1. On April 3 and 4, 2012, Musa Abu Marzouk, a senior member of Hamas' political bureau, was interviewed at length by the American-Jewish newspaper The Jewish Daily Forward, the first time he had ever spoken to a representative of a Jewish paper. He spoke with Larry Cohler-Esses, the assistant managing editor for news. The interview, which lasted five and half hours and was conducted over two days, was held at the request of the Forward and took place at Musa Abu Marzouk's home in New Cairo, a new suburb of the Egyptian capital. Abu Marzouk moved there at the beginning of 2012 after he and other senior Hamas figures left the movement's headquarters in Damascus and he settled permanently in Egypt.
2. The interview was conducted in English (Musa Abu Marzouk lived in the United States for more than ten years), in an apparently relaxed, informal manner. The Forward noted that Abu Marzouk had made no conditions regarding the material to be covered. In our opinion, Cohler-Esses was well-prepared for the interview and asked tough questions which discomforted Abu Marzouk and pushed him into a corner. His answers raised questions which led the Forward to conclude, in an editorial published on April 23, that Hamas had to change "before it could be a partner for peace."
Musa Abu Marzouk and Larry Cohler-Esses (The Jewish Daily Forward website)
The Main Issues of the Interview
3. In our assessment, Musa Abu Marzouk's objective in granting the interview was to market the idea to the American public and media that Hamas was pragmatic and moderate (following the attempts made by other senior Hamas figures, among them Khaled Mashaal, to make Hamas acceptable to the West and rid itself of its image as a terrorist organization). With Musa Abu Marzouk, the idea would have a greater impact because of his (exceptional) willingness to be interviewed by an American-Jewish newspaper and talk about a variety of subjects without imposing preconditions. It was also an attempt to intimate that Hamas made a distinction between Jews in general, including American Jews (against whom he claimed he had nothing), and the Jews living in Israel, whom he felt should be killed (See below).
4. Our impression is that to market the image of Hamas as moderate and pragmatic, Abu Marzouk used the concept of a hudna with Israel as the his preferred claim. The concept has already been proposed by Hamas several times, and refers to a Hamas agreement to a long-term ceasefire (hudna) with Israel in return for Israel's withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines. Abu Marzouk presented the idea to the Forward correspondent as possible and even preferable to other options, among them an Israeli-Palestinian Authority peace treaty (which, Abu Marzouk made it clear, Hamas would make sure to "shift away from" if it took power over the PA) or a continuation of the current situation of "continuous resistance [i.e., terrorist attacks] against the [so-called Israeli] occupation."
5. However, at the same time, Abu Marzouk incorporated Hamas' basic intransigent stance throughout the interview (obvious to Cohler-Esses, who did not hesitate to confront him) which negated the pragmatic image he tried to project. Thus, Abu Marzouk emphasized that Hamas strongly objected to recognizing Israel and normalizing relations with it; would not permit the Palestinian Authority to sign a peace treaty based on the recognition of Israel; did not intend to abandon the path of "resistance" [i.e., terrorism]; insisted on the realization of the so-called "right of return" of the Palestinian refugees living outside "Palestine" and on holding a referendum in which they would be included as a condition for any agreement, which in any case would not include recognition of the State of Israel.
6.Similar positions have been frequently repeated by Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas' political bureau, and other senior Hamas spokesmen. Stripped of the rhetoric, they simply state that Hamas refuses to accept the conditions of International Quartet, according to which Hamas will recognize the State of Israel, honor previously-signed agreements and abandon the path of terrorism.
7. Another conclusion to be drawn from the interview is that Mahmoud Abbas is constrained by his political contacts with Israel. As far as Hamas in concerned, any arrangement reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority incompatible with Hamas ideology (regarding issues such as recognition of Israel and the so-called "right of return") will be changed if and when Hamas comes to power.
8. Particularly interesting is Cohler-Esses' confrontation of Abu Marzouk with theanti-Semitic sections of the Hamas charter (published in 1988). Abu Marzouk's remarks revealed basic truths which he may not have intended to divulge: when Cohler-Esses quoted him a hadith (part of the Islamic oral tradition) appearing in the charter which calls for the killing of Jews, Abu Marzouk claimed that the passage did not apply to all Jews, "just those in Palestine" [i.e., Hamas only wants to kill Israeli Jews]. When asked about anti-Semitic sections in the charter quoting The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, he answered that the Zionists themselves had written The Protocols and then denied it. Told that they were a forgery, Abu Marzouk "appeared nonplussed. 'Really? This is the first time I know [about this],' he said." (Note: It is difficult to know whether Abu Marzouk's answer reflected pretended innocence or merely the ignorance typical of Palestinians and many Arabs who grew up nurtured on The Protocolsand their myths.)
9. The following were the main issues of the interview as they appeared on the Jewish Daily Forward website, April 19, 2012 (ITIC emphases throughout):
1 The Jewish Daily Forwardis a left-leaning American-Jewish paper published in New York City. It has a relatively small circulation and appears in both an English and Yiddish edition.