Transcript of interview with

Khalid Mish’al of Hamas

BBC Radio 4 Today, 8 February 2006


Introduced by James Naughtie


Hamas will soon be taking power over the Palestinians, brought to power in those elections last month.  Now, this is an organisation committed to the destruction of Israel historically, which has executed many attacks on Israelis over the years.  But now it represents Palestinians. It is now in power. What will it do?  Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, has said it must choose between democracy and violence.  So when our Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, was given a rare interview with the political head of Hamas, Khalid Mish’al, he began with that challenge: would Hamas renounce violence?


KM:  When countries are free and you are independent of course democracy does not go with violence.  We would practice democracy and peaceful means without violence.  But when there is occupation, there is no contradiction between democracy and what the West calls violence, which is in this case resistance.  Violence in independent countries is totally rejected.  But when you resist occupation, resistance is legal and democracy is a mechanism to choose Palestinian leaders, based on democracy and sharing of authority.


JB:  So, does that mean then that you’re not going to change the Hamas charter, as the big donor countries have requested?


KM:  Why doesn’t the international community ask Israel to determine its borders?  Why doesn’t it ask Israel to recognise Palestinian rights? Why doesn’t the international community put pressure on Israel to implement agreements it has signed with Palestine? Why is pressure always applied on the weak side, the one that is under occupation and suffers from killing, assassinations, the building of the wall, confiscation of land, and building of settlements?  Why does the international community always stand with the strong side even though he is the aggressor, and stands against the weak, even though he is being attacked and has all the rights …?


JB:  Now, Hamas has been democratically elected, but Hamas as an organisation is listed by the Americans and by the EU as a terrorist group, so they will continue to put more pressure on you, we can assume I think, than they put pressure on the Israelis, so what are you going to do about it?  That’s the whole point.  Will you want to stick with your truce or are you going to go back to attacks on Israelis?


KM:  This is not our problem.  This is the problem of the international community and the nations that deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Hamas won an election.  It acquired the legal mandate through voting and at the same time Hamas practices its right to resist the occupation.  Now the international community faces a contradiction: it considers Hamas a terror organisation and this is an unfair description of Hamas because Hamas does what the British and French did when they were up against the Nazi occupation.


JB:  OK, here’s a situation: imagine after the Israeli elections, the next Israeli government says to you, says to Hamas, we’ll negotiate, we’re prepared to talk about everything.  What would your answer be?


KM:  Previous Israeli governments had the chance to negotiate with Yasser Arafat and then with Mahmoud Abbas.  What did Israel do?  Israel welcomed the coming of Mahmoud Abbas to power a year ago.  In spite of that, it did not negotiate with him. It didn’t take one step towards achieving of Palestinian rights.  Do you think that the upcoming Israeli government after the elections will take a step towards Hamas and to recognise the rights of the Palestinian people?  When Israel says that it will recognise Palestinian rights and will withdraw from the West Bank and East Jerusalem and grant the right of return, stop settlements and recognise the rights of the Palestinians to self determination, only then Hamas will be ready to take a serious step.


JB:  Let’s get this clear.  You’re saying that there’s no problem with the two-state solution, if Israel retreats back, goes back, to the boundaries that existed just before the 1967 war?


KM:  If Israel withdrew to the 1967 borders and recognised rights of Palestinian people, with the right of return to those in diaspora, to return to their land and to East Jerusalem, and to dismantle settlements, Hamas can then say its position and possibly give a long term truce with Israel, as Ahmed Yassin said.  This is a position that Hamas could take, but not now.  Only after Israel recognises the rights of the Palestinians, to show and confirm its willingness to withdraw to the 1967 borders.


JB:  Hamas has talked about this truce before and Israel has answered: it would just be a breathing space while Hamas tried to gather its forces to attack the territory that Israel had between 1948 and 67, the original part of Israel.  The truce that you’re talking about, would that be a long term thing, a permanent thing, or just a respite in the war?


KM:  The truce would be long term but limited, because there is a Palestinian reality that the international community must deal with.  There are those kicked out of their land in 1948 – the international community must find a solution for those people.  The international community now speaks of lasting and just peace, but how can we achieve such a peace if there are Palestinians who feel that they did not get their rights.  There’s a problem that happened to the Palestinians: they were a people that used to live on their land, but did not find justice from the international community.  There are roots to the problem.  But, in reality, we now say that if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders there could be peace and security in the region, and agreement between the sides, until the international community finds a way to solve everybody’s problems, and to find a way to give back the rights to the people and find a way to end the oppression of people who used to live on their land, but were forced out of it.


JB:  Is there any solution that you see that would involve Palestine existing along side the Jewish state of Israel, permanently?


KM:  If the international community is talking about a permanent solution, then it has to find out what the roots of the problem are and what the Palestinian rights are.  The search for a final solution requires us to go back to the roots of the problem and how it began.  Israel doesn’t even recognise our basis rights.  The international community doesn’t either.  Even when Yasser Arafat announced that he accepts a permanent solution on the 1967 borders, Israel didn’t implement it.  The problem is not for a Palestinian to come and say I consider this is a permanent solution and then Israel would implement everything.


JB:  So if Israel changed, would you change?  Would you accept Israel?  Would you recognise them?  Would you live in peace along side them?


KM:  When Israel changes, come and ask me to change.