Hamas leader Khaled Meshal said on Sunday that he hoped Gaza’s resistance to Israel would cause Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step down from political life, claiming that last month’s fighting between Israel and Hamas led to Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s retirement.
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Meshal’s comments followed earlier remarks by the Hamas leader, made on Saturday at an event in Gaza marking the 25th anniversary of Hamas.
Meshal told the mass rally on Saturday: “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land,” adding that he wanted the Palestinians to have all the territory that makes up modern-day Israel.
Speaking at the Islamic University of Gaza on Sunday, Meshal linked Israel’s recent clash with Hamas with Barak’s decision to step down from political life, saying: “Blessed are you people of Gaza for devastating Barak’s world, and, god willing, you will do the same to Netanyahu.”
The Hamas leader then alleged that it was the resistance of Gaza residents that led to the downfall of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, adding: “You even prevented him from dying, so he could continue to suffer.”
Commenting on Meshal’s earlier claim to a Palestine that would include territory under Israeli sovereignty, Netanyahu said Sunday that Hamas’ declaration over the weekend that it would never recognize Israel and would “free the land of Palestine inch by inch had once again “exposed the true face” of Israel’s enemies.
“They have absolutely no intention of compromising with us,” Netanyahu told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. “They want to destroy the state. They will, of course, fail... The nation of Israel will overcome these hostile enemies.”
In his speech on Sunday, Meshal addressed the issue of Palestinian unity at length, saying the various Palestinian factions shared a common cause in their resistance to Israeli occupation.
“I call on you to preserve the unity of the Palestinian people. Palestine is much larger than any one faction can take responsibility for, and resistance, whether armed or popular, is the basis for unity,” he said. “We are all partners in the same homeland.”
Netanyahu had his own take on Meshal's remarks.
"They have absolutely no intention of compromising with us," Netanyahu told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. "They want to destroy the state. They will, of course, fail .... The nation of Israel will overcome these hostile enemies."
Netanyahu was particularly disdainful of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' failure to condemn Meshal's comments.
"The interesting thing is precisely that Abu Mazen [Abbas] did not issue a condemnation, not against words calling for the destruction of Israel, just as he did not condemn the firing of missiles at Israel," Netanyahu said, referring to Abbas' silence during last month's eight-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian president "is striving for unity with the same Hamas that is supported by Iran," Netanyahu said. "We are a government without delusions, we want true peace with our neighbors - but we are not closing our eyes, and we are not burying our heads in the sand. We are not prepared to make the same mistake again of unilateral withdrawal ... that essentially brought Hamas into power in Gaza."
Netanyahu added that he was "dumbfounded by the illusions of others who are prepared to continue along this process, calling it peace. You hand over more land - in this case the territories of [the West Bank] ... to the same people, and the result of course will be Gaza on the peripheries of Tel Aviv, Hadera and Kfar Sava."
According to Netanyahu, "We must and can stand against this. We are also up against international pressure, which has brought us to this place, and this is what today is demanded of the leadership in Israel."
On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had gathered in Gaza to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist organization that seized control of the coastal territory in June 2007. It was also Meshal's first visit to the Strip.
Once treated as a pariah organization by its neighbors, Hamas has seen its standing in the region rise on the back of the Arab Spring uprisings that have ushered in several sympathetic Islamist governments sharing much of its ideology.
While Hamas rejects dialogue with Israel, Abbas and his Fatah party say they want a negotiated deal based on the lines that existed before the 1967 war, when Israel took the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
Israel unilaterally left Gaza in 2005, but still imposes a land and sea blockade that it says is necessary to prevent arms smuggling. It continues to occupy the West Bank and has annexed East Jerusalem - a move not recognized internationally.
Hamas' charter calls for the destruction of Israel, but its leaders have at times indicated a willingness to negotiate a prolonged truce in return for a return to the 1967 lines - something Meshal made no mention of at Saturday's event.