Monitor contributor Shane Bauer sat down on Jan. 7 with Musa Abu Marzook, deputy chairman of Hamas’s political bureau, in Damascus, Syria. While part of that conversation appeared in today’s Monitor story on Hamas’s defiance in the face of the Israeli campaign in Gaza, a fuller version of the interview, which sheds a great deal of light on Hamas’s thinking about the ongoing war, is below:
Bauer: What will it take for Hamas to agree to a cease-fire with Israel?
Abu Marzook: Hamas has held the same position since Israel’s aggression began. We have three conditions for any peace initiative coming from any state. First of all, the aggression of the Israelis should stop. All of the [border crossings] should be opened, including the gate of Rafah between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Finally, Israel has to withdraw from the Gaza strip. We are not saying we will stop firing rockets from the Gaza strip to Israel. We are only talking about stopping the aggression from the Israelis against the civilian population in the Gaza Strip.
When others talk about a cease-fire, they are saying all military operations should stop. But we are sending a message [by firing rockets, which is:] “We will not surrender. We have to fight the Israelis and we will win this battle.” We know we are going to lose a lot of people from our side, but we are going to win inshallah [God willing].
Bauer: What exactly would you consider victory for Hamas?
Abu Marzook: A victory for Hamas would mean the Israelis did not accomplish their objectives. If they can’t stop rockets from coming into Israel, that means they failed.
But the real reason for Israel’s aggression is to change Hamas’s government in the Gaza Strip. They have been thinking about this since Hamas won the elections. It is not because of the rockets. They failed to lead the people in an uprising against Hamas in the Gaza Strip with the economic embargo. They tried to push Fatah to fight Hamas, but we defeated them in the Gaza Strip. So Israel took action.
Bauer: How do you think this Israeli aggression will affect Hamas’s position in Gaza?
Abu Marzook: The Israeli push against Hamas has increased our popularity sharply among the Palestinian people and throughout the Muslim world. After the Israelis killed Hamas leaders like Ahmed Yassin and Ismail Abu Shanab Hamas won the elections and they won 76 seats out of a 132-seat parliament. Using these means doesn’t decrease the popularity of Hamas, it increases it.
Bauer: How are relations between Hamas and Fatah now?
Abu Marzook: Now, the priority for Hamas, Fatah, or any Palestinian organization is to stand against the Israeli aggression. After we finish with this battle, I guess we can talk about reconciliation or reuniting with Fatah. We openly welcome any kind of negotiation or dialogue between Fatah and Hamas to end the separation of the Palestinians.
Bauer: When French president Nicolas Sarkozy met with Syrian president Bahsar al-Assad, many said he tried to encourage Damascus to put pressure on Hamas to stop firing rockets. Have you faced any kind of pressure from Syria?
Abu Marzook: We haven’t seen any pressure from Syria. They respect our independence. They respect our choices. They respect the policies we chose for our people.