Here is some background on Abdel Aziz Rantisi and Khaled Meshal who have taken the place of Sheik Ahmed Yassin after he was killed by the IDF this past week. Both of these men have a long history of extremist views and a broad base of support throughout Hamas and the Palestinians. A deadly combination.
‘Abd al-Aziz Rantisi:
Hamas spokesman in Gaza. b.Oct 1947, Yabna (nr Jaffa); refugee in Khan Yunis. Trained as a medical doctor and paediatrician in Alexandria Uni (-1972, 1974-6), wh he first came into contact with the Ikhwan; on that basis, founded Islamic Centre in Gaza in 1973 and joined Ikhwan as a member on his return to Gaza in 1976. From then, worked in Khan Yunis and at Isl Uni Gaza from its opening in 1978; but dismissed as head of paediatrics at Khan Yunis hospital by Israel in 1983 and was variously imprisoned (esp Mar 88-Sept 90). Led Hamas (w Zahhar) after Apr 89, and was deported by Israel to Marj al-Zuhur in Dec 92, wh he acted as spokesman for the deportees. On return, was re-arrested (Dec 93) and held until Apr 97. Again held by PA in detention without trial for 21 months until Feb 00, accused of involvement in the killing of Mohieddin Sharif. Arrested again in Jul 00 after calling the Palestinian participation in the Camp David talks an act of treason; released in Dec 00; intermittently rearrested, esp in Dec 01. Based in Shaykh Radwan area of Gaza City.
Straight From the Mouth of Hamas (1998 Interview)
The following is an interview with Dr. ‘Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi by Kul al-Arab newspper on January 9. Dr. Rantisi, a leading figure in Hamas, is 50 years old, and is a father of six. Translated by J. Baker
Are you originally from Khan Younis?
No. I was born in Yubna and I fled from there with my family to the Gaza Strip in 1948. Yubna is in the center of the country close to Jaffa. It was mentioned in the battles of Saladin.
Have you visited Yubna?
Yes, and I have seen our house. I found a right-wing family living there.
How did that affect you?
Very strongly. The image of my city, as my parents have told me, my home and my parents’ flight with me in their arms does not leave my mind. In general, the issue of forced exile from our homeland has had a profound effect on my thinking.
Where did you study religious and fundamentalist theory?
I studied in Egypt for nine years, where I received my BA in pediatric medicine. While there, I was greatly influenced by the philosophy of the Muslim Brotherhood. When I returned to Gaza in 1976, I became part of the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
When did you become a leader in Hamas?
I was one of seven: Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, ‘Abdel Fattah Dukhan, Mohammed Shama’, Dr. Ibrahim al-Yazour, Issa al-Najjar, Salah Shehadeh and myself.
Some say that Hamas took advantage of the Intifada for your own benefit. (With a bitter laugh) Whoever says that does not know anything. Frankly, we were the ones who declared the Intifada and encouraged the people to rise up. The seven of us gathered together after the truck incident [in which four Palestinians were killed] and instructed people to exit the mosques chanting “Allah Akbar” (God is great). A month and a half later the PLO joined and a united leadership was formed. This is after it was said at first that the Mossad was behind the Intifada.
What effect did [the deportation to] Marj al-Zuhour have on you personally and on your comrades?
Marj al-Zuhour was a cornerstone. After that, Hamas emerged as a player in the international arena. Prior to this incident, the movement had been local and limited. Later on, it became even better known through the martyr operations which shook the world.
But the suicide operations also branded you as terrorists assaulting civilians. You call them “suicide operations” and I call them “martyr operations”. They are not terrorism. They are a response to Israeli terrorism, individuals and governmental, against Palestinian civilians. We should remember that these martyr operations began after the massacre committed by the terrorist Baruch Goldstein [in the Hebron mosque in 1994] and intensified after the assassination of Yahya Ayash.
But why civilians?
