DOHA, Qatar ― Six months into a war Hamas started ― with more than 33,000 Palestinians dead, more succumbing to famine daily and Israel determined to continue its aggressive campaign against the organization with robust American military support ― the militant group says it is confident it will wield significant influence in the future, come what may in Gaza.

Hamas believes its shock Oct. 7 attack on Israel achieved its goal of reigniting global concern for decades-long Palestinian subjugation, and it views the Israelis and Americans as intent on deepening the fighting rather than taking genuine steps toward an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Additionally, it does not see itself as responsible for civilian deaths during that assault, in which Hamas-led fighters killed about 1,200 Israelis, more than half of them civilians, and took up to 240 hostages in violation of international law.

That’s how Mousa Abu Marzouk and Basem Naim, two senior Hamas leaders, presented their group’s current thinking in two lengthy, separate recent interviews with HuffPost, providing extremely rare hours-long, in-person access to a Western media outlet after complex negotiations and amid an extraordinarily delicate time in the war.

The group acknowledged it still holds dozens of captives ― including about 40 people Hamas counts in a humanitarian category as noncombatants, among them some civilians, and likely five Americans (the number of U.S. citizens a State Department spokesperson said remain unaccounted for since Oct. 7). But the Hamas leaders expressed little faith in negotiations for a pause in combat involving the release of those hostages in exchange for Palestinians held by Israel, the stated goal of President Joe Biden, who in recent days has pushed Israel and intermediaries with Hamas to successfully reach an agreement.

Both Hamas leaders said their group remains committed to a 2017 political document that represented a tempering of its hard-line historic views ― a manifesto that claims Hamas has no quarrel with the Jewish people or Judaism broadly, instead opposing only aggressive actions fueled by Zionism. That suggests Hamas would accept a Palestinian state limited to territories Israel did not control before 1967, aligning it with the idea of a two-state solution.

Like the assertions of any player, particularly actual combatants, in this most sensitive of conflicts, their portrayal of the situation deserves to be taken with a large grain of salt.

Abu Marzouk’s own comments cast doubt on whether Hamas would tolerate a Palestinian state coexisting with Israel, particularly after Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed more extensive than any since the establishment of Israel in historic Palestine in 1948.

“The Israelis are creating generation after generation full of hatred, full of rage, full of a feeling of taking revenge, by killing Palestinians on a daily basis… I think that the Palestinians would not accept Israel in any case, but the Palestinians have no other option: The only option for the Palestinians is to live in this land to resist the occupation,” Abu Marzouk told HuffPost via a translator. Claiming most Israelis have dual citizenship ― an assertion that is not borne out by publicly available evidence and was rejected by an Israeli official who said the government does not have statistics on the matter ― he added: “They have a lot of options. And they can leave the land of Palestine at any time when they feel that it’s not beneficial anymore.”

Meanwhile, international opprobrium over and research on Hamas’ Oct. 7 violence is still growing.

HuffPost this week obtained new information about one major forthcoming report. Belkis Wille, an associate director at Human Rights Watch who has spent months working on an in-depth investigation of the attack, told HuffPost her organization has verified photo and video evidence of fighters with the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, “targeting and killing civilians,” citing the attackers’ uniforms and bandannas. Some attackers who were in civilian clothing were also clearly coordinating with al-Qassam fighters, she added.

Still, Western and Arab governments, along with most outside experts, believe Hamas will remain relevant to the future of Israel-Palestine regardless of how the current war concludes. Abu Marzouk and Naim clearly agree.

In speaking with HuffPost about ideas being considered by the U.S., Israel and other players about what comes next for the region, the Hamas leaders expressed deep opposition to proposals that are currently under discussion and a determination to scuttle particular plans.

Abu Marzouk responded to reported discussions about a new military force in Gaza comprising troops from various countries, including Arab states, by saying: “As a movement, we will fight against any force, whether it was from any nationality, in the Gaza Strip.”

