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Israel-Hamas Cease Fire; Interview with Hamas Political Leader Khaled Meshaal

Aired November 21, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening everybody, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour, reporting to you live tonight from Cairo.

This has been the center of the negotiations which finally produced a cease-fire and in the last several hours it has gone into effect. After more than a week of deadly fighting. It was the Egyptian-led government of Mohammed Morsi, the new Islamist government, which really did put an end to this.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): And in Gaza, if we take you now to live pictures of what's going on in Gaza, there are celebrations in the streets there.

The cease-fire was announced several hours ago by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and by the Egyptian foreign minister.

They had been talking -- the Egyptians had been talking to Hamas because Israel and the United States don't talk to Hamas. They consider Hamas a pariah and call it a terrorist organization.

Shortly after this was announced, over in Israel, in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about the new truce.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL (through translator): I know there are those who expect an even more intense military response. And that may perhaps be needed. But at this time, the right thing for the State of Israel is to exhaust this opportunity to obtain a long-term cease- fire or an ongoing cease-fire.


AMANPOUR: Now as far as we know, the broad parameters of this is that Egypt will act as a main guarantor of this process, that Israel wanted to make sure that there were no more rockets fired into Israel from Gaza and that there was no more resupply of weapons into Gaza.

As for Hamas, they wanted to make sure that they would have no more assassinations of their leaders by Israel and crucially that the blockade would be lifted. And, apparently, that is part of the deal, to start to lift and ease restrictions of the siege, which has been pretty much in effect for so many years.

Now for the Palestinian side, the man at the center of all of this is Khaled Meshaal. He is the leader of Hamas. But as I say, no one, not the Israelis nor the United States were talking to him because they consider him to be part of a terrorist organization. So it was the Egyptians negotiating on his behalf.

And during then negotiations, just as they were being hammered out, I got an exclusive interview with him, a chance to sit down and talk about whether this truce was going to be more than just a lull and what was going to make it stick.


AMANPOUR: Khaled Meshaal, thank you for joining me.


AMANPOUR: Both sides are always blaming each other. You're blaming the Israelis; the Israelis blame you.

Is it useful to kill civilians? Is that useful to you? Is it useful to create terror on civilians inside Israel?

MESHAAL (through translator): Let me -- let me give you the truth. On the 8th of November, this month, the Israelis entered Gaza and killed a child, a Palestinian child. The resistance responded. Then the Egyptians interfered and tried, as you know, to create the truce.

One day after the truce last week, in eight -- nine days, the Israelis killed Ahmed al-Jabari, when he was coming from Hajj, from Saudi Arabia. The Israelis escalated the utmost fear in Gaza. So they bear the responsibility. We don't target the civilians. I don't like to shed any drop of blood.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that it's a legitimate part of what you call resistance to kill civilians inside Israel?

MESHAAL (through translator): Resistance does not target the civilians.

AMANPOUR: But they're falling into this --


MESHAAL (through translator): -- anywhere else.

We must go back to the origin of the issue. The Palestinian people were living in peace and security, then the Israelis occupied the land. According to international law, and according to the Divine laws, the Americans and all the peoples, every people, when they are -- when they are occupied, they resist with all that they have.

The Israelis -- Israel say it's a state and they have an army, and they call it the army of defense, and they have advanced weapons. They have committed massacres from Deir Yassin to (inaudible), to all the (inaudible) --


AMANPOUR: Mr. Meshaal?

Mr. Meshaal, the history is a well-known history and everybody's arguing over the history. Today, when you make your analysis of how much pain you're going to inflict, when you do the cost and the benefit of trying to make your point and get the world on your side, do you consider how many -- you've talked about Israeli civilians.

Now how many Palestinian civilians are being killed because of your actions? Do you consider that?

MESHAAL (through translator): It is not because of our action. We are defending our people and our land and I will respond. Let me tell you. I say to you, I'm the leader of Hamas. I tell you, through CNN, to the whole world, we are ready to resort to a peaceful way, truly peaceful way, without blood and weapon, as long as we attain our Palestinian demands.

