When will the West hear what Palestinians say to each other in Arabic rather than the words aimed at the West’s ears, asks Boaz Modai
PALESTINE — from the river to the sea, from the north to the south — is our land and our right. There will be no surrender of even the smallest piece of it. Palestine was and still is Arab and Islamic.”
These were the words of Khaled Mashaal, the chief of Hamas’s political bureau, in Gaza on Saturday at a rally held to celebrate “victory” over Israel in the recent war initiated by Hamas’ rocket blitz on Israel’s southern cities.
For those who assume Hamas’s war against Israel is aimed merely at recovering the territories occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six Day War, and for those incurable optimists, especially in Ireland, who urge Israel to “engage” with Hamas as the Irish and British governments engaged with the IRA in the 1990s, the words of the Hamas chief should be a final wake-up call.
If there was any doubt about his definition of “Palestine”, Mashaal could not have been clearer: “The West Bank, Gaza, the 1948 territories [Israel] — these are Palestinian lands, they are all Palestine. Not one part will be separated from any other part. Gaza and the West Bank cannot surrender Haifa, Jaffa, Beersheba, and Safed [all Israeli cities].”
If there was doubt about Jerusalem, Mashaal was equally unambiguous: “Jerusalem is our eternal capital. Israel has no right to Jerusalem.” And if there was any doubt as to his openness to dialogue or negotiation on these matters, he dispelled it: “The jihad and the armed resistance are the true and correct way to liberation.”
In recent weeks, Israel has received heavy criticism in the chancelleries and media of Europe. Some of this has been the predictable labelling as “disproportionate” of Israel’s surgical military operation to remove the rocket threat to over 4m of its citizens.
But ministers and editorial writers have also lectured Israel on the need to understand that it must find a Palestinian partner, however unpalatable, for peace. They have pointed to the building of homes in Jewish communities (the “settlements”) in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and Jerusalem as constituting the chief obstacle holding back the peace process.
In this view, only the “settlements” issue stands between a moderate Palestinian leadership and the resumption of peace talks with Israel.
Does this make sense? It is clear Hamas cannot be a partner for peace, unless Israel wishes to discuss its national suicide. But what of the “good guys”, the “moderate” Fatah faction that controls the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and has been the bitter rival of Hamas and the victim of its brutal violence?
Even more than Hamas’s rocket barrage last month, what should have shocked anyone who believes in the peace process was the fact that neither PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas nor any of his officials condemned Hamas for instigating the latest conflict.
Indeed, the senior PA negotiator Nabil Shaath (a man who paraded his moderate credentials in Ireland last year as he canvassed Irish support for the unilateral Palestinian statehood bid at the UN) appeared in Gaza on Nov 22 at another Hamas “victory” rally.
Instead of urging moderation, Shaath praised the “martyrs” and their “resistance” and spoke of a “100-year war” to conquer “Jerusalem and Palestine in its entirety”.
Isn’t it time for all of us to start believing what Palestinians say to each other in Arabic rather than the soothing words they aim at Western ears?
Meanwhile, the public space in the PA areas is anything but encouraging to hopes for dialogue. Incitement to hatred and Holocaust denial continue unabated. A particularly appalling example was the Fatah 47th anniversary celebration event, broadcast in January on PA TV, at which Mufti Muhammad Hussein, the highest Fatah religious authority, hailed the killing of Jews as an Islamic religious goal, quoting scripture in support.
On Nov 29, Abbas brought his bid for recognition of non-member Palestinian statehood to the UN General Assembly and won majority support. This unilateral action breached Article 31 (7) of the Oslo Accords interim agreement that states: “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.”
It is astonishing that international leaders who had no problem supporting such a body blow to Oslo could, a few days later, label a plan to build Jewish homes in the Jerusalem area as “a fatal blow to the peace process”.
What peace process were they referring to when the PA, which has refused direct talks for four years, won international support for a move that shatters the only process that exists?
In recent weeks, there has been renewed talk of reuniting Hamas and the PA/Fatah in a single Palestinian movement. The question is how would this movement look, sound, and act? By appeasing Hamas, the PA shows its willingness to surrender to the Islamism, radicalism, and terror that has always been the Hamas way.
European spectators must understand the real force that drives it. It is not “Palestinian land” as such. Otherwise Israel’s past concessions of land, such as — at Oslo — leaving 96% of West Bank Arab Palestinians to govern themselves or evacuating Gaza in 2005, would have been taken as goodwill gestures, stimuli to further negotiation and peace-making.
Instead, they were taken as signs of weakness, cause for more violence. The real engine of conflict is the Islamic imperative laying down that any land once ruled by Islam — as historic Palestine was ruled by the Turkish caliphate — must be returned to Islam, though it take 1,000 years. Only this can explain uncompromising calls for Israel’s elimination.
Israel wants peace but, as all EU leaders agree, “the only way to peace is through direct negotiation”. Maybe it is time for those who voted at the UN for a non-member Palestinian state to demand responsibility and accountability from the Palestinians? After all, they are half of the equation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
* Boaz Modai is Israeli ambassador to Ireland
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