Mashaal first made headlines in 1997, when Hamas was operating out of an office Amman, Jordan. Netanyahu, then in his first term as prime minister, approved a Mossad plot to assassinate Mashaal using poison. The Mossad agents botched the job. Mashaal survived and two Israeli agents were captured by Jordanian police. This caused a major diplomatic incident between Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Hussein, who was the closest thing that Israel had to an ally in the Arab world at the time.
At the Gaza demonstration, Mashaal declared defiantly before a cheering crowd of tens of thousands that Hamas refuses to recognize Israel. He insisted that the new Palestinian state “will come from resistance, not negotiation. Liberation first, then statehood.”
He declared that “Palestine is ours from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on any inch of the land. . .
“We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation, and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take. . .
“We will free Yerushalayim inch by inch, stone by stone. Israel has no right to be in Yerushalayim.”
The Hamas leader promised that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants would reclaim their ancestral homes within pre-1967 Israel, and that Hamas would continue to use the kidnappings of Israeli soldiers, such as Gilad Shalit, to secure the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails.
HAMAS STILL DEFYING INTERNATIONAL DEMANDS
Mashaal’s declaration confirms Hamas’s longstanding rejection of the demands of the Quartet, which were first made after Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections. It has consistently refused to recognize Israel, or accept the Oslo peace agreements signed by the Palestinian Authority with Israel, or renounce the use of violence.
Despite its adamant refusal to consider making peace with Israel, Hamas has won increasing recognition, especially in the Arab world, following the 8-day aerial and missile conflict with Israel in November. The short war was settled without an Israeli ground invasion by a cease-fire negotiated by Egypt, and endorsed by the United States.
The 25th anniversary festivities were staged as a victory celebration by Hamas, which claimed that it had forced Israel to back down.
Mashaal called the November 29 UN vote granting the Palestinians enhanced status as a nonmember observer state, “a small step but a good one,”and promised to work toward a unified Palestine Liberation Organization that would include PA, Hamas, and the other terrorist groups operating out of Gaza which reject a two-state solution through negotiations with Israel.
The UN vote took place on the 65th anniversary of the 1947 partition plan which sought to divide the British Mandate in Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states. While the Zionist leadership accepted the partition plan, the Arabs rejected it, leading to the start of Israel’s War of Independence when the British left the following May.
HAMAS’ DIVIDED LEADERSHIP
There have been many media reports of an internal rift between Mashaal and the Hamas leadership in Gaza. Prime Minister Ismail Haniya has ruled Gaza since Hamas took it by force from Abbas in a bloody 2007 coup. For the anniversary celebration in Gaza, the two leaders appeared together, emerging from a giant replica of a rocket called the M-75, which was supposedly built by Hamas and used in an attempt to bombard Tel Aviv and Yerushalayim last month.
Some weapons experts believe that the M-75 is actually a repainted Iranian Fajr-5 rocket, assembled at an Iranian arms plant in the Sudan and then smuggled into Gaza through Egypt’s Sinai desert. In addition to the M-75 replica, with the words “Made in Gaza,” in English painted on its side, the stage at the Hamas celebration featured a banner with pictures of the walls of the Old City of Yerushalayim and the Dome of the Rock, along with large photographs of Mashaal and Ahmed al-Jabari, the head of Hamas’ missile program and its senior military commander whose assassination by an Israeli missile strike set off last month’s war.
After the Israeli invasion of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, at the end of 2008, the Hamas leadership in Gaza reached an informal cease fire arrangement with Israel which was broken by the increasing pace of missile attacks from Gaza. Prior to the beginning of “Operation Pillar of Defense” with the assassination of Jabari, terrorists in Gaza had fired more than 750 rockets and mortars into Israel since the start of 2012, with more of the missiles being of the longer range variety, falling on major southern Israeli cities as far away as Ashdod and Beer Sheva.
MASHAAL WEAKENED BY TIES TO ASSAD
Meanwhile, Mashaal’s position in the rest of the Arab world was compromised by the location of his headquarters in Damascus, operating under the protection of the increasingly unpopular Syrian dictator, Bashar Assad. Earlier this year, Mashaal finally broke with Assad and his Iranian allies, who responded by reducing their support for Hamas, while building up competing terrorist group is Gaza, such as Islamic Jihad. His return to Gaza last week was seen as a tacit acknowledgment that the Hamas leadership there has supplanted Mashaal’s role as the titular head of the movement
Even though its direct support for Hamas has diminished, Iran continued to send larger and more sophisticated missiles into Gaza using a roundabout smuggling route. The missiles were shipped by sea as components to Sudan, which is under the rule of Islamic extremists, where they were assembled. They then traveled in truck convoys across the Egyptian border to the Sinai peninsula, where they were smuggled into Gaza with the help of local Bedouin and al Qaeda terrorists who have set up training camps there since the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak early last year.
