestinian conditions. The current negotiations, said Mash’al, have been forced by the US and Israel and serve Israel instead of the Palestinians (see Appendix B for details).
3. In the Al-Sabil interview, Khaled Mash’al also completely ruled out any recognition of Israel. He did not, however, rule out a possible long-term ceasefire with Israel that would not involve recognizing Israel (it is our assessment that this reflects Khaled Mash’al’s attempt to set Hamas apart from Al-Qaeda and other radical jihad organizations).
4. He expressed Hamas’ keen interest in opening itself up to all the world’s countries and improving its foreign relations, provided it would not be contingent upon recognition of Israel. According to Mash’al, Hamas is aware of the fact that its refusal to recognize Israel and accept the Quartet’s conditions has a political price; however, that’s a price Hamas is ready to bear. Mash’al’s assumption is that, in the long run, Western countries and the international community as a whole will eventually need to cooperate with Hamas—that is, after they realize that reconciliation with Arab regimes has only short-term effects (see Appendix B for details).
5. It is likely that Khaled Mash’al’s belligerent rhetoric in the speech given to the summer camp graduates in Damascus was also motivated by the decision of the Arab League's Monitoring Committee for the Arab Peace Initiative to endorse direct Israel-PA talks. Khaled Mash’al’s speech, and the interview to Al-Sabil, are a challenge by Hamas to the views of the PA, the Arab League, and pragmatic Arab countries, offering Hamas’ ideological and strategic alternative based on the path of jihad and "resistance” as a major factor in the conflict with Israel (even though Hamas does not completely rule out negotiations with Israel, provided they are conducted under the appropriate circumstances and from a Palestinian position of power).
6. The statements made by Khaled Mash’al are geared towards internal target audiences sharing a similar ideological concept (the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan) and a strategic stance based on jihad (the PFLP-General Command). The extremist, at times belligerent rhetoric directed by Khaled Mash’al towards those target audiences starkly contradicts the softened rhetoric ("smile attack") he and other Hamas spokesmen often employ in interviews granted to Western media. In those interviews, Hamas spokesmen attempt to play down or conceal the ideology and strategy striving for the elimination of the State of Israel by means of terrorism (jihad, "resistance”), put up a pragmatic façade, attempt to market the idea of long-term ceasefire (mentioned by Mash’al in the interview granted to Al-Sabil), and portray the Palestinians as perpetual "victims” of the "aggression” of Israel and "regional and international forces”.1
7. Statements made by Khaled Mash’al (and other Hamas spokesmen) strongly reflect the tension between Hamas’ fundamental extremist views and its desire to improve relations with Western countries, achieve recognition of the movement itself and its administration at the expense of the PA, and to undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel on the international scene (taking advantage of events viewed by Hamas as successful, such as the flotilla). At this point, however, it is the ideological foundations that have the upper hand in the struggle between radical Islamic ideology and pragmatic needs. In the interview granted to Al-Sabil, Khaled Mash’al stresses that despite the significance Hamas ascribes to broadening its international relations, it categorically refuses to accept the conditions stipulated by the Quartet, mainly recognition of Israel, being aware of the political price that comes with that refusal.