Khaled Mashaal: Israel only understands force

Israeli officials say chances indirect ceasefire talks with Hamas in Cairo will resume are slim

Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal in Doha, Qatar, August 2014 (screen capture: Yahoo News)
Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal in Doha, Qatar, August 2014 (screen capture: Yahoo News)

Exiled Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal said Saturday that negotiating with Israel without “resisting” it was like asking for charity.

During a speech in Qatar, Mashaal said “negotiations without a show of force and without resistance would be like begging for charity at the enemy’s feet.”

Mashaal’s remarks prompted Israeli officials to question whether Hamas was really interested in renewing ceasefire negotiations with Israel, Channel 10 reported. Officials also assesed that the likelihood talks would resume was slim.

“[The war in] Gaza taught us an important lesson, and that is that the enemy understands only the language of force. We are in favor of political and diplomatic processes, but such processes must be leveraged from a position of resistance,” Mashaal said.

During the speech, Mashaal addressed Israel directly, telling its leaders “you will not have security, short conflicts or easy victories, not as long as the occupation persists.”

Amos Gilad (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Amos Gilad (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Truce talks were set to resume sometime in the next month, with Palestinians officials saying as soon as next week. But senior Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad said Saturday that no specific date has been set.

Gilad also said Hamas was not rearming or digging new tunnels into Israel. Earlier this week, Al Jazeera reported that rival Gaza-based Islamist terror group Islamic Jihad was rebuilding tunnels beneath the Strip, including some that are to burrow under the border with Israel.

On Friday, Mashaal had ruled out face-to-face dealings with the Israelis.

“Direct negotiations with the Israeli occupier are not on the agenda of Hamas; if negotiations are necessary they must be indirect,” he said after meeting Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki in Tunis.

He also rejected Israeli demands that Gaza reconstruction be linked to the disarmament of Hamas and Gaza-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh restated that line on Saturday.

“The weapons of the resistance are a red line,” he said. “You cannot make [them] bargaining chips for reconstruction.”

Fifty days of deadly fighting between Israel and terrorists in Gaza that killed approximately 2,100 Palestinians — about 1,000 of them combatants, Israel says — and 72 Israelis, ended on August 26 with an open-ended truce agreement. Israel said it would ease restrictions on movement of personnel and goods through the two crossings into Gaza which it controls, but core issues of dispute were set to be negotiated in indirect talks in Cairo after a month.

Under the terms of the deal, the parties agreed to resume the Egyptian-brokered negotiations to discuss, among other issues, a Hamas demand for a port and an airport, a prisoner swap and Israel’s insistence on Gaza terrorists disarming. Israel has ruled out removing controls over access to Gaza, as has Egypt, unless or until Hamas disarms, which Hamas refuses to do. Hamas, designated a terrorist group by Israel and much of the international community, seized control of Gaza in a violent coup against the Palestinian Authority in 2007.

Gilad was part of a five-man Israeli delegation to the Cairo talks that eventually reached the ceasefire agreement.

“Hamas will never agree to give up its arms. But at this point, it is not rearming or digging any more tunnels,” Gilad told Channel 2’s “Meet the Press.”

He said that Hamas was still reeling from the losses it suffered during the conflict, “still pulling out bodies from tunnels” destroyed by Israel throughout the 50-day clash. Hamas had dug some 30 tunnels under the Israeli border, and killed 11 Israeli soldiers when its gunmen exited the tunnels inside Israel during the conflict.

On Thursday, Israel’s deputy foreign minister warned that Hamas was likely to resume violence if it feels it has made no political gains from upcoming talks in Cairo.

“There are chances that Hamas will restart its routine of violence; this is a possibility we can’t ignore,” Tzahi Hanegbi told Army Radio.

Palestinian analysts say Hamas has gained popularity from the war, because it is seen as one of the only forces willing to stand up to Israel on the battlefield.

A recent opinion poll found that if a presidential election were held now, Hamas’s former Gaza prime minister Haniyeh would easily win, taking 61 percent of the votes compared with 32% for West Bank-based PA president Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel has only negotiated directly with Abbas’s Palestinian Authority. Backed by the so-called Middle East Quartet of the US, EU, UN and Russia, it demands that Hamas recognize Israel, accept previous agreements and renounce terrorism as preconditions for direct negotiations with the Islamist group.

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