Few people would have presumed Hamas to align with American and Israeli goals. However, Abu Marzouk’s reference to nationalities is striking, given the assumption in some circles that Hamas and other militants in Gaza would be loath to fight forces from countries like Egypt due to Palestinians’ links with other Arab nations. His remarks suggest that although Hamas is not outright challenging Arab governments, it does not see a red line in attacking their soldiers.

No Arab country “would participate with the Israeli occupation” or with American policy in Gaza, even if those states are unable to openly confront U.S. or Israeli policies, Abu Marzouk said. “No one has the right to subjugate the Palestinians for slavery or for oppression.”

He and Naim also challenged hopes around the March 14 appointment of economist Mohammed Mustafa as the new prime minister of the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority, or PA, which controls parts of the occupied West Bank and from which Hamas wrested control of Gaza in 2007. Significantly, they framed their rejection not as a product of factionalism among Palestinians ― Hamas has long despised PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who tapped Mustafa ― but as a reaction to U.S.-driven interference in intra-Palestinian discussions.

“To continue imposing policies and governments and figures on Palestinians, this will never lead to sustainable security or stability or prosperity in the region, not only in Palestine,” argued Naim, who was previously a minister in Hamas’ administration in Gaza. “Hamas is an inherent part of the political fabric of the Palestinians and is a strong power, and no one can easily decide to overcome it or to avoid it. Any agreement with any other party will not lead to stability or a solution.”

This story draws on HuffPost’s interviews and conversations about Hamas over months with dozens of officials and analysts.

Securing access to Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas in the Palestinian diaspora and a prominent politburo member, and Naim, chief of Hamas’ political and foreign relations department and a member of its Gaza bureau, was not easy.

It involved tapping a range of trusted sources to make contact, investing in costly travel and tactfully operating in a sensitive location, given Qatar’s interest in being the chief mediator between Hamas and the outside world and pressure from some in the U.S. over its links to the Palestinian group.

When HuffPost visited Abu Marzouk at a large, beige compound in a suburb of the Qatari capital of Doha ― a world away from the Persian Gulf state’s ritzy sea-front hotels ― a Qatari police officer stationed outside repeatedly challenged the idea that a meeting was scheduled. Inside, another Qatari security official subjected HuffPost to an extensive search, a step Abu Marzouk’s Hamas aides apologized for, seemed embarrassed about and made sure to say was due to Qatar’s requirements. (Notably, Israel has tried to assassinate senior Hamas figures, such as Khaled Meshal, a close associate of Abu Marzouk.)

We also did not take the prospect of hearing and sharing Hamas’ views lightly.

Still, HuffPost assessed that interviewing Abu Marzouk and Naim provided an uncommon opportunity to inform our audience and to question Hamas about global concerns and its actions on matters including harming civilians and the handling of humanitarian relief desperately needed in Gaza.

Senior Hamas figure Mousa Abu Marzouk, seen here in Doha, Qatar, on March 30, is the group's deputy leader outside its base in Gaza.
Senior Hamas figure Mousa Abu Marzouk, seen here in Doha, Qatar, on March 30, is the group’s deputy leader outside its base in Gaza.

Akbar Shahid Ahmed/HuffPost

HuffPost this week shared key Hamas statements included in this article with spokespeople at the State Department, the National Security Council at the White House and Israel’s embassy in Washington.

Only a State Department spokesperson responded, reaffirming the U.S. stance against dealing with Hamas, which it lists as a terrorist group, beyond limited indirect communications through third parties, such as Egypt and Qatar, as it makes plans for a territory where Hamas is deeply ingrained.

“We do not engage in public debates with terrorist organizations like Hamas,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. “The U.S. remains committed to advancing the realization of an independent Palestinian state, standing side by side with Israel in peace and security.”

Oct. 7 Bloodshed And The Hostage Crisis

In Israel, where thousands of anxious people await reunions with the hostages still in Gaza, and in Washington, where Biden administration officials daily promise to help those hostages and the U.S.-Israel alliance is sacrosanct, Oct. 7 is a constant touchstone, so devastating and unprecedented a wound that it feels almost as fresh six months later.