The elimination of occupation and Palestinian state and ending the occupation and the wall (ph), all the goals, all the national goals. I ask you, Yasser Arafat gave this opportunity to the Israeli and to the international community.

But the Israelis killed Yasser Arafat. Mahmoud Abbas, whom the world welcomed, he gave this opportunity to Israel and to the international community. What did they do? They made him fail. They let him down.

Today, Netanyahu and before him all the leaders of Israel, they have cornered (inaudible). They want the occupation. They want the -- they want the continuation of the settlement. What do they want? What does the world need from the Palestinian people? Our people is the victim. And now we want them to raise a white flag and surrender.

AMANPOUR: You say you would prefer the route that did not cause so much violence, so much death.

And yet, you say that you would accept a two-state solution, but that you will not recognize Israel's right to exist.

Is that still the case?

MESHAAL (through translator): First of all, the offer must come from the attacker, from Israel, which has the arsenal, not from the victim. Second, I say to you from 20 years ago and more, the Palestinians and Arabs are offering peace. But peace is destroying peace through aggression and war and killing.

This idea (ph), this touch failed experiences, we have two options. No other. Either there's an international will, led by the U.S. and Europe and the international community and force Israel to go through the way of peace and a Palestinian state, according to the border of 1967 with the right to return. And this is something we have agreed upon as Palestinians, as a common program.

But if Israel can continue to refuse this, either the -- either we force them or resist to -- resort to resistance. I accept a state of the 1967. How can I accept Israel? They have occupied my land. I need recognition, not the Israelis. This is a reversed question.

AMANPOUR: It might be a reversed question, but it is still the question. All the international agreements about what a two-state solution should look like -- and you're talking about the Americans.

They agree as well, and the U.N. and Moscow and the E.U., that it has to involve Hamas, all parties, renouncing violence and accepting the right of Israel to exist. You keep telling me why not and who should recognize whom. But my question is, is there ever a circumstance under which you will recognize Israel's right to exist?

MESHAAL (through translator): I will give you a reply, a direct reply and a lesson.

About the direct answer, I accept a Palestinian state according to 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital, with the right to return.

AMANPOUR: I know you say the right to return --

MESHAAL (through translator): When this stage rises --


AMANPOUR: -- you know, everybody's not going to be able to return to Israel. You know that.

MESHAAL (through translator): Please.

What? Say it again?

(Speaking foreign language).

AMANPOUR: Under the international agreements every Palestinian who's living in the diaspora is not going to be able to come back to Israel.

MESHAAL (through translator): Who said that? Who said that?

AMANPOUR: That's what are the parameters.

MESHAAL (through translator): I tell you, I accept --

AMANPOUR: They can come to the Palestinian state.

MESHAAL (through translator): I tell you, my sister, you are the CNN, a respected channel. Do a survey through the diaspora where the Palestinians are. If you don't find a majority -- a big majority that want to return to their land, then I'm wrong.


AMANPOUR: No, they want to return to their land.


AMANPOUR: Of course.


AMANPOUR: The international agreements don't provide for that.


I ask you, why the international community is silent about the law, about the...

AMANPOUR: They're not silent. They say that under the international agreement, the return should be...

MESHAAL: Allow me, please.

AMANPOUR: -- linked to a Palestinian state, OK?

MESHAAL: I asked you a question.

AMANPOUR: So I -- you know, here's the thing...

MESHAAL: I asked you a question.

AMANPOUR: -- the only thing I wanted to ask you...

MESHAAL: No, no, no.

AMANPOUR: -- is are you keeping on making excuses for why you won't recognize...

MESHAAL: I'm answering. I'm answering. Allow me to answer. I have given you a clear answer. I am -- I want -- I want my state. After this state is established, it -- besides its standing toward Israel, don't ask me when I'm in prison and under pressure, under Israeli pressure. You cannot ask me, as a victim, what is my stand toward Israel. I have mentioned my stand when there is a Palestinian state and the Palestinians are living like any other people in the world.