We do not support the killing of civilians and we would prefer that not one civilian be killed. If Israel’s aggressive acts of killing, starving, arresting and settlement building stop, then we will halt our operations against [Israeli] civilians.
So you would agree to a settlement with the Israelis?
No settlement, no peace and no halt of Jihad as long as there is occupation. But we have announced our readiness for a truce in which there would be a withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza in return for a ceasefire.
Would [Hamas] formally recognize Israel though this truce?
No recognition of the Zionist entity. For if I cannot liberate [Palestine] then then future generations will inevitably do so.
Dr. Rantisi, don’t you see that this has only become a slogan which will be difficult to achieve because of the balance of power and the weakness, division and despair of the Arabs? Yes. I agree that the balance of power is not to our advantage. But does that jgiving up Palestine? for the weakness of the Arabs, there are defeated or weak people or those who care more for their personal life and wealth. They are not willing to sacrifice one penny. [At the same time] there are thousands who feel their souls are a cheap price to pay for their country.
Why do you attack Arafat? What do you want from him?
[We attack Arafat] because he gave up Palestine and abandoned the National Charter. Have we forgotten that the PLO was originally established in 1964 for the liberation of the 1948 lands?
But the PLO believes that it is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. We differ with the PLO on this. We had a dialogue with them prior to the release of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, and said that the PLO does not represent all the Palestinian parties and movements, therefore it is not the sole legitimate representative of the people.
But Hamas is asking for one third of the seats on the national council and one third of the PLO institutions. This is too much. It is actually too little. Today we are demanding 40 percent representation, although we are sure that we represent more [of the population] than that.
Where did you get these estimates, especially since you did not participate in the elections? I’m not here to evaluate Hamas’ strength. However, Hamas is strong. You only have to look at the student councils in universities in the West Bank and Gaza.
But the latest opinion polls show support for Arafat at 62 percent and for Ahmad Yassin at 4 percent. (Laughingly) That is a joke.
Were you satisfied with the deal under which Sheikh Yassin was set free?
I was not satisfied. Israel released the sheikh only as a deal with Jordan after the attack on Khalid Masha’al.
Let us return to the issue of the struggle. How do you see the future of the Jews in this county? The only matter which concerns me is the future of my people. And what worries me is for how long they will remain displaced and their lands occupied.
Is there no possibility for accepting a part of Palestine in order to end the struggle?
All the land of Palestine is a part of the Islamic faith and the Caliph Omar bin al-Khattab declared it for all Muslims. Therefore, no individual or group has the right to sell it or give it up.
I see that you have no security men. Aren’t you afraid of being killed or assassinated?
Could I possibly have more security than Rabin had? And he was assassinated. We know that there are dangers but we have proven to Israel that they will pay a high price for any attack on us.
Do you see any possibility of a dialogue with the Israeli left?
I do not believe in the Peace Now movement. Whoever colonized my land and expelled me from it is an invader even if he is a leftist. If people occupy a country which is not theirs and found a peace movement, does this change the fact that they are occupiers?
Profile of Khalid Mish’al:
Head of Hamas political bureau from 1996. b. 1956, Silwad, Ramallah; displaced from 1967 to Kuwait, where he remained until 1990. Leader of Islamic bloc at Kuwait uni, where he trained in physics (and taught this in schools). After 1990, lived in Jordan. The target of an attempted Israeli assassination in Jordan in Sept 97; expelled from Jordan in Nov 99.
2003 Interview with Al-Ahram Weekly:
‘We won’t succumb’
Talks in the Egyptian capital between Palestinian factions underscored the political weight of Hamas. Khaled Meshal, head of the movement’s politburo, spoke to Amira Howeidy in Cairo about current dangers and the need for a ‘frame of reference’
The fact that Hamas’s politburo chief Khaled Meshal and the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) second man, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazin), recently met for the first time was very telling of the political map that shapes Palestinian decision-making today. The pair came together last week in the Egyptian capital within the framework of Cairo’s three-month-long effort to convince Palestinian resistance factions to unilaterally declare a cease-fire for one year. The efforts culminated last month when 12 representatives of the main Palestinian factions gathered during 24-27 January for the first time in 20 years to discuss Egypt’s proposal. By default, Abu Mazin, who headed the Fatah delegation (Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s faction) and supported the cease-fire initiative, also represented the PLO. But that wasn’t enough. Cairo knew it, the Palestinian Authority (PA) knew it and the rest of the factions knew it. Hamas and the equally radical resistance group, Islamic Jihad, had to approve. They didn’t, and the talks “failed”.
