Meshaal repositions Hamas before Palestinian unity talks

AFP, Tuesday 11 Dec 2012

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories, Dec 11, 2012 (AFP) -Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal is hoping his movement's success in the recent conflict with Israel will help him dictate the terms of renewed efforts at Palestinian unity, analysts say.

During his first-ever trip to Gaza at the weekend, the Hamas chief-in-exile, sounded a defiant note in a speech to thousands of followers marking the 25th anniversary of the Islamist movement's founding.

Emerging from a door in a giant model of a long-range Hamas rocket used to hit Israel in the recent confrontation, Meshaal pledged not to "cede an inch" of historic Palestine, which includes the territories and Israel proper.

"What we heard from Khaled Meshaal was a very hardline speech," noted Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a political science professor at Gaza's Al-Azhar University.

"There was no mention at all of Hamas's readiness to accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders," he said, even though Meshaal has expressed that readiness many times recently.

"Even though he has been speaking about the need for reconciliation... he spoke about reconciliation based on Hamas terms, based on Hamas positions, he spoke about reconciliation on the basis of the resistance programme," he added.

Both Meshaal and Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya spoke as though Hamas had just experienced "a big war and they came out victorious," Abu Mukhaimer said.

In a report on last month's eight-day conflict with Israel, the International Crisis Group think-tank said Hamas had "proved itself the central player in Palestinian politics."
Hamas was "discovering whether -- by substituting Egypt, Qatar and Turkey for Syria and Iran -- it had traded up," the group said in reference to the movement's shift away from Damascus and Tehran in the wake of the Arab Spring.

"The world must know that just as we were not subservient to Syria or Iran in the past, we are not subservient to Egypt, Qatar and Turkey," Meshaal said on Saturday.

The Hamas head was formerly based in Damascus, but left the Syrian capital for Qatar as fighting between government forces and rebels opposed to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad intensified.

"His previous statements were more moderate and won his acceptance from Turkey, Qatar and Egypt, which finally allowed him to enter the Gaza Strip," said Hani al-Masri, a West Bank-based political commentator.

Unlike Meshaal, Islamic Jihad chief Ramadan Shallah, who had been expected to join the Hamas celebrations, did not ultimately make the trip after Israel reportedly warned Egypt it would consider his entry to Gaza a violation of the ceasefire agreement that ended last month's fighting.

Masri said Meshaal's "tough" speech was likely intended to cater to the Gaza public, and "smacked of an internal election campaign."

Naji Sharab, also a professor at Al-Azhar university, said Meshaal's priority was "to get a mandate from the Hamas leadership for reconciliation, and he got it."

"Meshaal's speech was quite contradictory because he was concentrating on the emotional aspect in addressing the Hamas audience in Gaza, which is proud of its victory, while at the same time setting a political vision for the future," he said.

"This trip recalls Yasser Arafat's visit to Gaza in 1994 at the time of the creation of the Palestinian Authority, with his speech akin to that of a statesman and not the head of a resistance movement," he recalled.

Writing in Israel's top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot, Eitan Haber said that with Meshaal's visit, "peace moved further away from Israel's border" which recalling that "peace is made with enemies."

"The day will come, and it is probably not far off, in which we will have to talk with Meshaal and his cohorts," he concluded.

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