In discussing the assault with Hamas leaders, it is clear it’s not a matter they want to linger on, both because they do not want to dissect responsibility for atrocities committed that day, which are undeniable even for them, and because they see Gaza’s current conditions and their long-term goals as more important.

“History didn’t start on Oct. 7. Before Oct. 7, we were besieged,” Naim said. He said he was out of “the open-air prison” of Gaza “accidentally” because he had traveled to Turkey for meetings prior to the attack; his wife and children remain in Gaza, which Israel and then Egypt blockaded after Hamas took over in 2007, tightly limiting entry and exit.

Naim listed additional developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that Hamas has cited as inspiring the assault: attacks by Israeli extremists on the Haram al-Sharif, or Temple Mount, sacred to Jews and Muslims alike; Israeli steps toward annexing the occupied West Bank; and the “Judaization” of Jerusalem.

“Therefore, we consider this an act of defense. We were squeezed; we were suppressed,” he continued.

Pressed on the brutality of the Hamas incursion, Naim said Hamas told its fighters to avoid noncombatants. He attempted to shift blame for civilian deaths away from the attackers and onto the attacked, saying the Palestinian group was surprised Israel’s defensive lines collapsed so quickly, enabling many people not associated with Hamas to cross from Gaza into Israel.

“There was chaos…. We cannot be responsible for the chaos that has taken place after one, two hours,” he said, pointing to reports that Israeli troops responding to the violence killed some civilians, which the Israel Defense Forces have confirmed and continue to investigate.

“There was no intention to harm or to attack any of the civilians,” Naim claimed. “This operation was designed and conducted and launched only to attack military bases and maybe to take some soldiers hostage to exchange with thousands of Palestinians, some of whom have now spent 44 years in jail, like Nael Al-Barghouti,” whom Israel arrested in 1978, released in 2011 and re-arrested in 2014.

Of the more than 760 casualties on Oct. 7 who were civilians, at least 36 were children, according to Israeli government reports. Hamas’ claim that its fighters did not target civilians is contradicted by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and numerous news reports. Amanda Klasing, the national director for government relations at Amnesty USA, told HuffPost her group has verified footage of “Palestinian fighters shooting at civilians on 7 October.”

“Hamas and other armed groups also took civilians as hostages and have repeatedly fired indiscriminate rockets into Israel, killing and injuring civilians. These attacks are war crimes,” Klasing added.

Did Hamas anticipate the sweeping response to its foray from Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?

Abu Marzouk told HuffPost: “We thought that America [would] allow for a partial aggression against Gaza, especially given that most of the victims are civilians.”

“We didn’t expect this brutality of America,” he said, citing an article in The Washington Post published the day before that revealed Biden greenlighted additional bombs and fighter jets for Israel. In the 1990s, the U.S. detained Abu Marzouk for more than a year over terrorism allegations; it deported him and continues to list him as a “specially designated national” under U.S. sanctions.

In Hamas’ view, they have sought negotiations and an end to fighting since soon after the attack. On Oct. 17, an unnamed senior Hamas official told NBC News that the group was willing to release all civilians ― Israelis and foreigners ― if Israel stopped bombing Gaza.

Through intermediaries, Israel and Hamas did a month later agree on a weeklong pause in combat that allowed more than 100 hostages to be released and increased humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza. But that bargain fell apart on Dec. 1, and efforts to secure a similar deal in months since, which intensified in February and March and which Biden has described as a priority, have not borne fruit.

The Hamas leaders described having little optimism over negotiations, which are continuing and have evolved since HuffPost’s interviews and international outrage over Israel’s Monday killing of aid workers associated with the World Central Kitchen nonprofit.

“We cannot say that we have reached common ground… to talk about details,” Naim said on March 29, referring to matters like the timeline and the process of releases or steps toward a possible Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

In recent days, Israeli officials told reporters that they were becoming flexible on one question: letting displaced Gazans return to the northern part of the territory. On Monday, however, an Israeli source downplayed hopes of a deal in speaking with the Haaretz newspaper. On Thursday, Hamas rejected a framework approved by Israel and the intermediaries, blaming Netanyahu; separately, Biden urged Netanyahu “to empower his negotiators to conclude a deal without delay to bring the hostages home.”

