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Mashaal: UN recognition, Gaza conflict go together
Published Friday 30/11/2012 (updated) 12/01/2013 11:26
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Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal speaks during his interview with
Reuters in Doha, Nov. 29, 2012. (Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah)

DOHA, Qatar (Reuters) -- Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said the de facto recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state won by his rival Mahmoud Abbas should be seen alongside Gaza's latest conflict with Israel as a single, bold strategy that could empower all Palestinians.

Mashaal said the short war which claimed over 170 Palestinian lives and six Israelis was concluded on terms set by Hamas and ended its isolation, creating a new mood that could lead to reconciliation with Abbas' Fatah.

In an interview with Reuters in Doha, he compared Israel's mood of dejection with the jubilation of Palestinians in Gaza and across the West Bank led by Abbas, insisting that "for the first time a ceasefire was achieved on conditions set by Hamas, and in the presence of the Americans."

Mashaal strongly backed the diplomatic initiative by President Abbas to upgrade Palestinian status at the United Nations to observer state which the General Assembly endorsed on Thursday in New York.

Diplomatically, this puts the stateless Palestinians on a par with the Holy See, but politically it would help "unify Palestinian national efforts" as part of the reconciliation process with Abbas's nationalist Fatah movement, Mashaal said.

"I told Abu Mazen (Abbas) we want this move to be part of a national Palestinian strategy" that includes "the (armed) resistance which excelled in Gaza and gave an example of the ability of the Palestinian people to resist and steadfastly confront the occupier," a confident Mashaal said.

The coming to power of Hamas allies in the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which played the key role in brokering the recent ceasefire, and "the defeat of the enemy in Gaza" have created a new environment that should allow Palestinians to form a unity government.

"I am optimistic", Mashaal said, "there is a new mood that allows us to achieve reconciliation." Dressed in a black suit and an open neck shirt, he was speaking at a hotel in Doha, where he has lived since leaving Syria earlier this year.


"When we reconcile, unite and end the divisions and have one political marja'eya (the Islamic word for leadership) and one political system, then we will be stronger and better and we can achieve more, and our response to the Israeli aggression in all its forms will be better," the Hamas politburo leader said.

The Fatah-controlled PA in the West Bank was expelled from Gaza after Hamas won a bloody civil war in 2007, after emerging as the victors in the 2006 Palestinian general elections.

Mashaal, who survived a Mossad assassination attempt in Amman in 1997 when Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was last in power, has been reenergised politically by the Arab Spring uprisings that have swept the region and installed a string of sympathetic Islamist leaders.

When he appeared alongside President Muhammad Mursi of Egypt in Cairo after the ceasefire, his confident and relaxed body language would have confused any casual observer as to which one of them was the leader of Egypt.

Gaza, long subject to an Israeli military and economic blockade, is breaking out of its isolation, with recent high level visits from Qatar, Turkey, Egypt and the Arab League.

"There is a new Arab presence, there is a different kind of support. Gaza did not seem isolated in this war," he said, as it was in the devastating 2008-09 conflict with Israel.

Mashaal, 56, said he had no intention to continue as Hamas leader despite calls on him "internally and externally" to carry on. The group, whose 1988 charter formally calls for the destruction of Israel, has been holding a leadership ballot for several months to decide who will succeed Mashaal.

Hamas ambivalence towards the Palestinian Authority, which it has sometimes derided as an Israeli subsidiary, mirrors its ambiguity on the future shape of a Palestinian state.

Under Mashaal's leadership, the Islamists have evolved in an uneasy balance between maximalism and pragmatism -- refusing to renounce pre-1948 "Palestine", but willing to accept de facto a state on the lands Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War -- the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

"As for the Palestinian state we believe it (should be) on all our Palestinian land," but there was a wish to unify the Palestinian and Arab positions on a common program. Hamas accepted establishing a state on the '67 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital, and the right of return (of refugees) preserved. "We accepted it but not at the expense of recognizing Israel or giving away Palestinian rights but as a common factor."

Powerful cards

Mashaal said Israel would give nothing in negotiations unless Palestinians were demonstrably strong on the ground.

"Any Palestinian who wants a Palestinian state, even along the 67 borders, has to know that the road to that is (armed) struggle and exerting all forms of Arab and Palestinian pressure on the Israeli enemy."

"Negotiating without powerful cards on the ground has no meaning," said Mashaal. "It will turn into begging. This enemy doesn't give anything unless under pressure."

