Do policymakers in Washington and Europe ever feel ashamed of their scandalous double standards? Before and since the Palestinian elections in January, they have continually insisted that Hamas comply with certain demands. They want us to recognise Israel, call off our resistance, and commit ourselves to whatever deals Israel and the Palestinian leadership reached in the past.
But we have not heard a single demand of the Israeli parties that took part in this week’s elections, though some advocate the complete removal of the Palestinians from their lands. Even Ehud Olmert’s Kadima party, whose Likud forebears frustrated every effort by the PLO to negotiate a peace settlement, campaigned on a programme that defies UN security council resolutions. His unilateralism is a violation of international law. Nevertheless no one, not even the Quartet – whose proposals for a settlement he continues to disregard, as his predecessor Ariel Sharon did – has dared ask anything of him.
Olmert’s unilateralism is a recipe for conflict. It is a plan to impose a permanent situation in which the Palestinians end up with a homeland cut into pieces made inaccessible because of massive Jewish settlements built in contravention of international law on land seized illegally from the Palestinians. No plan will ever work without a guarantee, in exchange for an end to hostilities by both sides, of a total Israeli withdrawal from all the land occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; the release of all our prisoners; the removal of all settlers from all settlements; and recognition of the right of all refugees to return.
On this, all Palestinian factions and people agree, including the PLO, whose revival is essential so that it can resume its role in speaking for the Palestinians and presenting their case to the world.
The problem is not with any particular Palestinian group but with the denial of our basic rights by Israel. We in Hamas are for peace and want to put an end to bloodshed. We have been observing a unilateral truce for more than a year without reciprocity from the Israeli side. The message from Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to the world powers is this: talk to us no more about recognising Israel’s “right to exist” or ending resistance until you obtain a commitment from the Israelis to withdraw from our land and recognise our rights.
Little will change for the Palestinians under Olmert’s plan. Our land will still be occupied and our people enslaved and oppressed by the occupying power. So we will remain committed to our struggle to get back our lands and our freedom. Peaceful means will do if the world is willing to engage in a constructive and fair process in which we and the Israelis are treated as equals. We are sick and tired of the west’s racist approach to the conflict, in which the Palestinians are regarded as inferior. Though we are the victims, we offer our hands in peace, but only a peace that is based on justice. However, if the Israelis continue to attack and kill our people and destroy their homes, impose sanctions, collectively punish us, and imprison men and women for exercising the right to self-defence, we have every right to respond with all available means.
Hamas has been freely elected. Our people have given us their confidence and we pledge to defend their rights and do our best to run their affairs through good governance. If we are boycotted in spite of this democratic choice – as we have been by the US and some of its allies – we will persist, and our friends have pledged to fill the gap. We have confidence in the peoples of the world, record numbers of whom identify with our struggle. This is a good time for peace-making – if the world wants peace.
ISMAIL HANIYEH is the new Palestinian prime minister and a Hamas leader. Email: [email protected]