Hamas Leader Says Peace Possible if Israel Withdraws to 1967 Borders
The spiritual guide of the radical Palestinian group Hamas said in an interview published Friday that peace would be possible with Israel if the Jewish state gave up all territory it conquered in the 1967 Middle East war.
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin told the Spanish daily ABC "an accord would be just if the Israelis withdrew from all Palestinian land they occupy," which he defined as all territory held by Israel since its creation in 1948.
However, he said "we would accept peace with the Israelis if they gave us back all the land occupied since 1967," when Israel captured east Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt.
Yassin called "unjust" an accord to stop the ongoing violence in the Palestinian territories between Israel and the Palestinians which was reached in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt last month and reaffirmed Thursday.
"That is a deal without any value in light of the pact of blood that we have made with the Palestinians to put an end to the occupation" of the Palestinian territories, Sheikh Ahmed said.
Israel "withdrawing its tanks from Palestinian cities does not give rise to a just accord."
Hamas has always violently opposed the peace process with Israel and has carried out most armed attacks against Israeli targets since the signing of the 1993 Oslo peace accords, which gave the Palestinians partial autonomy.
Sheikh Ahmed was interviewed only hours before a carbomb placed by Hamas' smaller rival, Islamic Jihad, exploded in Jerusalem Thursday, killing two Israelis. But it was clear that he considers such action legitimate.
"Our attacks in Israel are in legitimate defense of the Palestinian people," he said.
Asked whether such attacks are necessary to bring about an Israeli withdrawal, he deferred to Hamas' military wing, known as Ezzedin al-Kassam.
"They know what they have to do, when, how and where they have to do it," Sheikh Ahmed said. "And they have the right to do it. They have a right to defend themselves from Israeli aggressions, to protect their lands, always, at any time."
The intifada, or uprising, against Israel is the only way to force Israel to withdraw, he said.
"In the past 52 years, the Palestinians have tried to reach a peace accord with the Israelis through negotiation. Nothing has been achieved. Hence, as it stands today, the only option is one of fighting them."
And he said control over the Intifada is not in the hands of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
"The uprising is led by the Palestinian people and not by political parties or the authorities. It will only end if the people wish it to end."
Sheikh Ahmed said Hamas has disagreed with Arafat ever since he signed the Oslo accords, because "he did not achieve fair compromises. Arafat always gives in to pressure from Washington."
And if Arafat returns to the negotiating table now, Sheikh Ahmed said "he will lose the support of the people, as well as of many of his followers inside Fateh," his political organization.
Even so, Sheikh Ahmed was quick to point out that Hamas' enemy is not Arafat, but Israel.
"Israel will never succeed in getting us Palestinians to kill each other. We will never act against Arafat. The Intifada has broken out against Israel. Perhaps there is an implicit message there for Arafat, but our enemy is Israel." – MADRID (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)