But you asked me about the right to return. I asked you a question and you have interrupted me -- why the international community is silent about the law of the right to return for -- that allows every Israelis to return and the people accept this. The world accepts this. And there are Jews who have never seen Palestine, while the Palestinian who was born on -- in Palestine, or his grandfather or his father, and he doesn't even have the (INAUDIBLE).

This one is not -- not allowed, while the Jews are allowed -- are allowed. This is double standard. And it's time to stop.

AMANPOUR: Khaled Meshaal, hold that thought.

We'll be back in a second.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

I'm Christiane Amanpour in Cairo.

And now that the cease-fire is underway, the question really is, does it take us back to anything more than the status quo ante?

What will really change if some of the parameters and demands by both sides are enacted, maybe that might lead to some serious truce, some change in the future.

But many people are very skeptical at this time.

And as evidenced from my exclusive interview with Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas, there is so much, obviously, that the two sides disagree on so deeply.

I spoke to him as the truce was being finalized.


AMANPOUR: Joining me again, Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas.

You moved from your headquarters in Damascus, Syria.

Why did you do that?

MESHAAL: After 10 months, from the beginning of the crisis, the Syrian crisis in March 2011, I left Damascus in January 2011.

After I despaired from treating the Syrian crisis in a political way...

AMANPOUR: So you...

MESHAAL: -- away from blood.

AMANPOUR: -- you -- you disagreed with what President Assad was doing?

MESHAAL: Certainly. I told him from day one that the Syrian crisis is an internal crisis, that it has started from -- by the demands of the people. Yes, it's an internal issue, but I advised him, given our history with the Syrian leadership, I advised him that the Syrian crisis is part of the Arab Spring and the demands of reform and it requires a political solution and initiative from the Syrian leadership.

Then when they resorted to security and military, which led to the shed of blood, I estimated that this was going -- that was doomed to fail.

AMANPOUR: Therefore, you must have broken with Iran, as well, because Iran supports the president of Syria and his policies.

Have you distanced yourself from Iran?

MESHAAL: No. You see, the relationship with Iran is present. But, yes, it was affected and harmed by our di -- our disagreement about Syria.

It is not as it used to be in the past, but there is no severing of -- of relations. But it is different according to the circumstances. The Syrian crisis impacted our relationship with the Iranians.

But we still have Iran in relationship in other fields.

AMANPOUR: You have received Iranian long range missiles. The Fajr missiles have come through.

Are you still getting missiles from Iran into Gaza?

MESHAAL: Hamas, as a movement of resistance, with a -- a code for liv -- for a people living under occupation, we see not just wait to get support, financial support, military support, political support from all over the world, from all the states in the world.

Everyone giving us support, whether it's from Iran or Europe, from anyway.

AMANPOUR: So the answer is yes?

MESHAAL: I answered you. Any state supporting us or killing the occupiers, we welcome them and we thank them.

AMANPOUR: What is the end game?

What is your goal?

You govern Gaza.

What is the goal, endless resistance, endless fighting, endless death?

MESHAAL: Of course not. Of course not. The resistance is not a goal. The resistance is a means to an end. The end game is to end occupation but the international community is not enabling us to do this. They are biased toward Israel.

When the -- when -- when will the American administration change?

When will the international community say enough to Israel?

When Saddam occupied Kuwait, the international community, in its entirety, interfered.

When is the international will that appeared in Kosovo and in Serbia and appeared in several parts of the world?

Why the international will is not present in Palestine?

All the hypocrisy for Israel and blaming the victim, the Palestinian victim.

AMANPOUR: What do you want to do for your people?

It's endless war.

What do you want to do?

