Mashal follows in Arafat's footsteps

Jacky Hougy

Khaled Mashal knows an uncompromising stance on Israel is the way to achieve his ambition of Palestinian leadership.

What happened to Hamas political bureau head Khaled Mashal in his historic speech in Gaza? Yesterday, Mashal stood before thousands of supporters, at the height of the celebrations of 25 years of the Hamas movement, and spat in the face of every Israeli who has called for talks with Hamas.

In his speech, Mashal reiterated the classic positions that are clearly set out in the movement's charter. "Palestine from the river to the sea, from the north to the south, is our land and we will never give up one inch or any part of it," he said, "and we will not recognize Israel. What applies to Gaza applies to Beersheva, Jaffa, and Haifa" - they are all of a piece. As far as Mashal is concerned, it is possible, and desirable, to conduct a liberation struggle in various arenas. To throw stones, to use international law, to recruit the entire word's support for the Palestinian cause but the main driver is the armed struggle.

Mashal addressed himself to Abu Mazen, just a week after the latter returned from the UN flushed with his victory in the vote in the United Nations General Assembly, and preached at him as though he were a lax schoolboy, telling him, "A real state is not achieved through negotiation. First comes liberation of the land, then a state."

These declarations are the opposite of pragmatic positions that have emerged from Hamas, especially after the change of regime in Cairo. Closeness to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt taught the movement's chiefs that political control could be based on the ballot box, and not just on armed struggle. As a result, they decided, temporarily, to freeze terrorist attacks. In the past few years, Hamas has exerted heavy pressure on other factions in Gaza, demanding that they should hold their fire, in a series of violent confrontations.

For all that, Mashal's statement should not come as a surprise, certainly not coming less than a month after the conflict in Gaza. With a thousand dead and widespread destruction, after the loss of Ahmed Jabari, had the head of the Hamas, on his first visit to Gaza, offered a more moderate stance, it would have been perceived as surrender.

In Hamas, as in any political party, internal relations between party heads contribute towards the formulation of positions. Isamil Haniyeh, one of the heads of the internal opposition to the head of the political bureau, who seeks to replace him in the post, spoke before Mashal. Haniyeh spoke passionately about the dream of liberation and victories in battle. Whether Haniyeh wanted it or not, his speech was a warm-up act, a preview, for what came afterwards.

The political path that Haniyeh set out for himself is very like that of Yasser Arafat. Arafat too, in his time, held a Kalshnikov, and in one his most famous pictures he pointed to the muzzle of the rifle in his hand and said "Through this we will obtain all our achievements." When Arafat said those words, the Palestinian Authority had not yet been founded, and he had seen Ramallah only in pictures.

Arafat was a leader on the run, declared a terrorist by the international community. Mashal is also labeled in the West as a leader of a terror organization, and, like Arafat before him, Mashal will not stop here. The head of Hamas's political bureau has set himself a goal, and he strives towards it with great persistence: one day to be the leader of the Palestinian people. In his speech yesterday, Mashal addressed the Palestinians in Gaza, on the West Bank, in the Palestinian Diaspora, and to Israeli Arabs. He called them all "an inseparable part of the beloved homeland."

Mashal is currently one of the rising leaders in the Arab world, even though he does not head a country. His political life has been fascinating, and not just because he survived a Mossad assassination attempt in Jordan. If he realizes his dream and reaches the peak, he will have to become more moderate. On the way there, however, his militant declarations can only help him. They strengthen his image in the eyes of the public, and also in the eyes of his friends in Iran and Qatar.

As for trustworthiness, that's important, but the goal is more important. A politician who believes in himself knows how to cut corners, and even to make a sharp turnaround when necessary. Even Arafat, who called for the liberation of the whole of Palestine by force, in the end signed an agreement that included recognition of Israel's right to exist.

The author is the Arab Affairs correspondent for “IDF Radio" (Galei Zahal).

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on December 9, 2012

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012

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