Both Hamas figures argued Netanyahu is personally unwilling to halt the war because it would mean his political collapse ― echoing an assessment that is now widely shared in global capitals. They described frustration with Biden’s continued support for his Israeli counterpart despite that position and deep distrust in the role of the U.S., which has historically attempted to be an intermediary in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

“The problem with the Americans is they want to support Israel regardless of the Israeli policies, and this is against the American policies through history,” Abu Marzouk said, describing Americans as “vital collaborators” for Netanyahu rather than “mediators.”

Citing U.S. talk of pausing the Israeli offensive to enable hostage releases and what he cast as Washington’s assessment that Israel had “failed” to achieve its aims, Naim argued: “America is in line strategically with Israel about the war and the goals. No differences. What we observe sometimes is a tactical difference; it is not a strategic difference.”

“During the negotiations, yes, we have seen sometimes that they are pressuring [Israel] to reach something. At the beginning [of the war], we have seen what we called identical positions. … There is a clear shift, but again it is a tactical shift, and I think this is because of the internal pressures [on Biden] in the year of the election; this is because of the fear that the war might be broadened in the region and the Americans want to go out of the region, not to go back to the region; and thirdly, that they see that this is not serving the security and stability of Israel itself in the long run,” he added. “All this together led them to exercise some pressure, but … they have all the cards to end this aggression.”

While CIA Director William Burns is involved in the Israel-Hamas bargaining, and is traveling to Cairo this weekend looking to advance those discussions, the primary players are various Hamas leaders ― notably commanders still in Gaza, led by Oct. 7 planner Yahya Sinwar ― and Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. On Saturday, Hamas said it would send a new delegation to the discussions but would not abandon its demands for a full cease-fire and Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza.

Burned-out houses in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Israel, where Hamas-led militants massacred and kidnapped residents on Oct. 7, 2023.
Burned-out houses in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Israel, where Hamas-led militants massacred and kidnapped residents on Oct. 7, 2023.

DIMA VAZINOVICH/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images

Mossad officials had in previous rounds of talks indicated they were keen to reach a deal and viewed Netanyahu as the barrier to a possible agreement, a separate source familiar with the talks told HuffPost.

Naim said Hamas “partially” shares that assessment but added some potential insight into Hamas’ calculus in dealing with Israel’s deeply divided political scene and what may be driving Hamas to accept or reject possible deals.

“I don’t think that is the only cause,” he told HuffPost. He cited polls showing most Israelis support the campaign in Gaza. He also noted fractures within Israel’s society over a judicial power grab by Netanyahu and the question of whether ultra-Orthodox men should perform military service, which drew the Israeli military into polarizing debates.

“After all these discussions, the army started to lose some of its holiness,” Naim said. Then, “when Oct. 7 came, all the security apparatus failed. They are not so eager to end the aggression because they themselves feel that, ‘We have failed and this is our duty.’”

An Israeli official disputed the Hamas version of the negotiations to HuffPost, saying: “Despite what’s being publicly written, Hamas is the one that brings conditions that cannot be met.”

HuffPost asked Naim, in relation to negotiations about halting the fighting, how Hamas sees the possibility of an Israeli attack on the Palestinian town of Rafah, where Netanyahu says he intends to invade, close to 1.5 million Palestinians have taken shelter and the Biden administration says it cannot support an Israeli advance without a meaningful plan to shield civilians.

“We believe that now it is part of the pressure on the negotiators, but at the same time we are preparing ourselves for the worst,” Naim responded.

Then he alluded to a theme that both Hamas figures frequently, and hopefully, referenced: forceful Israeli actions sparking worldwide furor.

Noting Rafah’s location on Gaza’s border with Egypt, which has a 45-year-old peace treaty with Israel but also a population wary of the Jewish state, Naim said Netanyahu’s “mistakes here could flare a bigger war.”

He added: “We have now international awareness about the whole conflict, especially Rafah. It’s totally different from the beginning.”

On Friday, White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that the Biden administration plans to continue conversations with Israel about a possible Rafah mission in the coming weeks.