MESHAAL: Allah has given me a new life. I exploit it. I use it. And I invest it in -- for the sake of God, to appease God, to serve my people, to end the occupation. And such as that, the settlement ends and the killing ends and the aggression ends, and to make peace in the region, but through peace. Peace that is not rewarding the occupier, does not oppress the victim. Peace, the kind of peace that precludes occupation and the bloodshed. Our Islam, all the religions of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, true Judaism, given this -- revealed by God, does not allow the killing of any innocents in the world.

AMANPOUR: So since innocents are being killed by your side and by that side, are you still, after all these years, committed to a one-state solution, as you said, to have Palestine from the Jordan to the sea?

MESHAAL: Palestine, from the river to the sea, from the north to the south, it is my land. And the land of my fathers and grandfathers, inhibited by the Palestinians from a long time ago. This is my land, my right.

But because of the circumstances of the region, because of the keenness (ph) to stop the bloodshed, the Palestinians today, and in the past, and Hamas, have agreed about a program, a (INAUDIBLE) program that accepts the '67 borders. But the Israelis don't accept. So it is all about - up to the Israelis. And the international community is failing to do us justice.

AMANPOUR: The al Qassim brigades, the military wing of Hamas, they've been tweeting -- there's a Twitter war. Is that crazy? Between al Qassim and IDF about this bomb in the bus in Tel Aviv today: "We told you, IDF, that our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are. You opened the gates of hell on yourselves." Is Hamas taking responsibility?

MESHAAL (through translator): Hamas is not claiming responsibility, not announced that it did this operation. The one who claims the responsibility, the one who executed it, and I don't know. But I tell you, this operation is part of the massive ramifications that - and there will be more as a reaction, an angry reaction from our angry Palestinian people because of the aggression on (inaudible).

Whoever does aggression must pay the price, anywhere in the world, not just from Hamas. The world will not just watch as a crime of.

Their free people in the world will not just be watched, stand by watching.

AMANPOUR: Khaled Meshaal, thank you for joining me.

And we'll be right back after a break with a final thought.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, if you read it in a spy novel, you probably wouldn't even believe it. Back in 1997, Khaled Meshaal was the subject of a bizarre assassination attempt.

It was when he was in Jordan and he was confronted by a Mossad agent, who tried to shoot a poison into his ear. In fact, they did. Apparently that was under the approval of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Now then King Hussein of Jordan, who has a peace treaty with Israel, threatened to break it off unless he got the antidote. He asked for the antidote and he got it, and Meshaal lived to fight another day. He told me about it today.


MESHAAL (through translator): But God saved me when they tried to assassinate me.

AMANPOUR: King Hussein saved you.

MESHAAL: Allah saved me. Then King Hussein.

AMANPOUR: King Hussein demanded the poison and the antidote.

MESHAAL (through translator): This -- and this is a standing that is great on the part of King Hussein, and I'm still loyal to him and I pray for him. And I am obliged for this courageous stand that forced Netanyahu to give the antidote and thank God I was healed.

But I mention this in the vein of the Israeli crime.

AMANPOUR: So here you are. Let's say you got a second life. You got a second chance at life. What do you want to do with that life? What do you want to do for your people? It's endless war. What do you want to do?

MESHAAL (through translator): Allah has given me a new life. I exploit it, I use it and I invest in for the sake of God, to appease God, to serve my people, to end the occupation and (inaudible) the settlement ends and the killing ends and the aggression ends, and to make peace in the region. But true peace, peace that is not awarding the occupier, did not oppress the victim.

Peace, the kind of peace that precludes occupation and the bloodshed. Our Islam, all religions, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, true Judaism, given this revealed by God, does not allow the killing of any innocents in the world.


AMANPOUR: So after that assassination attempt, more than 15 years ago, Meshaal went on, as we know, to become head of Hamas. And now it seems that both he and Netanyahu, old foes, are constantly locked in this mortal combat. We'll wait to see whether this cease-fire brings any change at all to this situation.

That's it for us. I'm Christiane Amanpour, reporting live from Cairo. Thank you for watching. And you can always follow me at and on Twitter and Facebook. Good night.