Hard-Liners in Middle East Resist Peace Efforts of U.S.
The leaders of Hamas on Monday espoused a hard line against Israel at a conference that they and the militant Islamic Jihad faction convened in Gaza on the eve of the American-sponsored Middle East peace gathering in Annapolis, Md.
Also on Monday, Israeli right-wing activists stepped up their campaign against possible concessions to the Palestinians with demonstrations in Jerusalem.
In Gaza, Ismail Haniya, Hamas’ leader, said, “Let the whole world hear us: We will not relinquish a centimeter of Palestine, and we will not recognize Israel.” Haniya, who is usually associated with the more pragmatic wing of the Islamic movement, was responding to a refugee from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war who came up to the podium showing the deed for land he had left behind in what is now Israel.
Mahmoud Zahar, an influential Hamas leader in Gaza, told a packed hall in Gaza City that “Palestinian land is from the sea to the river” — referring to the Jordan River in the West Bank — “and from the Lebanon-Syrian border in the north to the Egyptian borders.” He added, “Not a single person, not a government, not a single generation has the right to relinquish any area of Palestine.”
Any normalization of relations “with the enemy is a treason,” he said.
The statements were aimed at deterring the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, from making concessions to the Israelis, as reports filtered back from Washington that the Israeli and Palestinian teams were closer to reaching a joint declaration on the form of peace negotiations.
The harsh tone reflected the increasing isolation of Hamas in Gaza. Arab states, including Syria, a patron of Hamas, have chosen to take part in the Annapolis meeting.
“We call on all people in the Arab and Islamic nations and all the intellectuals to stand with us,” Zahar said.
Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip by force in June, routing the rival pro-Abbas forces there in a brief factional war.
Two other militant Palestinian factions, the secular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, held their own alternative conference in Gaza on Sunday.
On Monday, right-wing Israelis handed out gold ribbons, the color associated with Jerusalem, at main junctions to express opposition to any talk of dividing Jerusalem, and at least 15,000 people attended a prayer session at the Western Wall in the Old City, according to police estimates.
The Palestinians demand control over East Jerusalem, including the Old City, as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
In the evening, several thousand right-wing protesters gathered near the prime minister’s residence in the western part of the city. The demonstration, organized by the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization representing the Jewish settlers in the West Bank, drew an overwhelmingly young crowd, largely teenagers.
Speakers warned the Israeli government against harming settlements in the West Bank or compromising over Jerusalem.