Hamas Leader Urges Resumption of Terror As Obama’s Peace Initiative Founders

By Patrick Goodenough | December 10, 2010 | 4:29 AM EST

Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar walks on an Israeli flag during a rally in Gaza City on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010, to mark the upcoming 23rd anniversary of the group’s foundation. The Arabic text reads: ‘Israel for sure will be destroyed.’ (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

(CNSNews.com) – As the Obama administration’s Mideast peace initiative crumbles, Hamas is calling on all Palestinian factions, including its Fatah rival, to resume an armed campaign aimed at seizing control over all of what it terms “historic Palestine.”

The leader of the Gaza-based terrorist group, Mahmoud Zahar made the call during an event in Gaza City Thursday marking the 23rd anniversary of Hamas’ founding.

“Israeli occupation will end,” the Palestinian news agency Ma’an quoted him as saying. “It does not have any future among us. Our Palestinian principles are not up for negotiation by anyone.”

Zahar called on the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (P.A.), led by Mahmoud Abbas, to allow a resumption of “resistance” attacks against Israel from the West Bank, where the P.A. holds sway.

Press photos of the event showed Zahar walking on and then setting fire to a banner depicting the Israeli flag together with a slogan in Arabic stating that Israel will be destroyed.

His call to arms came amid uncertainty over the future of the “direct talks” launched with great fanfare by the Obama administration in early September.

The process has foundered over a failure by the two sides to find a compromise on the issue of building work in Israeli settlements in the disputed territories.

After a 10-month Israeli freeze on construction expired in late September Washington sought to persuade Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to agree to a three-month extension of the moratorium, in order to lure the Palestinians back to the talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meets with local council heads near Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010. (AP Photo/Moti Milrod, Pool)

Members of Netanyahu’s coalition insisted that the freeze exclude Jerusalem and it became clear that a limited 90-day extension would not satisfy the P.A. anyway. The administration this week abandoned the push, saying it hoped instead to make progress in separate discussions with the two parties on the “core issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Exactly how this will be achieved remains unsaid, but State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters that at some point “direct negotiations” would have to resume and the administration still believed a deal could be reached within the one-year timeframe it announced last September.

“We’re shifting our approach, but are still focused on the goal of a framework agreement within a year,” he said Wednesday. “We believe that’s still achievable.”

‘Unrealistic borders’

The P.A. says the shift is an admission of U.S. failure and is pushing ahead with its plan to win international recognition for statehood, buoyed by the recently-announced decision by three Latin American countries to join those recognizing “Palestine.”

P.A. chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said in Cairo Wednesday that if the U.S. wants to see a “two-state solution” to the dispute realized, “it must recognize the Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.”

The “1967 borders” referred to are the armistice lines from the war that accompanied the founding of the modern Israeli state in 1948. The lines held from 1949 until the June 1967 Six Day War.

A state of “Palestine” within those boundaries would include the Gaza Strip and the entire “West Bank” – the area known historically and by Israel as Judea-Samaria – including eastern Jerusalem.

Israel says the decisions by Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay to recognize a Palestinian state “within the 1967 borders” preempts a negotiated settlement. No Israeli government has ever conceded that all of the West Bank will be relinquished in a peace agreement, and Jerusalem is a particularly sensitive issue.

When Israel was pondering withdrawal from Gaza, President Bush in 2004 gave then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a written assurance that the U.S. would not expect the peace process to deliver the entire West Bank to the Palestinians.

“In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949,” Bush wrote at the time, adding that “all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.”

“It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities,” Bush said.

Largely on the basis of those U.S. assurances Sharon moved ahead with his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Hamas seized power there two years later, ousting the P.A. leadership whose authority has since been limited to parts of the West Bank


Israel’s determination not to give up all of the West Bank is matched by the P.A.’s resolve not to accept anything less.

Speaking in Cairo after talks with Egyptian leaders Thursday, Abbas stressed again that the borders of a future state must correspond with the 1967 boundaries, adding “we will categorically refuse any Israeli presence on Palestinian land after the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Under fire over backing off on the settlement freeze issue, the Obama administration is stepping up its diplomatic efforts. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met in Washington Thursday with Israeli chief negotiator Isaac Molho and is due to hold discussions on Friday with Erekat.

Crowley said Clinton will address the situation further when she delivers a speech to a forum of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington on Friday evening. Participants include Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and P.A. premier Salam Fayyad.

The administration will also send Middle East envoy George Mitchell back to the region next week for further talks.

It has advised against the P.A. seeking international support for statehood but a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers planned for next week is expected to tackle the issue.

Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa told reporters Abbas had asked for “a meeting to discuss future Arab action in light of the letter he received today from the American administration concerning its failure to convince Israel to freeze the settlements.”

The 22-nation bloc earlier warned that unless Obama succeeds in pressuring Netanyahu on the settlement freeze, it would consider alternative steps, such as the option of seeking recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations.

“The time has come for the Arab states, through the Arab League that meets in the next couple of days to respond to the American announcement, to formally tell the U.S. that its Middle East policy is a failure,” the Saudi daily Arab News said in an editorial Thursday.

“It should also tell it that since it is not prepared to help find a just and workable solution, it has forfeited any right to hinder attempts by others to do so,” the paper added. “Washington will not like it, but it has abandoned all semblances of integrity and responsibility in the matter.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow