Hamas leader calls for two-state solution – But refuses to renounce violence

By Ethan Bronner
The New York Times

CAIRO — One day after celebrating a landmark reconciliation accord for Palestinian unity, Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader, said on Thursday that he was fully committed to working for a two-state solution but declined to swear off violence or agree that a Palestinian state would produce an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The whole world knows what Hamas thinks and what our principles are,” Mr. Meshal said in an interview in his Cairo hotel suite. “But we are talking now about a common national agenda. The world should deal with what we are working toward now, the national political program.”

He defined that as “a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital, without any settlements or settlers, not an inch of land swaps and respecting the right of return” of Palestinian refugees to Israel itself.

Asked if a deal honoring those principles would produce an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr. Meshal said, “I don’t want to talk about that.”

He added: “When Israel made agreements with Egypt and Jordan, no one conditioned it on how Israel should think. The Arabs and the West didn’t ask Israel what it was thinking deep inside. All Palestinians know that 60 years ago they were living on historic Palestine from the river to the sea. It is no secret.”

Asked whether in his pact with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, he agreed to end violent resistance, he replied: “Where there is occupation and settlement, there is a right to resistance. Israel is the aggressor. But resistance is a means, not an end.”

He added that over the coming months, as Hamas and Fatah work out their differences, “we are ready to reach an agreement on how to manage resistance.” He noted that Hamas had entered into cease-fires with Israel in the past and that it was ready to do so in the future. There is one in effect right now. But his broad principle, he said, was this: “If occupation ends, resistance ends. If Israel stops firing, we stop firing.”

Asked if he thought nonviolent resistance was a useful approach for the Palestinians, he replied, “Unfortunately, nonviolence doesn’t work against the Israelis.”

Israel has blasted the Fatah-Hamas agreement as, in effect, bringing terrorists into the Palestinian government. The United States has said it is waiting to see what the pact consists of before reacting. Washington provides hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the Palestinian Authority.

“We are going to be carefully assessing what this action really means,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said of the pact in Rome. She said that Washington could not accept a Palestinian government including Hamas unless it renounced violence, agreed to live by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and recognized Israel. These are the so-called “quartet principles,” agreed on by the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain made a similar point during a visit to London by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Any new Palestinian government “must reject violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist and engage in the peace process,” a spokesman for Mr. Cameron quoted him as saying.

Mr. Abbas, who has largely given up on peace negotiations with Israel under Mr. Netanyahu, concluded that the best way forward was national unity and an appeal to the international community to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

His Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority holds sway in the West Bank, but Hamas runs Gaza. The two groups fought a brief civil war in 2007 and have been divided ever since. The agreement they signed this week calls for a new government of technocrats to plan for elections in the coming year as well as committees to coordinate security cooperation and questions like prisoner releases.

But the bitterness runs deep and many challenges remain. Mr. Meshal noted in the 30-minute interview that at the unity ceremony in Cairo on Wednesday, there had been a delay because Mr. Abbas had not initially agreed that Mr. Meshal could speak from the podium.

“I don’t want to go into the details of it, but there was an unfortunate wrong and we overcame it,” he said of the ceremony arrangements. “This is not the superficial issue of who is sitting on the stage. The crucial issue is that there has been a division between the two main parties in the Palestinian arena. Reconciliation should be seen in the arrangement and in who is speaking.”

Asked what had changed in recent months that allowed the long-delayed pact to go through, he said that both Fatah and the new Egyptian government had agreed, for the first time, to Hamas’s adding annexes to the agreement reflecting its views. He declined to elaborate on the contents of those additional items.

Mr. Meshal said that there was recent activity on ways to release Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held for nearly five years by Hamas, but that there had been no breakthrough. He blamed Mr. Netanyahu, saying he was responsible for the delay.

See Related: Palestine Archive

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