Who Speaks For The Palestinians?

Netanyahu has regularly pledged to “destroy” Hamas, an outcome Biden has repeatedly endorsed.

U.S. intelligence and most independent analysts do not see that as achievable on the battlefield. Last week, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted Israeli military officials as saying their government has overestimated how many Hamas fighters it has eliminated so far, since it is in some zones logging any Palestinian killed, including civilians, as Hamas combatants.

But some outside opponents of the armed Palestinian group describe another way to undercut Hamas: boosting misery and frustration among Gaza’s residents so they fully reject their former rulers, blaming them for a collapse in living standards in the strip that U.S. aid officials describe as “unprecedented in modern history.”

Palestinians walk among extensive destruction Tuesday after the Israeli army withdrew from the Al-Shifa Hospital and the surrounding areas west of Gaza City.
Palestinians walk among extensive destruction Tuesday after the Israeli army withdrew from the Al-Shifa Hospital and the surrounding areas west of Gaza City.

Dawoud Abo Alkas/Anadolu via Getty Images

HuffPost asked the two Hamas leaders about two recent polls of Palestinians that suggested their group is losing some sway.

Amid conversations in Washington and beyond about post-war planning, the question of who can actually speak for the community and build stability amid the envisioned reconstruction of Gaza and renewal of diplomatic negotiations is crucial. It’s even more consequential as various Palestinian groups ― from Abbas’ Fatah party, which runs the PA, to Hamas ― hold first-of-their-kind consultations among themselves.

On March 20, the respected Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki published his latest survey of Palestinians in both Gaza and the occupied West Bank, conducted March 5 to 10. He reported “a significant change” compared with his previous poll, in December, in terms of an 11% drop in support for Hamas. Separately, polling over a similar period by a West Bank-based think tank called the Institute for Social and Economic Progress said more than 78% of Gazans want to be governed by the PA or a Palestinian unity government, with only 3% preferring Hamas rule, and it noted Hamas leaders were “very unpopular” in the Gaza Strip.

Abu Marzouk and Naim were immediately familiar with the Shikaki statistics.

Abu Marzouk, who has been central to Hamas since its founding in the 1980s, argued his faction’s support has only increased over time and would understandably fall given Israel’s pummeling of Palestinians. “We know the amount of suffering which has hit the people in Gaza, but this is the occupation’s policy through history,” Abu Marzouk said.

Both he and Naim cast the question of how many Palestinians support Hamas as less significant than what they claimed the organization represents: the fiercest force for Palestinian rights.

Saying “we are following this closely,” Naim told HuffPost: “I usually refuse to portray this conflict as if it is between Hamas and Israel. It is between Palestinians and Israel…. Today it is with Hamas, 20 years ago it was with Fatah, 30 years ago it was with the old [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine or PFLP].”

“There is a small decrease in the popularity of Hamas, but when you look to questions like, for example, supporting resistance in general…. When it comes to how much Palestinians are still supporting the operation of Oct. 7, you will find a huge majority,” Naim said. “When you ask about a political affiliation, there are a lot of people who are supporting Hamas as a resistance movement, but they are not affiliated ideologically to Hamas; they are secular.”

Shikaki’s report said 71% of Palestinians currently support Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack (a similar proportion as in his December poll) and 55% saw armed resistance as the way to break “the stalemate” with Israel, though he noted a drop in overall support for “armed struggle.”

In the Hamas leaders’ telling, their group is aiming not to rule but to work with other Palestinians for a new setup uniting the community.

Both Abu Marzouk and Naim pointed to a summit last month in Moscow that drew 14 Palestinian factions together to discuss establishing a nonpartisan, widely acceptable government ― an outcome Abu Marzouk claimed the U.S. and Abbas sought to stymie by trying “to end any Palestinian internal understanding” through the new PA appointment shortly after the summit.

“America does not want unity among the Palestinians…. Many times the U.S. has claimed that they don’t want the participation of terrorists in any body of the [Palestine Liberation Organization, the internationally recognized official representative of the Palestinian people], and they are meaning the active factions in the Palestinian arena: Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the PFLP,” Abu Marzouk said.

