The leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas said Monday that its fighters had stopped firing rockets at Israel for now. He also reached out in a limited way to the Obama administration and others in the West, saying the movement was seeking a state only in the areas Israel won in 1967.
“I promise the American administration and the international community that we will be part of the solution, period,” the leader, Khaled Meshal, said during a five-hour interview with The New York Times spread over two days in his home office here in the Syrian capital.
Speaking in Arabic in a house heavily guarded by Syrian and Palestinian security agents, Meshal, 53, gave off an air of serene self-confidence, having been re-elected a fourth time to a four-year term as the leader of the Hamas political bureau, the top position in the movement. His conciliation went only so far, however. He repeated that he would not recognize Israel, saying to fellow Arab leaders, “There is only one enemy in the region, and that is Israel.”
But he urged outsiders to ignore the Hamas charter, which calls for the obliteration of Israel through jihad and cites as fact the infamous anti-Semitic forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Meshal did not offer to revoke the charter, but said it was 20 years old, adding, “We are shaped by our experiences.”
He explained why he was giving the interview, his first to an American news organization in a year, by saying: “To understand Hamas is to listen to its vision directly. Hamas is delighted when people want to hear from its leaders directly, not about the movement through others.”
That also seemed aimed at the Obama administration, which has decided to open a dialogue with Iran and Syria, but not with Hamas until it renounces violence, recognizes Israel and accepts previous Palestinian-Israeli accords.
Regarding President Barack Obama, Meshal said, “His language is different and positive,” but he expressed unhappiness about Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, saying hers “is a language that reflects the old administration policies.”
On the two-state solution sought by the Americans, he said: “We are with a state on the 1967 borders, based on a long-term truce. This includes East Jerusalem, the dismantling of settlements and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.” Asked what “long-term” meant, he said 10 years.
Apart from the time restriction and the refusal to accept Israel’s existence, Meshal’s terms approximate the Arab League peace plan and what the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas says it is seeking. Israel rejects a full return to the 1967 borders, as well as a Palestinian right of return to Israel itself.
Regarding recognition of Israel, Meshal said the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Abbas had granted such recognition, but to no avail. “Did that recognition lead to an end of the occupation? It’s just a pretext by the United States and Israel to escape dealing with the real issue and to throw the ball into the Arab and Palestinian court.”