This might have been bad news for Cairo and the PA, but not quite so for Hamas, which is enjoying a new status that has been in the making over the past two years.
Recent polls show that the resistance movement’s popularity has surged with the Palestinians over the past year to 29 per cent from only nine per cent during Oslo. Hamas is increasingly being acknowledged as a major force in Palestinian decision-making — as demonstrated in the recognition it’s receiving from Arab regimes and even the Europeans.
In the background, a weakened PA is forced to accept this new reality, which it had denied in the past, hence the significance of Abu Mazin’s first face-to-face encounter with Meshal. The fact that Abu Mazin quickly departed Cairo when the talks wrapped up, while Meshal stayed for an additional two days and met with some members of the media as well as various official and independent Egyptian figures is probably no less significant.
Meeting the 47-year-old Hamas leader proved difficult, but possible. His media-friendly delegation was receptive to persistent requests to meet the politburo chief, whose ultra hectic schedule coupled with high-level security precautions meant that I had to wait more than two hours in a Heliopolis hotel lobby until I was able to conduct my scheduled interview. Meshal, who survived an assassination attempt in Amman in 1997 by Israeli Mossad agents, is predictably security conscious and his Egyptian hosts made sure his protection was secured. In order to conduct his meetings, Meshal was taken from an undisclosed location in Cairo to the hotel in Heliopolis for a few hours, where he held meetings in a room full of young bearded members of Hamas. Egyptian intelligence officers secured the entire floor and searched Meshal’s visitors in an adjacent room.
In a 20-minute interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Meshal outlined his view of why he thinks the Cairo talks were not actually a failure, the need for a Palestinian “point of reference” in “political decision-making” and why the resistance will continue.
Meshal insisted that progress was achieved in the Cairo talks, although he expressed regret that this progress was not translated into a document of final communiqué. Much was achieved, the Hamas leader said, “in the bilateral talks, or the Palestinian-Palestinian talks, in the three main spheres: the political programme; managing the struggle; Palestinian unity and rearranging Palestinian affairs and finding or agreeing on a frame of reference to manage Palestinian political decision-making.”
“We didn’t agree on all the details, nor did we develop a joint vision”, the politburo head said, “Yet we did go a long way, and our brothers in Fatah felt this progress more than anyone.” Meshal blamed the failure to produce a communiqué on ambiguous “considerations related to the internal Palestinian structure and the divergent positions of the factions that attended the meeting.”
Asked if Hamas would meet the Egyptians again on 4 February, as had been scheduled, in order to provide a final response to the Egyptian initiative for a one year truce, Meshal avoided a clear answer. Instead he explained that during Hamas’s bilateral talks with Cairo that preceded the 24-27 January meeting, “Egyptian officials showed an understanding of our position [regarding the truce]. In return, we are highly appreciative of the motives behind the Egyptian position in taking this initiative [but] the dialogue was based on the idea [of a truce] itself; its feasibility and implementation. In light of the previous talks and the recent Cairo talks last week, we found — as did the Egyptians — that there is need for more time to allow this issue to mature. What will be the outcome of all this? Only God knows. I can’t rush into the outcome now.” The 4 February meeting didn’t come to pass, having been “postponed”.
In any case, he stressed, “We are keen to hold on to the rights of our people, the resistance and our right to defend ourselves. We are keen on the Palestinian-Palestinian understanding in combating the Zionist danger, the occupation and defending our people. We are also very keen on Arab coordination, at the lead of which is Egypt, because this is necessary to face the dangers that threaten our cause.”