US AGREED TO LET ISRAEL ATTACK GAZA MISSILES
According to a Fox News report, Israel pre-planned last month’s aerial assault on Gaza to wipe out the stockpile of long range Iranian missiles in Gaza with US knowledge and permission because the rockets had become a serious threat to the safety of more than one million residents in southern Israel. Even the successful deployment of the Iron Dome missile defense system did not prevent the rockets from disrupting daily life in that part of the country.
Jonathan Schanzer, a former US counter-terrorism analyst for the Treasury department, said that Iran had succeeded in smuggling as many as 100 Fajr-5 missiles into Gaza after being assembled in Sudan and trucked through Egypt. He added that it had to be done with the knowledge and tacit approval of both Sudan’s government and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi. The sheer size of the rockets, which are 20 feet long and weigh almost 3,000 pounds, makes them too big to easily hide.
MISSILE FACTORY IN SUDAN WAS DESTROYED
Schanzer, now vice president of research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies,said that the US not only approved the Israeli air attacks on the underground missile storage sites in Gaza, but also approved an air attack three weeks earlier, on October 23, which destroyed the missile assembly site in Yarmouk Sudan. It is probably not a coincidence that the air strike on the factory took place during a large joint US-Israeli military exercise in the region called Austere Challenge, involving 3,500 US troops. With so much military activity going on in the area, it would have been much easier for Israel to disguise the intentions of the planes which carried out the attack which destroyed the factory.
Israel has not admitted that it was responsible for the bombing of the missile factory in Sudan, but it has not denied it either. Sudanese officials say that they have captured a vulture that Israel had fitted with GPS chips and solar powered video cameras to scout out the factory. The vulture had a tag attached to its leg which said Israel Nature Service and Hebrew University.
An ecologist with the Israel Nature Service says the bird captured in Sudan was one of 100 vultures which had been tagged and released in October. He said that the birds had GPS transmitters, to track their positions and altitudes as they wandered through the region, but that they had no cameras for surveillance. He says that “we knew that something had happened to the bird when the signal from its GPS indicated that it wasn’t flying any more, but traveling on the ground.”
Another bird released from Israel last year to be tracked by naturalists was captured in Saudi Arabia, where it was “arrested” for spying as part of a “Zionist plot.”
THE REASON FOR OBAMA’S INITIAL SILENCE
Scherzer said that the pre-arrangement between Netanyahu and Obama to get rid of the long range missiles flowing into Gaza was the real reason the White House, “said nothing for the first few days of the operation; there was dead silence from [Obama].”
Schanzer notes that a comment by Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the US, during the third day of Operation Pillar of Defense, that Israel had, “run out of good targets,”meant that by that point, all of the known long-range missile storage sites in Gaza had been destroyed. Only after that point did the US pressure Israel to begin winding down its air operations against Gaza.
He points out that the assassination of Hamas missile chief Jabari at the start of the operation fits his theory of the war. “Ahmad Jabari, along with another major Hamas figure, Mahmoud al Mabhouhk, [who was assassinated in Dubai in 2010], was a key part of the procurement network for the Fajr missiles and there is little doubt that Israel was keen to take out the man responsible,” Schanzer said.
An Israeli official confirmed Schanzer’s suggestion that the US had approved the Israeli air assault on Gaza missile sites in advance. “The fact of the matter is that there was a significant upsurge in rocket fire from Gaza in the weeks leading up to the operation. Once the need to respond was there, it made sense to take the opportunity to act against the most dangerous weapons. The Fajr rockets were the first targets. There was a need to minimize their ability to target major population centers in Israel.”
BIGGER MISSILES WERE A STRATEGIC THREAT
Schanzer said that the Israeli intelligence community and the Obama administration agreed that the presence of significant numbers of long range missiles in Gaza was a strategic “game changer” and could not be tolerated. That is no doubt why Israel has agreed to follow up discussions in Egypt over the terms of the cease-fire, which no doubt include an Israeli demand that Egypt take action to halt the flow of more long-range rockets into Gaza.
Viewed from that narrow strategic perspective, Israel’s elimination of the long-term rocket threat from Gaza does count as a victory, belying Hamas’ boasts that it won the engagement with Israel. It would indicate that Israel never really wanted to invade Gaza, and massed its troops along the border to force Hamas to negotiate a cease-fire whose main goal, from Israel’s view, is to prevent the missile threat from being reconstituted.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, said, “The fact that Mashaal spoke of victory in Gaza doesn’t change the fact that Hamas was dealt a serious blow. The government did what needed to be done and deterrence has been restored. And if in the future it falters again, then we’ll have to strike with greater force.”
