After years of speculation, Hamas unveiled its new political document on Monday, outlining its general principles and policies, which build on the 1988 charter released shortly after the group’s founding.
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Al Jazeera later spoke with Meshaal, who has been leading the organisation since 1995 and is expected to step down in the near future, about the new political document.
Al Jazeera: Can you explain the new political document? Will it replace Hamas’ old charter?
Khaled Meshaal: Hamas’ new document has been in the making for four years. It is intended to function as a guiding principle for the Hamas organisation to deal with new emerging realities in our Palestinian society, our conflict with Israel and in the outside world.
This document reflects our position for now, which means that we are not a rigid ideological organisation. This document also shows that we are a dynamic and adaptive organisation and that we are eager to change if it is in the best interests of our people. In the future, Hamas will issue more papers and policy guidelines to deal with new realities.
The old charter was a product of its era, 30 years ago. We live in a different world today.
Al Jazeera: One of the most important aspects of the new document is your acceptance of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, a marked change from Hamas’ previous stance. Why the change?
Meshaal: We have said it many times over, that Hamas would not stand in the way of establishing a Palestinian state that would come as a product of negotiations between Israel and other Palestinian groups.
Even though we would accept and welcome that eventuality, this does not necessarily mean that we would have to recognise Israel or surrender our principle that all of Palestine belongs to the Palestinian people.
Al Jazeera: How long have you been a member of Hamas?
Meshaal: I am one of the founders of the organisation. I was there since day one. I was part of the founding and launch even before Hamas was officially declared in 1987. In 1977, 10 years before Hamas was officially announced, I was working with others to lay the intellectual groundwork Hamas was founded upon. Therefore, I was a member of its consultative council and leadership structures since day one.
Al Jazeera: During Monday’s press conference, you called for the “liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea”, or all of historic Palestine. Let’s suppose, hypothetically, you somehow were able to achieve that – what would happen to the Israeli Jewish citizens?
Meshaal: What we want is to restore our national rights on our own lands, to facilitate the return of our refugees and to live free in an independent sovereign state. This is what the Palestinian people are looking and hoping for.
We don’t have to answer to the Israeli propaganda claims that try to make us seem monstrous when it comes to Jews. Arabs and Muslims were highly moral and ethical with their enemies during wartime. They committed no massacres of innocent civilians. Here, I recall the Muslim leader Salahuddin al-Ayyubi (Saladin), who spared the lives of Jerusalem’s inhabitants when he liberated the city from the Crusaders in 1187. Hamas has its humanitarian dimension, but it will not coexist with occupation and colonisation.
Al Jazeera: In about two weeks’ time, there will be an election for a new Hamas leadership, and you will step down as the leader of the group. What will be your new role?
Meshaal: I was an elected leader of the group since 1995, when our bylaws did not restrict the number of terms a leader can serve. But in the past decade, we put a term limit to our bylaws that limited the period to two terms, four years each time.
I will continue to be the son of this organisation. We are also trying to show a good example that one can still contribute to the organisation’s goals and serve his people without having to be in the top leadership position.
Al Jazeera: Is Hamas a democratic organisation?
Meshaal: One hundred percent. I think in terms of our internal policies and operations, we practise democratic governance you seldom see in this region. We are also pragmatic.
Unfortunately, in our region, pragmatism has gotten a bad name because of the bad practices of those who called themselves “pragmatic”. That said, however, our pragmatism is positive and is connected to upholding our principled positions, not sacrificing them.
Al Jazeera: Currently, you say you reject dialogue with Israel, whether in negotiations or not. Suppose that the Israelis said they were willing to engage in negotiations with you. Is there anything, ideological or otherwise, preventing you from talking to the Israelis as a strategic choice?
Meshaal: For us, the principle of negotiations or not is not something set in stone. It is a matter of politics and it is dynamic. In our history, we have many examples where Muslim leaders have negotiated with their enemies, such as Prophet Muhammad and Salahuddin. The current circumstances have not matured enough for us to benefit from any negotiations with Israel.
Currently, Israel is not interested in peace. Israel feels it is not obligated or forced to have peace with the Palestinians and give us our rights. When we are strong enough to create a reality that will force Israel to reconsider its positions against us, only then negotiations will have value and meaning for us. Look at, for example, the PLO’s negotiations experience with Israel. It got them nowhere after decades of futile talks with Israel.