In extensive remarks, Naim promoted Hamas’ evident desire to no longer be perceived globally as overly extreme or too intolerant of other Palestinian forces.

“No one has to be afraid that if the Palestinians sit together, they will go far and extreme to choose, for example, a radical leadership or a radical political track ― I’m sure you will find a very balanced leadership,” he argued. Naim claimed his group is prioritizing Palestinian elections and a way “to launch, with the aid of the international community, a political track which can end with an independent Palestinian state on 1967 borders.”

He asserted these professed goals show Hamas is thinking “rationally,” despite its horror over Israeli actions in Gaza. “It reflects that generally the Palestinian leadership, starting with Hamas and ending with Fatah and in between, they know what’s feasible and what’s not feasible,” he said.

To give credence to its talk of a truly inclusive new Palestinian regime, Hamas will likely need to go beyond rhetoric to address suspicions about its willingness to share power and rule transparently. The group cracked down on protesters, political opponents and alleged Israeli collaborators when it ruled Gaza, human rights groups say, and outside analysts have urged it to be more open about its processes of selecting leaders and policies (though, unlike Abbas and the PA, it has had regular leadership changes). It also boycotted PA-organized municipal elections for Palestinians, saying it would only accept elections at all levels, including for Abbas’ post.

The Hamas figures maintained the refusal to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace comes not from them but from Biden and Netanyahu.

“America is now claiming that they are supporting the two-state solution, but …they are doing their best to undermine the Palestinian side, especially in this open conflict with Hamas, by supporting the weak Palestinian side of the PA in front of the most powerful side, which is Israel supported by the U.S.,” Abu Marzouk said.

Rather than debate the sincerity of his group, he continued, “at least they should put Hamas under the test by allowing the Palestinians to create a state. The ones who are refusing a Palestinian state are the Israelis.”

There’s significant evidence for that final claim.

Netanyahu’s far-right government has long decried the prospect of Palestinian statehood, and earlier this year, more than 80% of Israel’s parliament voted to reject international recognition of a Palestinian state without a deal with Israel, a possibility the U.S. and European states are considering. On Thursday, the same day he held a tense call with Biden, Netanyahu told Republican members of the U.S. Congress that he perceives “an attempt to force, ram down our throats, a Palestinian state, which will be another terror haven.”

The Players On The Board

The Hamas figures’ reading of the politics of their adversaries seemed to temper their expectations of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement soon while making them wary of what might happen if that process is delayed much longer.

Pointing to the rightward shift in Israeli politics, Naim called the trend “so huge and so deep and radical that it is clearly converting this conflict from a political conflict about land and independence and United Nations resolutions into a religious conflict.”

“If we reach this point, this conflict will not be solvable,” he added, contrasting current players with “wiser leaders” of Israel’s past, whom he described as more pragmatic and concerned with at least, as he put it, “pretending” to comply with international norms.

Netanyahu’s coalition government is objectively the most conservative in Israel’s 76-year existence. Experts believe even administrations led by likely alternatives, such as retired Gen. Benny Gantz or Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid ― both well-liked in Washington, where Gantz visited last month before calling for a fresh Israeli election and where Lapid will go next week ― are likely to be hawkish on Palestinian affairs.

When Lapid was in power in 2021, Naim noted, his administration approved what the European Union deemed an “exponentially high” number of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.

Naim expressed interest in nuances of U.S. politics, asking HuffPost whether newly widespread pro-Palestinian sentiment seemed likely to last or to fade away. He viewed Biden’s reelection bid as partially shaping U.S. policy. “Maybe they are still trying in the year of the election to balance the internal pressure because of Muslims, Arabs and leftists, and on the other side, the Jewish lobbies,” Naim said.

U.S. President Joe Biden, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Oct. 18, 2023.
U.S. President Joe Biden, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Oct. 18, 2023.

