Nov. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar said the U.S. was “wasting our time” with efforts to forge a peace deal and that “resistance” was the most effective way for Palestinians to get Israel to withdraw from the West Bank.
“If there is a real resistance against Israel, then Israel will leave,” al-Zahar, who co-founded Hamas 23 years ago and remains one of its two top figures in Gaza, said in an interview in his Gaza home yesterday. Israel pulled out its soldiers and dismantled Jewish settlements in Gaza in 2005 “not because of goodwill,” he said.
Al-Zahar, 66, was the Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister after the Islamic Hamas movement won legislative elections in 2006 and formed a joint government with President Mahmoud Abbas’s secular Fatah party. Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, ousting forces loyal to Abbas and leaving him in control of only the West Bank.
The U.S. has been trying to coax Israel and leaders of the Palestinian Authority back to peace talks since they stalled when a 10-month partial Israeli freeze on West Bank settlement building expired on Sept. 26. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas agreed in early September to try to reach an agreement on the framework for a comprehensive peace accord within a year.
The Obama administration is “just wasting our time and giving some hints that something can be achieved by this process,” al-Zahar said.
Al-Zahar and exiled Hamas leaders based in Damascus have been meeting with Abbas’s representatives on and off for the last three years in Egyptian-mediated talks aimed at healing the internal rift and bringing Gaza and the West Bank together again under one government.
Al-Zahar said he is “hoping” that the talks succeed “but I have a big doubt.”
Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., European Union and Israel. The group carried out dozens of suicide bombings during the second Palestinian uprising which began in 2000, leaving hundreds of Israeli civilians dead.
The group also fired thousands of rockets and mortars at Israel from Gaza, with Hamas leaders saying Israel’s pullout was incomplete because soldiers still controlled all crossing points into the coastal enclave.
“If you are going to put cats in the corner, they have the right to attack you and if they have the ability to blind you, they are going to do it because this is self-defense,” al-Zahar said.
Israel bombed al-Zahar’s home in 2003, killing his son and injuring him, his wife and daughter. A second son was killed in an attack by an Israeli drone aircraft in 2008, al-Zahar said.
In December 2008, Israeli troops moved into Gaza in what Israel said was an operation aimed at ending rocket and mortar attacks. The fighting left more than 1,100 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.
Hamas’s charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. The group’s leaders say they will renounce violence when Israel withdraws from territory occupied in 1967 and allows Palestinians to return to areas in Israel from which they fled in 1948.
--With assistance from Saud Abu Ramadan in Gaza City. Editors: Louis Meixler, Peter Hirschberg.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Ferziger in Gaza City, through the Jerusalem newsroom at [email protected]
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg in Jerusalem at [email protected].
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