Once we sat down to talk, the routines of profession took
over, and my angst receded. But there was another more subtle feeling that
crept up on me during this process. I couldn't put my finger on it at first.
But, slowly, I became aware of a sense of inner futility beneath the surface
excitement and anxiety.
In 1989, as a much younger journalist, I was full of hope
going in to interview Fatah terrorist leader Abu Iyad, and even more so coming
out of our exchange. The PLO had just issued its Declaration of Independence at
Algiers, and Abu Iyad had become the group's greatest internal advocate for
turning toward the West and toward a negotiated two-state solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was a thrill, and a kind of redemptory
personal moment, to have some modest proximity to what seemed like the brink of
an historic moment.
Sitting down with Marzook 22 years later, the peace process
that then seemed aborning now seemed aborted. And here I was again, with a
group nowhere near even where Fatah had been at the point of our encounter.
This time, I went in with a radically more modest sense of not just the
situation's potential but of my own as a journalistic agent of change. Now in
middle age, I was an older, different, even more tired person who saw no light
at the end of this tunnel, and expected none.
Abu Marzook's answers to my questions only reinforced my
feelings. He stressed that, should peace talks someday restart, any agreement
reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority would be subject to
far-reaching changes if Hamas ever came to power in a democratic Palestinian
state. He said that his group would view an agreement -- even one ratified by a
referendum of all Palestinians -- as a hudna,
or armed truce, rather than as a peace treaty. In power, Hamas would feel free
to shift away from those provisions of the agreement that define it as a peace
treaty, he said, and move instead toward a relationship or armed truce.
"We will not recognize Israel as a state," he said
emphatically. He argued this would still be an improvement over present
conditions. "What's the relationship between Israel and Syria and Lebanon right
now?" Marzook asked.
But the answer to this question -- closed borders, barbed wire, no trade, no
commerce, no diplomats, and arms build-ups on each side, to the best of each
side's respective abilities, in preparation for a possible war -- hardly seemed
auspicious to me.
I asked, would a final peace treaty between Israel and a
Palestinian state that called for fully normalized relations not bind Hamas if
it came to power later? "No. I don't think any kind of treaty can 'stuck'
anybody in the future," Marzook replied. "Just read history."
I left Egypt in a rush immediately after our second day
interview, to be back in time to celebrate the first night of Passover at our
family seder on Manhattan's Upper West Side. As we sang the traditional songs
about the ancient Israelites' own rushed flight from Egypt, I sat apart glumly
wondering: In 20 more years would I be on my way back to the Middle East, with
cane in hand, to be the first journalist from a Jewish publication to interview
the head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or some other more radical group in the
still-unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict? And what group or groups, I
wondered, would then lay beyond them?