Abbas had a diplomatic moment in the sun at the UN on Thursday, but nothing else to show for a negotiating strategy that has seen successive Israeli governments expanding Jewish settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, with little prospect remaining of a viable Palestinian state.

Some analysts see this pushing Fatah and Hamas together.

The Hamas leader has also won over some non-Islamists by coming out strongly against Syrian President Bashar Assad's attempt to crush the 20-months long uprising against his rule.

Relations with non-Arab Shiite Iran, a main financier and supplier of arms to Hamas, also suffered according to Mashaal.

"No doubt, Iran supported us for a long time and its support was big," said Meshaal, who peppers his arguments with verses from the Koran or classical poetry. "We have clearly differed with Iran over Syria and there is no doubt that the Syrian crisis has affected our relations with Iran."

Mashaal voiced gratitude to Iran and Syria for hosting him for many years, but said the group could not compromise its principles.

"We don't interfere in other people's affairs, but we cannot support any regime or leader who is locked in a bloody battle with his own people," he said.

Born in Silwad near the West Bank city of Ramallah, Mashaal has steered Hamas through the upheaval unleashed by the Arab Spring uprisings, deploying what associates describe as deft diplomatic skills to navigate the turbulence.

The Hamas leader in exile said he would pay a historic visit to the Gaza strip next week, after years in exile, to mark the Islamist's movement 25th anniversary. "I will be returning to my country. This is my dream."

Asked if he was worried Israel might try to assassinate him, he said: "God is my main guarantor and protector. Only rely on God, nobody dies before his time is up."
1 ) Outsider / EU
30/11/2012 11:29
A unity government is long overdue.

2 ) Around / World
30/11/2012 12:28

3 ) The Watcher / ME
30/11/2012 17:09
Mashaal is obviously a few pages short of a book. His assessment of Hamas' position at the end of its latest spanking, is like an empty-handed magician trying to persuade us he really has just pulled a rabbit out of his hat.

4 ) Mel / USA
30/11/2012 17:38
'...we will be stronger and better and we can achieve more...'. But I hope that also comes with FREEDOM from Western/Zionist commands?Hamas got its start from occupiers,as did the PA.U've ALL been Israeli proxies,at some stage,to DIVIDE Palestine more factionally(4 power)& fracture the unity ofthe people/PLO etc.We're ALL PLEASED with this UN recognition.But you still have to shake OFF the shackles of occupation-for ever-thru'ICC/ICJ/UN!Freedom wears no shackles,in Palestine,or beautiful Syria!

5 ) Statehood / Realism
30/11/2012 18:10
On "29 November 2012, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel and the Palestinians to find the political will and courage to move ahead with talks aimed at establishing a lasting peace between them through Palestinian statehood and security for Israel", while
2- referring to refugees as just those "who trace their roots to
those displaced following the division of the Palestine mandate."

6 ) Yehuda Solomon / Israel
30/11/2012 21:31
Excellent report showing the current meaning of Palestinian political affairs in light of recent developments from Hamas'/Mashaal's angle ... To begin: NO ... if he returns to Gaza we will NOT attempt to harm him; there IS a ceasefire in place that we'd BETTER honor (or else you'll see such turmoil in Israel it will make our recent Gaza attack look like a picnic). Once again, given the perceived impetus of boosting Palestinian "unity" and hopes for "peace" because of how the (cont.)

7 ) Yehuda Solomon / Israel
30/11/2012 21:51
Palestinians/Mashaal interpret everything, we now see the endemic heart of failure of such dreams, despite Hamas' "softening" of its position towards us and moving towards Fatah: 1) A never-to-die platform of armed resistance still aimed at eventual "liberation" of all of "Palestinian" land west of the Jordan River (after all, look how well it did in Gaza !!!) and 2) The use of political capital from the "Arab Springs" to give constant momentum to this and Palestinian "unity" which will (cont.)

8 ) Yehuda Solomon / Israel
30/11/2012 21:58
justify achieving eastern Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital along with a fulfilled Palestinian Right-of-Return. The cards in the deck may get shuffled and re-shuffled over and over but the joker remains the same. Enjoy your trip back to Gaza, Khaled Mashaal, your people are waiting ... and their dreams will continue to wait even after you leave for good.

9 ) Amira / Canada
30/11/2012 22:14
It would be great to have a third victory: United Palestinian Government with Mashal and Haniya as leaders, and Abbas too if he does not submit to Israel and US threats and coertion.
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