EXPOSING PALESTINIAN GOALS
Netanyahu believes that Mashaal’s statements about Hamas’ continued intention to destroy Israel must be taken at face value, and the fact that Abbas is still willing to form a joint Palestinian government with Hamas means that he shares Mashaal’s goals vis-a-vis the destruction of Israel.
At Sunday’s Cabinet meeting Netanyahu told his ministers that at the Gaza victory celebration, “we were re-exposed to our enemies’ true face. They have no intention of compromising with us; they want to destroy Israel. They will fail, of course; in the annals of the history of our people, we — the Jewish People — have overcome such enemies.”
Netanyahu noted that despite attempting to foster the image of being a “peace partner” for Israel, Abbas “has issued no condemnation of Hamas, not of Mashaal’s remarks promising the destruction of Israel, just as previously he did not condemn the missiles that Hamas fired at Israel. To my regret, Abbas strives for unity with the same Hamas that is supported by Iran.
“We have no illusions. We want a true peace with our neighbors. But we will not close our eyes and stick our heads in the sand. We are not prepared to repeat the same mistake of a unilateral withdrawal and withdrawals that, in effect, led Hamas to take control of Gaza.
“I have always been astonished at the delusions of others who are prepared to continue this process and call it peace. You would hand over more territory, in this case the West Bank adjacent to Israel’s largest cities, to the same people and the result, of course, will be a Gaza on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, Chadera and Kfar Saba.”
DEFYING INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE
Netanyahu promised again that he would withstand international pressure on Israel to reverse its reaction to last month’s General Assembly vote granting the PA enhanced diplomatic status. He announced plans for the construction of thousands of new Jewish homes in East Yerushalayim and the West Bank, and the Israeli development of a crucial stretch of land known as the E-1 corridor which would connect Yerushalayim with Maale Adumim to the east, on land coveted by the Palestinians to help establish East Yerushalayim as the capital of their state.
Israel was particularly disappointed with the actions of Germany, which decided at the last moment to switch its UN General Assembly vote from no to an abstention on the Palestinian recognition resolution. France also changed its vote to favor the resolution, causing several other European powers to follow suit. This left Israel further isolated in the diplomatic community, with only 8 other countries in the entire world, including the United States, Canada and the Czech Republic, as the only Western powers voting against the resolution.
A DELIBERATE RESPONSE TO THE UN RESOLUTION
In response to what Israel saw as the international community taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute at the UN, it took action a few days later to approve preliminary plans to 3,400 new homes in two developments in the E-1 corridor, as well as 1,700 homes in Ramot Shlomo, an existing Jewish community in east Yerushalayim, and another 2,600 in the Ethiopian Jewish community of Givat Hamatos, between Talpiot and Gilo. Israel also diverted a tax payment that it was supposed to make to the Palestinian Authority to partially pay the PA’s past due bills to Israel’s state electrical power company.
Ramot Shlomo is the same community which caused a severe diplomatic rift between the Israeli and US governments in 2010, when a Yerushalayim planning council announced administrative approval of a new construction project there while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel. The Obama administration accused Netanyahu of orchestrating the announcement in order to sabotage White House efforts to restart negotiations with the Palestinians, when, in fact, Netanyahu was unaware of the planning council’s actions until after the fact.
This time, however, the housing announcements were no mistake. Israel’s position was that by seeking unilateral recognition from the United Nations without first reaching a peace agreement with Israel, the Palestinian Authority had violated one of the basic precepts of the Oslo accords, freeing Israel from its responsibilities to avoid any actions that would complicate negotiations. It was a symbolic gesture, intending to indicate that Israel would press its own claims to the territory under dispute with the Palestinians, and feel free to exercise its control over it if the Palestinians continued to refuse negotiations.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE E-1 CORRIDOR
The new construction announcement brought a furious diplomatic reaction from the European countries which had changed their votes to support the Palestinian position at the UN. There was particular anger over the announcement of Israeli plans to build in the E-1 corridor, both because of its strategic location and because, unlike Ramot Shlomo and Givat Hamatos, it is not currently a developed community. Building there is in violation of an agreement worked out several years ago between Israel and the Bush administration on new construction in the West Bank.
While Israeli leaders since Yitzchok Rabin have all announced their intentions to develop the E-1 corridor, in fact, the only Israeli building on the site is a single police station. No Jews currently live there.