ISRAELI GOVERNMENT PRESS OFFICE (GPO) / HANDOUT via Getty Images

HuffPost additionally asked the Hamas figures about the role in the war and Israel-Palestine affairs played by the two behemoths in their neighborhood: Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Iran, a U.S. antagonist, has been a Hamas ally for decades, seeking to build popularity in the Muslim-majority world through its links to the Palestinian cause. Saudi Arabia, a U.S. partner, was before Oct. 7 rapidly moving toward establishing diplomatic relations with Israel after decades of shunning the state. But Palestinians said the process — still the chief Middle East focus of the Biden administration — ignored their concerns and risked marginalizing them for good by convincing Israel it could secure Arab allies without resolving its conflict with Palestinians.

Abu Marzouk was careful in discussing both players.

Though disrupting so-called Israel-Saudi “normalization” is widely seen as one purpose for the war, and though Hamas has had strained ties with the Saudis, Abu Marzouk did not criticize the kingdom, which is trying to combat claims it was willing to sacrifice Palestinian interests. He noted that Saudi Arabia has re-emphasized its 2002 position that all Arab nations would make peace with Israel if it withdrew from Palestinian territories it captured in 1967, recognized a Palestinian state within them and offered a plan for Palestinian refugees displaced by its founding.

Then he offered a narrative that blames Israel for hurting both the Saudis and the Americans ― bolstering Hamas’ overall argument that it’s the Jewish state that is unreasonable and a liability, with an eye toward winning over a U.S. audience.

Washington and Riyadh seek to develop links between the entire Islamic world and Israel, and “to empower the American position in the region to confront China and Russia,” Abu Marzouk argued. “But it’s obvious that the Israeli doings are now eliminating all the American efforts in the region. The big question is to what extent Americans will keep supporting Israel even if it is undermining their strategies… they are destroying the image of the Americans with the whole region.”

In addressing the subject of Iran, the Hamas leader struck a similar note by suggesting Israel is endangering the U.S., telling HuffPost it is “very obvious … Israeli government practices are actually pushing a war between Iran and America.”

Western officials have expressed similar fears to HuffPost, with one U.S official recently saying American intelligence has for months given policymakers “warnings and alarm bells” about Israel pursuing a broader conflict, likely beginning in Lebanon, which, according to The Wall Street Journal, Netanyahu sought to launch a campaign in soon after Oct. 7. An Israeli airstrike killed Iranian officials in Syria this week, and on Friday, CBS News reported that U.S. intelligence agencies believe an Iranian retaliation could come by early next week, potentially fueling a spiral of escalation that ultimately forces the U.S. to become militarily involved in defense of Israel.

Yet Abu Marzouk was circumspect about how Iran itself has stoked regional tensions, in part through its support for Hamas.

“Saying that the Palestinians are resisting the occupation because of Iranian support is false,” he said. “We were confronting the English occupation from 1919 to 1947…. Iranian support came late, after 1990. We are talking about 70 years of resisting occupation before Iranian support.”

Though Naim acknowledged that Hamas receives weapons from other countries, Abu Marzouk claimed the group “is using homemade weapons.”

“If the weapons or assistance came from Iran, the Palestinian resistance would not remain steadfast for six months” amid Israel’s near-total siege on Gaza, he said.

Well before Oct. 7, however, Iran gave Hamas tens of millions of dollars for arms and for training and technical assistance, current and former intelligence officials told The Washington Post.

White House Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer has called Iran “broadly complicit” in the attack. Iran rejected that depiction, and Naim rebutted it to HuffPost, saying, “For us, Oct. 7 is a pure Palestinian operation: planning, implementing and paying also the price of the repercussions of the response.”

‘Putting Them On Notice’

HuffPost discussed Hamas’ statements and its role in Israeli-Palestinian developments with two longtime analysts of the conflict.

Both described Abu Marzouk’s comment warning that Hamas would battle any possible multinational force for Gaza as especially noteworthy.

“Any nation that is even considering ― or being pressured by the U.S. to consider ― participating is going to take that seriously… [The comments are] basically putting them on notice that they’re going into what’s still a contested area,” said Lara Friedman, the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace think tank. “This is the kind of statement which underscores what a big ask that would be and the risk that the members would face.”

Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute think tank, called Abu Marzouk’s remark “a pretty bold statement intended to dissuade people moving in that line.”

Even if Hamas strategically decided not to attack soldiers sent by Arab states or other Muslim-majority countries, such as Turkey, the group could quietly facilitate attacks by other militants in Gaza, he noted.

Despite Israeli claims of fighting until Hamas is destroyed, “I don’t know anyone who considers the argument that Israel will eradicate Hamas as credible,” Friedman told HuffPost. “Even Israel’s own intelligence and national security forces have weighed in that that is unrealistic… [and] resistance is not merely card-carrying Hamas members.”

Asked whether to take Hamas seriously about its apparent openness to a two-state settlement, the analysts suggested the U.S., long the chief broker in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has never done so. America’s approach has been to pursue a peace settlement with parties it defines as “good Palestinians” while seeing little value in Palestinian unity or engaging all parts of the community, said Elgindy, a former adviser to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.

Given Hamas’ own interests and its limited capacity, a two-state solution ― requiring the organization to tolerate Israel regardless of likely deep lingering disdain for it ― might be the only good outcome for the group.

“I don’t see any other way for Hamas to be politically relevant. They’re not going to be the ones who liberate Palestine ‘from the river to the sea,’” Elgindy said. “Like all political movements, they want to lead and govern, and their only hope of doing that is in the context of a state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.”

To Friedman, Hamas’ 2017 statement had represented an opportunity “if someone is looking for a partner and for an offramp that involves, genuinely, two states.”

“I’m not suggesting that Hamas is a good actor here. I’m suggesting we’ve never tested it,” added Friedman, a former State Department official.

But it’s hard to see how all parties involved would shift their positions in the way experts believe necessary for an effective renewed bid to secure an agreement on a mutually coexisting Israel and Palestine.

Israel would need to be convinced to reject the easy-to-sell view that Palestinian statehood after Oct. 7 represents what hard-liners there, like current Finance Minister Belazel Smotrich, describe as “a prize for the terrible massacre.”

Hamas would need to acknowledge how its actions make peace harder to secure ― and cultivate trust in its willingness to cease violence. Though the group is correct to see a rightward trend in Israeli politics, it must see it “helped contribute to that trend,” Elgindy said, and may have “all but guaranteed it.”

“Even though they didn’t invent the trend, the operation of Oct. 7 definitely accelerated and strengthened that trend, so there needs to be a little bit more self-awareness,” he added.

Meanwhile, Abbas would have to allow Palestinian society to evolve a new political dialogue by softening his grip on power, a step he has resisted despite huge pushback. It’s apt to read Mustafa’s appointment as a gambit by Abbas, Elgindy said, a way to send the message: “I have full authority to appoint whomever I want, and it’s not up to Hamas.”

Though that may be true procedurally, “politically it’s a nonstarter,” the analyst said. “Eventually [Abbas] is going to need Hamas approval one way or another. If he’s expecting that Hamas will disappear and therefore he will have a free hand to do whatever he wants, that’s just silly.”

And finally, Washington would need to reconsider a range of policies ― some dating back decades and supported by politicians from both parties, others firmly tied to Biden.

The U.S. has worked for years to block the establishment of a Palestinian administration that includes all factions, Friedman said, using steps such as legislation barring American aid to the PA if it included individuals whom Washington saw as unsuitable to signal “we would put in place all sorts of obstacles to that happening.”

Elgindy honed in on the president’s six-month-old decision to adopt Israel’s war plans wholesale, which many Biden allies now see as a mistake.

“We’ve never had a U.S. administration openly and explicitly working toward the defeat of a particular Palestinian group,” he said. Elgindy noted that President Ronald Reagan did not share Israel’s 1980s goal of destroying the Palestine Liberation Organization and that President George W. Bush pushed Israel to stop targeting PA leader Yasser Arafat.

“That’s a problem for the U.S. having any kind of role in a peace process or even as a stabilizing force in Gaza going forward,” he told HuffPost.

“I can’t think of any U.S. administration that has been this unconditional in its support for Israeli war aims and actions on the ground,” Elgindy said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”


source

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