But why is Hamas negotiating a truce it knows it won’t accept, given that Israel showed no willingness to reciprocate? “Well, we weren’t the ones who initiated the [cease-fire] negotiations,” Meshal was quick to reply. Nonetheless, Hamas did agree to participate. “Yes, we responded to a dialogue with Egypt on that issue, for two major reasons. First, there is, obviously, our sense of danger, and we agree with Egyptian officials that there is a danger. There is a danger now, which is the Zionist danger and [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon’s violence against our people, and there are imminent dangers — and these are grave. So we’re aware of the danger at this stage. This in itself is an impetus for us to conduct a dialogue with the others [Palestinian factions]. We don’t have to agree with them, but dialogue is essential — especially in difficult times.
“Second, the Palestinian question requires a Palestinian-Palestinian understanding, as well as a Palestinian-Arab understanding, and Egypt is the gateway for the Arabs, because of its weight.”
This much-needed dialogue, Meshal explained, “doesn’t necessarily have to be on the basis of us saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but needs to start from an understanding of what we agree on and what we don’t. This allows the dialogue to focus on areas of agreement and will be in the interests of the Palestinian people. Ultimately it should allow for a clearer vision and clearer decision-making.”
But Hamas’s participation in all the stages of the dialogue, from bilateral talks with Fatah and Cairo last November to the all-factions January meeting, prompted some criticism about its motives. Did Hamas, as some observers contend, take part in the dialogue to improve its position within the Palestinian factions?
“This is not true. The Palestinian-Palestinian dialogue has been going on for years,” Meshal said. “We are, of course, keen on our relations with Egypt. Part of Hamas’s philosophy is maintaining good relations with Egypt and all Arab and Islamic countries because the Palestinian question cannot be separated from the Arab and Islamic nation.”
He shrugged off widespread speculation that Hamas was poised during the talks to agree to one of the three formulas presented for a cease- fire arrangement under which Palestinian groups would not target citizens inside the 1948 borders of Israel. “This was proposed by the movement itself and by others in the past, but the Zionist enemy did not respond with any level of seriousness. The enemy treats the Palestinians like they’re a people that doesn’t deserve to live — that has to be excluded and expelled from its land. This is why we stopped including this in our initiatives or programmes. But in the course of a dialogue with Egypt, we will discuss all the options and choices, but this is within this context which means its not Hamas’s platform.”
Although the truce was the most important item on the table, at least as far as Cairo and Fatah were concerned, other issues were discussed at length, perhaps for the first time. Topping these was what participants called the “Palestinian frame of reference” — the euphemism for the legitimate and elected leadership of the Palestinians, as contrasted with the de facto leadership by the PLO.
During the talks, the issue of whether Hamas would be willing to join the PLO was discussed, but never resolved.
Asked if Hamas had made up its mind on this matter, Meshal wouldn’t give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. He was willing to point out the “progress” made on that front, but wouldn’t describe his group’s reluctance as “reservations” about the PLO. “We don’t have reservations per se, but rather a different vision. We need a point of reference for the Palestinian political decision- making. No one should have the exclusive right to Palestinian decision-making. Decision-making has to include all the factions and express a real Palestinian decision. And we are keen to be part of this Palestinian decision-making. It’s true we are not part of the PA, and our position is to not be a part of it for obvious political considerations. We are insistent, however, about our right to be part of the frame of reference of Palestinian political decision-making.”
Hamas, however, expressed readiness to study the option of joining the PLO, as long as it rebuilds “on a political and democratic basis that allows the participation of all.” In other words, “We haven’t made a decision on the matter yet — but we also haven’t ruled out participation either.”
