New Delhi: In an extremely important and highly newsworthy interview, the former head of Hamas’s political bureau and presently head of Hamas’s international relations office in Doha has given extensive details of the hostage-prisoner exchange Hamas and Israel are negotiating through the good offices of Qatar whilst, at the same time, admitting that it was “a mistake” to take a nine-month-old baby and an 85-year old woman hostage.
Dr Musa Abu Marzouq has also claimed that diplomats of Russia, China, Qatar and several European countries, which he did not identify, have been calling upon him in his office in Doha surreptitiously and quietly.
Asked if he really meant what he was saying, Marzouq bluntly replied in English: “yes”.
In a 60-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, where the questions were asked in English and translated into Arabic before Marzouq replied in the same language – though on a few occasions Marzouq himself replied in English – Marzouq spelt out details of the hostage-prisoner exchange Qatar is negotiating.
He said Hamas will release 50 Israeli hostages in return for Israel releasing 100 Palestinian prisoners. He said this would happen during a five-day ceasefire.
Marzouq said there were two conditions. First, Hamas wants free movement for the people of Gaza to move both north-to-south and south-to-north. He said Israel has agreed to the north-south movement but is so far not agreeing to the south-north movement.
Marzouq said the second condition is that, in addition to airstrikes completely stopping during the five-day ceasefire, there should be no movement in the skies, i.e. no reconnaissance flights or drones. So far Israel has not agreed to this condition either.
In the interview – and you must see this for yourself – Marzouq clearly seemed to contradict what Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan told the BBC on the November 16 when he claimed none of the approximately 240 Israeli hostages are in the hands of Hamas.
Instead, Marzouq said Hamas cannot compile a list of hostages until there’s a ceasefire, which clearly suggests that there are hostages in its custody. Otherwise the question of compiling a list does not arise. This was repeatedly pointed out to him and he said (from memory), “that’s the conclusion”.
Making repeatedly clear that he was only speaking for himself, Marzouq said that he believes “the ideal and only solution” is a one-state solution where Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians live together in one country with equal rights and equal privileges.
Despite repeated questioning, Marzouq would not reveal or, perhaps, I should say confirm, that Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’s political bureau, shares the same belief.
There’s an awful lot in this interview that is very newsworthy and very important because it reveals things for the first time as well as has Hamas accept its mistakes. So that I do not misconstrue and misrepresent and, therefore, mislead you, I will stop at this point and let you view the interview for yourself and hear Marzouq in his own words.
However, I will give you the full list of questions put to Marzouq. Here they are:
1. Let’s start with October 7. How does Hamas justify killing 1,200 people, the vast majority of whom were innocent civilians and often young children or even babies as well as elderly people in their 70s and 80s?
The world considers this utterly condemnable and completely unforgiveable. How do you justify it?
2. Just look at the atrocities committed. Almost 300 young people enjoying the Supernova music festival were literally butchered. What had they done to deserve being killed in this way?
3. The worst part is that the Hamas gunmen took pleasure in what they were doing. CBS News reports the Israelis have a video of a gunman called Mahmood who rang up his father and said: “Dad, I killed ten (Jews) with my bare hands … please be proud of me.”
This is not just barbaric savagery, I imagine most Palestinians would be embarrassed by this.
4. Look at the sort of people you have taken as hostages. A nine-month old baby and an 85-year-old woman. In fact, many of the hostages are elderly who need medicines and could die without them. And you have held on to them for six weeks.
5. The truth is that even President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestine Authority does not defend what Hamas has done.
This was his initial comment before he amended it for political reasons: “The policies and actions of Hamas do not represent the Palestinian people,” adding “the Palestine Liberation Organization represent(s) the Palestinian people as their sole legitimate representative and not … any other organization.”
So even your fellow Palestinians have sharply distanced themselves from Hamas?
6. A poll done by Arab Barometer, research for which concluded on the October 6 and was recently published by Foreign Affairs, shows that distrust of Hamas in Gaza is very high. Forty-four percent had no trust at all whilst 23% said they have not a lot of trust. That’s 67%.
Now after the devastation, destruction and deaths that your October 7 strike has brought upon Gaza, if the people of Gaza blame you for what’s happened, support for Hamas could collapse?
7. Alright, let’s come to a second issue. There are a spate of reports that Qatar is arranging an exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners and Reuters has said that Hamas has agreed to the broad outline of this deal and now Qatar is waiting for Israel’s broad agreement. Can you confirm this?
8. On Thursday (November 16), Osama Hamdan, a Hamas spokesperson, said on the BBC that none of the approximately 240 Israeli hostages are in the hands of Hamas. He also said that on two occasions, Hamas had wanted to return the hostages to Israel, but the obstacle was from the Israeli side.
Again, can you confirm this and what further details can you give me?
9. At least on two occasions, Israel has agreed to a disproportionately large exchange of Palestinian prisoners in return for its hostages. In 2011, Israel exchanged 1,027 prisoners for just one soldier. In 1985, it exchanged 1,150 Palestinian prisoners for three Israeli soldiers captured in Lebanon.
Are you hoping or trying for something similar this time around? The exchange of all 7,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails for the 240 hostages you hold?
10. Before we end, let’s look to the future to the extent we can. In 2017, Hamas changed its charter and was willing to accept an Israeli state alongside a Palestinian state without officially recognising it.
After what’s happened over the last six weeks, when over 12,000 Palestinians have been killed and perhaps 29,000 injured, can you go back to this position? Or is this door closed forever?
11. Are you saying to me that your position is that from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, the whole land must be Palestine? Because that means the annihilation of Israel.
12. Will Arab countries like Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Morocco accept this? After all they have diplomatic relations with Israel. And what about Saudi Arabia, which was very keen to join the Abraham Accords?[embedded content]