“Hamas leader says agreement with Fatah essential to peace talks
By Louai Beshara
DAMASCUS // Khalid Meshaal, the leader of Hamas, has criticised US efforts to restart Middle East peace talks, and insisted that the militant group would never recognise Israel despite renewed calls for moderation from Russia.
In a wide-ranging discussion with journalists in Syria, where he lives in exile, Mr Meshaal accused Washington of taking a dangerous shortcut, focusing on an empty peace process while blocking attempts to patch-up relations between bitterly divided Palestinian factions.
Without an agreement between Hamas, which controls the Gaza strip, and Fatah, which controls the West Bank, any peace talks would ultimately fail, Mr Meshaal warned. But hopes of finding common ground between the two parties had been blocked by the United States, he said, which favoured negotiating solely with the more moderate Fatah, led by Mahmoud Abbas.
‘America wants the peace process speeded up because they have another agenda [with Iran] and they want to be able to claim a success in the Middle East,’ he said. ‘Because of that, reconciliation is not a priority. In fact, it’s not even on the table for discussion.’
The Hamas leader claimed Washington had ‘vetoed’ reconciliation because his movement would not accept preconditions set out by the so-called Quartet for Middle East peace. Made up of the US, European Union, Russia and the United Nations, the Quartet has insisted that Hamas recognise Israel’s right to exist and renounce terrorism before being allowed to take part in internationally sponsored peace talks.
Officially, however, the conditions do not apply to intra-Palestinian negotiations between Fatah and Hamas.
The two groups have been at odds since 2006 when Hamas defeated its rival in elections and subsequently took control of Gaza. They have since hovered on the brink of civil war, running separate administrations in the divided Palestinian territories. Fatah, supported by the US, dominates the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority while Hamas remains largely ostracised and the Gaza Strip under a crippling Israeli economic blockade.
‘Today Palestinian reconciliation is under American veto,’ Mr Meshaal said. ‘I have been told by Arab and European diplomats that the US will not allow reconciliation until Hamas agrees to the Quartet’s conditions.
‘It’s not even that the Americans have simply vetoed reconciliation, they have now taken it off the table of discussion. The only option they want on the table is resuming peace talks that offer the Palestinians as little as possible from Israel.’
Mr Meshaal said Hamas wanted to engage in ‘open dialogue’ with the international community but without preconditions – his language mirroring that used by the hardline Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, when he refers to peace talks.
He said the group would agree to a Palestinian state on 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital, a de facto two-state solution as advocated by the Quartet. Hamas would not, however, formally recognise the state of Israel.
Earlier this month, he held talks in Damascus with the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, a meeting that sparked criticism of Moscow in Israel and the United States. Mr Meshaal said the Russian leader had taken a ‘great step’ by meeting the head of an organisation classified as terrorist in Washington and Israel, and that Mr Medvedev had used the meeting to encourage Hamas to moderate its stance.
Insisting Hamas was ‘not a bargaining chip for anyone’, Mr Meshaal said the movement reserved the right to bear arms in the face of illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and that violent resistance did not amount to terrorism.
Describing the Arab world as divided and weak, Mr Meshaal urged the Middle East to unite behind the Palestinians. Dismissing suggestions that Hamas’s armed wing had proven ineffectual in the face of superior Israeli firepower, he said that without fighting, the Palestinians would be given nothing.
‘It is necessary for us to keep our hands on our rifles, resistance is our only defence,’ he said. ‘It is our right.’
The Hamas leader also said he anticipated a new outbreak of hostilities in the region but that Hamas would not instigate a war. Tensions have been high in recent months after Israeli allegations that Syria had been arming Hizbollah, the Lebanese militant group, with ballistic missiles.
‘Israel is waiting for a green light from America, and for weapons, these are the calculations affecting Israelis decision on a war,’ he said. ‘They have decided on the principle of a new war but they are looking for the right time to start it.’
He also rejected claims that Syria, often accused by the United States of playing a malign regional role, was working against peace.
Damascus, he said, continued to encourage Palestinian reconciliation because it understood that reconciliation was an essential foundation stone for any meaningful long-term settlement.”
(Quelle: The National.)