But how serious is the PA about making space or recognising Hamas’s demand to be part of the decision-making, many are asking. As far as Meshal is concerned, “I assume everyone is serious and I don’t question intentions.” The “battle is fierce”, he said, “and it’s affecting everybody: the PA, the opposition, the resistance factions and Fatah, because we are facing an enemy that does not distinguish among factions in the end. We are, thus, in the same battle together, which is why we have to agree politically in order to pursue our path. Despite our political differences, we share almost the same goals. If you ask any Palestinian what he wants in the end, it will be regaining his land and rights, ending the occupation, having sovereignty over his land, establishing a free state on the land, living peacefully and in unity.”
But even if the PA accepts Hamas as a partner in decision-making, Israel and the US might not be so welcoming, observers warn. For Meshal, that’s a problem for Israel and the US. “We won’t be in the PA because we don’t want to be. However, regardless of the views of the US and Israel, we are part of the Palestinian decision- making process. Yes, Hamas isn’t officially part of the framework, but practically and because of its performance on the ground and its weight, it is represented in Palestinian decision-making. This was illustrated by the [recent] Palestinian- Palestinian dialogue and Hamas’s relations with Arab regimes and the Europeans. The Europeans are now convinced that they can’t overlook Hamas in any steps they pursue on the Palestinian track. In short, we are able to impose our will on others, because we don’t impose it for political gains, but for the interest of our people.”
Meshal is worried, however, that the expected war on Iraq will impact heavily on the Palestinians. Sharon might be given a “free hand” against the Palestinians, and “he might carry out massacres, transfer the Palestinians or invade Gaza,” he said. The Israeli army is expected to escalate its crackdowns on resistance factions, and tighten the curfew further so as to starve the Palestinians. “There is also the possibility of an impact on the PA itself — perhaps even the expulsion of Arafat. All this is possible.” But, he said, as he sat up in his chair and his voice became more assertive, “There is, however, a Palestinian will that will prevent Sharon from executing his plans. Transfer will fail because our people now are different from 1947 and 1948.”
He also cites other “indirect” threats emanating from a war on Iraq, such as the distraction of neighbouring countries like Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Lebanon and “even Egypt” from their responsibilities towards the Palestinian question. “And we’re warning of this.”
But Meshal, who has become a symbol of the Islamist resistance, is not remotely ready to compromise his group’s “constants” under any circumstances, even if a war on Iraq is the worst war in modern Arab history.
“Despite all this, we have the choice and the will. We are steadfast in our will to fight and resist and we won’t succumb to this difficult reality that has been created by the US and the Zionist entity,” he said just before rising from his chair to leave.
Story about the MOSSAD’s botched hit on Meshal in Jordan in 1997:
AMMAN, JORDAN — All the hallmarks of old-style, cloak-and-dagger Middle East intrigue are on display in Jordan, as details emerge of how King Hussein has turned a bungled Israeli assassination attempt, carried out on Jordanian soil, into political gain.
Jordan signed a full peace with Israel in 1994, and Israel’s involvement in the assassination attempt on “friendly” turf – described as the “biggest no-no in the book” by one Western diplomat – is believed to have put that relationship into jeopardy.
But through deft maneuvering, diplomats and Jordanian sources say, Hussein has kept this key element of Mideast peace intact, bolstered his support at home by showing “solidarity” with Jordanians disillusioned with his peace policies, and won points with Israel and the US by dampening a potential high-profile scandal with Israel.
Few sources now doubt that the two people caught assaulting Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal on Sept. 25 in Jordan’s capital, Amman, were agents of Israel’s secret service, Mossad, posing as Canadian tourists.
One source says that, contrary to Jordan’s official denials, five Mossad operatives are in fact being held, out of an alleged hit squad of eight.
Leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement that rejects the US-brokered peace process – and whose military arm has disrupted peace talks with suicide attacks and bus bombs in Israel – are often, quietly and under control, based in Jordan.
Both the Israeli and Jordanian press have reported that the surprise 2 a.m. release Wednesday by Israel of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the ailing founder of Hamas who has been held in Israel since 1989, was part of a secret deal involving the Israeli agents.