Britain, France, Sweden, Spain, Denmark, Australia, Brazil and Egypt all reacted by summoning their Israeli ambassadors last week to protest the new settlement plans, while Germany and the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, denounced them publicly.
There was also an unofficial US response from Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago. While he served as Obama’s White House chief of staff, Emanuel was considered to be its in-house expert on Israeli policy.
First, Emanuel called Netanyahu’s behavior “unfathomable,” then he accused him of repeatedly “betraying” Obama.
DID THE US ORCHESTRATE THE EUROPEAN PROTESTS?
Meanwhile, media reports claimed that the Israeli government believes that the diplomatic retaliation in response to its announcement of construction plans had been quietly approved, and possibly orchestrated by the White House.
Yedioth Ahronoth commentator Shimon Shiffer wrote, “we would not be mistaken to say that Europe was acting with Washington’s encouragement. The White House authorized Europe to pounce on the Netanyahu government and to punish it.”
An Israeli official was quoted by the British newspapers, the Daily Telegraph, as saying that, “it’s more likely that the Americans were informed [about the protests] and did not raise any objection, and also showed some understanding and maybe even more. There’s probably an understanding between the US and the Europeans that this is the right thing to do at this point.”
Former US ambassador to Israel, Dan Kurtzer, accused Netanyahu of announcing develop plans for the E-1 corridor because Obama has publicly rejected the previous understanding between the US and Israel under which the E-1 project was out-of-bounds. “It wasn’t just retribution for the vote at the UN, it was retribution directed at the US as well,” Kurtzer told Haaretz.
EU MINISTERS BACK PALESTINIAN CLAIMS
EU foreign ministers met Monday to discuss ways in which they could influence Israel to cancel its newly announced settlement plans, but for the time being, there seems to be no willingness among the major European powers, including Britain, France and Germany, to impose trade sanctions on Israel in retaliation. However, they did issue a joint statement stating that its agreements with Israel only apply to the territory within its pre-67 borders. It also spelled out its opposition to all Israeli construction in the West Bank and East Yerushalayim, particularly its plans to develop the E-1 corridor.
Parroting the Palestinian propaganda, the EU ministers stated that Israeli construction in the E-1 corridor would “undermine the prospects of a negotiated resolution of the conflict by jeopardizing the possibility of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state and of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states. It could also entail forced transfer of civilian population.”
Netanyahu rejected the EU claims about E-1 as “not true.” He denied their contention that building in Ma’aleh Adumim and linking it with Yerushalayim through the narrow E-1 corridor jeopardizes the two-state solution. He added that, “unfortunately, if you repeat a falsehood endlessly, it assumes the cache of truth.”
NETANYAHU CONDEMNS THE WORLD’S SILENCE
He then asked why the international community has not been putting pressure on Abbas to return to the negotiating table with Israel. “The Palestinians can afford to avoid negotiations because the international community has exacted no price for the Palestinian failure to negotiate in good faith.”
Noting the open call by Mashaal for Israel’s destruction, Netanyahu asked, “Where was the outrage? Where were the UN resolutions? Where was Abbas? Why weren’t the Palestinians summoned to European and other capitals to explain why the PA chairman not only refused to condemn Mashaal’s statement, but declared his intention to re-unite with Hamas?” Instead, all that was hear in response was a deafening silence.
“Why is it,” Netanyahu asked, “that when Jews build homes in their ancient capital of Yerushalayim, the international community has no problem finding its voice, but when Palestinian leaders openly call for the destruction of Israel, the world is silent?”
ISRAEL FIGHTING FOR ITS RIGHT TO EXIST
Last week, Netanyahu told a forum on diplomacy that the Israeli-Arab conflict is not based upon a dispute about any specific pieces of territory, but rather about Israel’s right of exist at all as a Jewish state in the Middle East.
“Our top public diplomacy mission is to explain that the root of this conflict is not territorial. It is over our very existence with any borders whatsoever.”
Netanyahu cited the recent fighting in Gaza as evidence for his claim. “What was the war about? The war was about our very existence. We left areas that we captured in the Six Day War, like Gaza, and they still fire missiles at us,” he said.
He also reminded his audience that even before Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, it was under constant attack, and the start of the peace process 20 years ago has done nothing to change it.
“Day in, day out, and hour by hour, they have been preaching that Israel does not have a right to exist, so certainly the lie has taken root, and there is no way to fight a lie except with the truth.”
Supporters of Israel also note that while Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas do publicly recognize Israel’s de facto existence, they still have not accepted its legitimate right to exist, as demonstrated by the fact children in Palestinian schools study from textbooks with maps which label the area within Israel’s pre-1967 borders as Palestine.
