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Interview with Leader of Hamas

Aired December 31, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


RICHARD QUEST, CNN HOST: It is midnight. I'm Richard Quest and your news headlines -- midnight in Moscow. And in Dubai.

In Russia it is S novim godom. In Dubai and in the UAE tonight, it is kulu sana wa inta tayeb. Appalling pronunciations, but it still means Happy New Year.


QUEST: (Inaudible) that the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, if I'm not mistaken. I was there earlier this year and those are the fireworks going off the Burj.


QUEST: Moscow and in Dubai. We'll have more of the world celebrating New Year's Eve in the hours ahead. This is CNN, around the world, around the clock. "AMANPOUR" is next.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program and to the end of 2012. I'm Christiane Amanpour. And this week we're looking at some of the top interviews and stories we covered this year, and we'll update you on those still dominating the headlines now.

For instance, earlier this month, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal was given a hero's welcome in Gaza following what Palestinians see as a victory in Gaza's bloody battle with Israel last month. It was Meshaal's first-ever visit to Gaza, a territory that's controlled by Hamas and where Hamas was, in fact, founded.

Masses of people turned out to hear him speak. Meshaal delivered an uncompromising message, a message the Israeli government called "hateful and extreme."

"Palestine is ours," he said, "from the river to the sea, and from the north to the south. There will be concession on one inch of land."

I had a rare opportunity to sit down with Meshaal in Cairo in late November just as a cease-fire with Israel was being agreed. And in our conversation, he struck a different note.

When pressed, he told me he could see a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. But it's clear that when he talks to Westerners he doesn't say the same things as he does to his own people. And here now is the first part of my conversation with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.


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 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): The resistance does not target the civilians.

AMANPOUR: But they're falling into towns --


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 -- we'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 the 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 shau (ph). 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 a route that did not (inaudible) 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 arsenal, not from the victim. Second, I say to you, from 20 years ago and more, the Palestinians and the Arabs are offering peace. But peace is destroying peace through aggression and war and killing.

This idea (ph), this -- such 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 continues 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 state 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?

Say that again?

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.

But --

AMANPOUR: No, they want to return to their land, of course. The international agreements don't provide for that.

MESHAAL (through translator): I ask you, why the international community is silent about the law --

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

MESHAAL (through translator): OK.

AMANPOUR: OK? So I -- you know, here's the thing. The only thing I want to ask you is are you keeping on making excuses for why you won't recognize?

MESHAAL (through translator): 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 decides 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 in Palestine, or his grandfather or his father, and he doesn't even have the key.

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

AMANPOUR: I know that's your view. The international community has put out the parameters. They want Palestinians to be able to live in peace and to have their rights, side by side with a secure Israel. But the problem is they say Hamas just doesn't do anything the international community wants.

MESHAAL (through translator): This is refutable. Hamas is not the obstacle. Mahmoud Abbas, it -- the world knows that he wants peace. Hamas agreed with Mahmoud Abbas many times over the last years on a unified Palestinian vision.

And Olmert and Sharon needed -- failed (ph). And the international community did not help. This is a tragedy. Mahmoud Abbas last year went to the United Nations and he wanted a full membership for the state. And today, Mahmoud Abbas wants to go to the general assembly and he wants only a monitoring membership. And the Americans say don't do that.

Who refuses this step can -- how can he accept a Palestinian state according to the 1967 borders? This is what create the reactions. Then they resort to resistance because they feel that the international community is not supporting him and supporting the invaders and using double standards.

AMANPOUR: Khaled Meshaal, hold that thought.

We'll be back in a second.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to tonight's program. More of my interview with Khaled Meshaal.

And it is always fascinating to talk to these people, these leaders, because what we see is some of them have not really told their own people the hard truth of what it's going to take to have a final peace settlement. More now of my exclusive interview with the man at the center of the fragile truce between Israel and Gaza.


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

You moved from your headquarters in Damascus, Syria. Why did you do that?

MESHAAL (through translator): After 10 months from the beginning of the crisis, the Syrian crisis in March 2011, I left Damascus in Jan. 2011, after I despaired from treating the Syrian crisis in a political way, away from blood.

AMANPOUR: You disagreed with what President Assad was doing.

MESHAAL (through translator): Certainly. I told him from day one that the Syrian crisis is an internal crisis, that it has started from -- by the demand 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 they are 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 (through translator): No. See, the relationship with Iran is present, but, yes, it was affected and harmed by our disagreement while Syria. It is not as it used to be in the past, but there is no severing 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 (through translator): Hamas, as a movement of resistance, with a cause, for a people living under occupation, we seek, 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 anywhere.

AMANPOUR: So the answer is yes?

MESHAAL (through translator): I answered you. Any state supporting us for 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 (through translator): 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 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 (through translator): 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 (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 rewarding the occupier, does not oppress the victim.

Peace, the kind of peace that precludes occupation and the bloodshed. Our Islam -- all the religions, 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 (through translator): 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, inhabited 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 to stop the bloodshed, the Palestinians today, and in the past, and Hamas, have agreed about a program, a national program that accepts the '67 borders. But the Israelis don't accept. So it is all about -- it is up to the Israelis. And the international community is failing to give -- 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, did not announce 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 will be more as a reaction, an angry reaction from our angry Palestinian people because of the aggression on Gaza.

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...

The 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, if you read it in a spy novel, you might not believe it. But back in 1997, Khaled Meshaal was the target of a bizarre assassination attempt by the Mossad, Israel's intelligence service, supposedly under orders of then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It took place in Jordan, where Mossad's agents confronted Meshaal and injected poison into his ear.

It might have ended right there with Khaled Meshaal heard of no more. But Jordan's King Hussein, who had a peace treaty with Israel, threatened to break off relations unless the Mossad delivered the antidote to the poison.

Meshaal told me about that story when we met.


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: Meshaal went onto become the head of Hamas, as we know, when his predecessor was killed by an Israeli airstrike. And now Meshaal and Netanyahu, two old foes, are facing off again.

And that's our program for tonight; wishing everybody out there a very Happy New Year and a successful and prosperous 2013. Thanks for watching. Goodbye from New York.