The release of Yassin to Jordan was seen as a snub by Palestinan leader Yasser Arafat, who has for years used the sheikh as a symbol of resistance.
Significantly, Israel has not denied reports of the deal. And Jordanian officials – after first describing the attack as a scuffle between a pair of foreign tourists and Mr. Meshal’s driver – now acknowledge the assassination attempt and note Hussein’s efforts to contain the “political ramifications.”
“The king has turned this very awkward situation into a positive thing, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat,” says a senior Western diplomat. “He now holds [Israeli] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by the nose.”
Yassin’s release, however, is likely to be only the “price for the insult of carrying out such an operation in Jordan.” Hussein, he adds, will ask for much more significant concessions from Mr. Netanyahu when handling the fate of the Mossad agents.
Jordanian sources are less sanguine about the king’s fortunes, noting that Jordan’s current difficulties – unhappiness that peace with Israel has brought little tangible gain, and criticism in the Arab world – remain unaltered.
“It might look like the king has scored, but it is small compared to what could have come from the biggest scandal since the peace with Israel was signed,” says one well-connected Jordanian. “The king could have used this to accelerate the downfall of Netanyahu, so Netanyahu should thank his lucky stars, because there is not one state in the world that would not condemn this.”
Diplomats are baffled about why Israel would risk undermining its sole close Arab ally though the operation, if successful, would have been fingerprint-free. One Western analyst says that it “indicates Israel’s unashamed arrogance toward Jordan.”
Hamas politburo member Mohamed Nazzal said in an interview that the two men arrested held both Canadian and Israeli citizenship, were Jewish, “and belong 100 percent to Mossad.” Diplomats confirm that the two have declined Canadian representation, but have Canadian accents.
“This assassination attempt creates trouble for the king, which is why he has followed Meshal’s case so closely,” says Mr. Nazzal. “The Israelis didn’t deny it all, and that is the first indication [of guilt].”
The attackers used a still-mysterious hand-held device meant to poison Meshal. Diplomatic and Jordanian sources say that this device has now been inspected by American officials.
Hussein ordered that the Hamas leader be treated in Jordan’s top military hospital, and sent his own American doctor, already here on a visit. The Washington Post reported that the king asked President Clinton to intervene to help obtain the antidote.
Jordanian sources say Hussein was “furious” that such an attack occured in Jordan – tarnishing Jordan’s image as an oasis of stability – and spoke directly with Netanyahu to clear it up. One source says the Israelis called Amman first and admitted guilt, to delay publicity.
The choice presented by the king, local press and sources say, was for the Israelis to privately come clean so that Meshal’s life might be saved with the right antidote, and to minimize the impact on the peace process, or Jordan might be forced to freeze its relations with Israel.
Crown Prince Hassan, evidence of Israel’s involvement in hand, was said to have made a secret journey to Israel on Sunday, but Israeli Channel 2 said that Israel’s top Cabinet officals, Ariel Sharon, Danny Naveh, and Minister of Defense Yitzhak Mordechai, made their own secret visit to Amman over the weekend.
The crown prince was then was dispatched to Washington for an “urgent” meeting with Clinton.
In a speech on Tuesday, Hussein pointedly called upon Israel to release the “revered” sheikh. Within hours, Yassin was on his way to Amman. Hussein clambored aboard to greet him when it arrived early Wednesday.
The cloak and dagger events, which mark a “wild” week in normally quiet Jordan, diplomats say, has already proven useful for the king at home and abroad. His decision to publicly play down the assassination attempt points to the depth of his long-term strategic aim of peace with Israel.
But one Jordanian critic ascribes it instead to “fear” of Israel and the realities of dealing with the “superpower of the region.”
“The king has not backed away from the peace process,” counters a Western diplomat. “He is a solid partner…. He takes the long view, and as unfortunate as some Israeli moves may be, it is better to have peace with the people across the Jordan River than not.”