Charley Rose’s John Kerry Moment

In his haste to push combatants Israel and Gaza toward a ceasefire late last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry committed a huge mistake, putting forward Hamas’ agenda as a basis on which the parties might move to a momentary truce.  Kerry paid dearly for this and for the accompanying appearance of a momentary U.S. tilt toward Turkey and Qatar and Hamas in the regional politics of the Middle East.

The episode touched off an avalanche of critical commentary from Israeli sources, from both right and left, and also from moderate Palestinian sources, about Secretary Kerry’s departure from diplomatic sense. Kerry presented his initiative as if it were based on the Egyptian ceasefire proposal but offered something instead that was a tunneling under that proposal.  The episode stirred a serious rift in American-Israel relations that folks are now busy papering over.

Charlie Rose last weekend interviewed Hamas’ political head, Khaled Mashal, in Dohar, Qatar, and in his haste to provide him a forum on global television, permitted a mass murderer and planner of aggression aided by Iran to appear as a displaced post-1967 refugee from Ramallah and a run-of-the-mill freedom fighter opposed to “occupation.”   Mashal told Rose that he is not opposed to Jews, claiming that he and Hamas were open to coexisting with all sorts of religious and racial diversity in the region but opposed to Israel as an occupier and unable to live in peace with a state of occupiers.

“Charley, Charley,” Mashal pleaded, “the problem is the occupation and the siege.  We have to stop the occupation and the siege, and then we will have peace in the region.”  At varied points, Mashal revealed his unwillingness to enter into any negotiations for which the outcomes were not crystal clear, shaped by named prerequisites ahead of time and producing results Hamas desires in its conflict with Israel.


“Do you want to live in coexistence with Israel?” Rose asked, a bit exasperated. “I do not live in coexistence with occupiers and creators of settlements.” Mashal responded, repeatedly emphasizing the right of humans to be free.  “We want to live on a par with every other nation in the world.  We want to live in Palestine.”

Later in the interview, talking about a two state solution and a demilitarized Palestinian state, Mashal said: “You cannot transgress me.  I as a Palestinian have the right to live in a sovereign country, to have a militarized state….  Who accepts a state without arms….? I cannot accept any tutelage of another entity.”  So much for President Obama’s or Prime Minister’s desires for a demilitarized Gaza.

You might derive as an insight from watching Rose and Mashal that Mashal is basically concerned with national self-determination.  You might think he and Hamas are interchangeable with Mahmood Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.  Their goals and methods appear the same.  Their commitment to liberation are the same.

You might even think that if Israel would life the siege and reopen Gaza’s border, permit open trade, agree to establish a port, expand fishing, and create an airport, all would be fine.   Hamas would beat its rockets into plowshares and coexist with its neighbor Israel.  This is what is so misleading.

At no point did Charley Rose ask Khaled Mashal about the key Hamas documents that set out the movement’s principles and purposes.  At no point did Charley Rose probe about the importation of long range rockets and construction of scores of aggressive action tunnels in the past few years; at no point did Rose probe the alliances that permitted such plans despite Israel’s best efforts to keep  Gaza cordoned off.

At no point, disappointingly, did Rose either probe Hamas as a unit of the Muslim Brotherhood or its self-understanding as a link in the chain of confrontation with the Zionist “invasion” of the region, including jihadist efforts against the Jews dating back to 1936 and 1948 as well as to 1968 and since.

Near the end of the attention-challenging interview, Mashal reiterated: “We do not fight the Jews because they are Jews, per se…..  We fight them because they are occupiers.”  Rose asked: “Do you want to coexist with the State of Israel?”  Mashal said, “No….  I do not want to live with a state of occupiers.”

By definition, Charley Rose, Hamas understands Israel as an occupier.  In its very existence it is an occupier. In Hamas’ view, Palestine is an Islamic Waqf and will remain so until the Day of Resurrection.  Article XII in the Hamas charter says: “Hamas regards Nationalism (Wataniyya) as part and parcel of the religious faith. Nothing is loftier or deeper in Nationalism than waging Jihad against the enemy and confronting him when he sets foot on the land of the Muslims.”

In this view, peace negotiations, conferences and the like “are no more than a means to appoint the nonbelievers as arbitrators in the lands of Islam.”  All such initiatives have no standing and are not to be considered appropriate; the burden on all Muslims, Hamas believes, is to liberate the Islamic land.

Mashal was reciting the charter in answering Charley Rose when he talked about coexistence:  “Under the shadow of Islam it is possible for the members of the three religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism to coexist in safety and security.”  But the charter continues, as did Mashal: “Safety and security can only prevail under the shadow of Islam… The members of other religions must desist from struggling against Islam over sovereignty in this region.”

In today’s Jerusalem Post, Professor Meir Litvak, the director for the Alliance Center of Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University and a Hamas expert, indicates Mashal was speaking half the truth. Litvak emphasizes that Hamas believes “Jews could live as a protected minority under a benevolent Muslim state, and this is the only possible peace.” “Living with Jews does not mean coexisting with an Israeli state.”

Like Kerry, Charley nodded toward Mashal and Hamas to do an interview.  Also like Kerry, he somehow failed to comprehend the essence of the matter, instead closing his interview dangling hints about coexistence and peace after some alleged future time when Israel should cease to be an occupier.  Never.

About the Author
Kenneth Waltzer is former director of Jewish Studies at Michigan State University and a progressive opponent of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. He a historian of the Holocaust completing a book on the rescue of children and youths at Buchenwald. He directed the Academic Engagement Network 2015-2019.
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