NETANYAHU AND GERMANY’S MERKEL AGREE TO DISAGREE
Later last week, Netanyahu made a previously scheduled visit to Europe. He made a point of stopping off in the Czech Republic to thank its leaders for standing by Israel during the General Assembly vote.
He then went on to Germany, where he had a difficult meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel. In an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, Netanyahu said that Merkel was mistaken to believe that their decision to abstain in the General Assembly instead of voting against the upgrade in Palestinian status at the United Nations “would in some way foster peace. In fact the opposite is the case: after the UN vote, the Palestinian Authority under president Abbas is making plans to join with the terrorists of Hamas.
“I would be insincere if I didn’t say I was disappointed, as were many people in Israel, by the German vote in the UN. People know that there is a special relationship between Germany and Israel.”
THE BIG LIE ON E-1
At a joint news conference in Berlin, Merkel said that she and Netanyahu had “agreed that we disagree” on construction in the E-1 corridor, adding that, “the work on a two-state solution must be continued. . . We must keep trying to come to negotiations.”
Earlier, Merkel’s spokesman had accused Israel of “undermining faith in its willingness to negotiate. The geographic space for a future Palestinian state, which must be the basis for a two-state solution, is disappearing.”
But Netanyahu countered in his interview with Die Welt that the territory in the E-1 corridor between Yerushalayim and Maaleh Adumim had always been expected to go to Israel in any final peace agreement, and hence was no real loss to the Palestinians.
Flexing his new diplomatic status, Abbas said that he was determined to block the new construction, especially in the E-1 corridor, with all legal and diplomatic means at his disposal.
The Palestinian Charge d’Affaires sent letters to the UN Security Council, the General Assembly and the UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon condemning “Israel’s contemptuous response” to the General Assembly’s recognition vote. The letters called on the Security Council and the Quartet, consisting of the US, UN, European Union and Russia, “to act immediately to demand an end to Israel’s illegal activities and to salvage the prospects for reviving credible peace negotiations.”
Meanwhile, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that “The war of words of reciprocal actions isn’t getting us any closer to where we need to be.”
The US, he said, “Calls on both sides to consider their next steps and where they want to be as they consider the path ahead, and that’s that true peace can only be reached through the negotiating table. So where we’re at now is not getting us any closer.
“Both parties need to stand down and take steps towards getting back to the negotiating table.”
ISRAEL’S PEACE CAMP STRUGGLING
There are still some Israeli political leaders who share that desire to return to the negotiating table with Abbas, despite his efforts to achieve unilateral recognition from the UN without a peace agreement with Israel, and his public overtures to Hamas. These include President Shimon Peres, who still differentiates Abbas from his would-be Hamas partners.
Referring to the upcoming Israeli election on January 22, Peres said, “This is not just a time of elections, it is also a time of choices. We have to choose between Gaza and the West Bank, between Abbas and Mashaal. It’s a choice and it has to be made.” Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaking to the same business conference as Peres blasted the Netanyahu government for being too harsh in its criticism of Abbas, warning that it risked the takeover of the Palestinian Authority by radical elements, igniting a third intifada.
However, Netanyahu has shown no signs of easing up on the Palestinians before the election, and the remnants of the Israeli peace camp are in disarray. Attempts to unite the center-left behind Olmert or Tzipi Livni to challenge Netanyahu, who has already formed a united faction with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisroel Bayteinu party have failed.
NETANYAHU FACING A DIVIDED OPPOSITION
Olmert has announced that he is not running. He has endorsed Kadima, which had been the largest of Israel’s political parties. However, under the leadership of Shaul Mofaz, it is now in danger of a complete political implosion.
Livni has abandoned Kadima and is now running as the head of a small party which bears her name, but she has failed to attract much of a political following.
Following the breakaway two years ago of former Labor chairman Ehud Barak, who has now announced his retirement from electoral politics, Labor, under Shelly Yacimovitch, is now in a rebuilding phase. In the election, it expects to divide many of the former supporters of Kadima with Livni’s party. A new secular centrist party, named Yesh Atid, which was begun with much media fanfare earlier this year, already seems to be fading to minor party status. Finally, the radical left wing Meretz Party is struggling to hold onto a minimal Knesset faction.
As a result, Netanyahu is expected to emerge from the election at the head of a strong and politically stable right-wing government, with as many as 71 Knesset seats, if all the right wing and religious parties agree to join, according to a poll this week. Once re-elected, he is expected to continue his policy of no further concessions to the Palestinians without Israel receiving something meaningful in return.