‘We are not going to recognize Israel. That is very simple. And we are not going to accept Israel as the owner of one square centimeter,’ says Mahmoud al-Zahar.
Hamas has the Gaza Strip firmly under its control. Although Israel’s blockade of the salient is aimed at weakening it, money laundering and revenue from the smuggling tunnels under the border with Egypt has kept the radical Islamist movement afloat.
The movement’s charter calls for an Islamic state to be established in all of historical Palestine (including Israel).
Hamas leaders have firm views on the attempt by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to get the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders, before Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan.
“Just nonsense,” says Mahmoud al-Zahar, a prominent Hamas member in Gaza. “A Palestinian state means land, people and authority. And now, what is the border of Israel? Israel has had many borders in the last 30, 40 years. What border are we going to speak about?’”
The approach to the UN, he says, is a ‘political scam.’ He is equally unequivocal on the so-called two-state solution, which aims at an Israeli state and a Palestinian state existing side by side.
“We are not going to recognize Israel. That is very simple. And we are not going to accept Israel as the owner of one square centimeter because it is a fabricated state.”
“On what moral basis was Israel established? On the right of return (of the Jews) after 4,000 years? It’s just imagination.”
He says accepting Israel’s right to exist would “cost 10 million Palestinians their right to Palestine. Who can pay that price? Who will go to the refugee camps and tell the people you have no right on Palestine?”
Al-Zahar and Hamas are also uncompromising regarding Palestinian unity with Abbas’ Fatah party.
After years of bitter, and at times violent conflict, which erupted after Hamas chased security personnel loyal to Abbas and the Palestinian Authority out of the Gaza Strip, the two movements signed a reconciliation agreement in May.
But talks over the formation of a unity government, a clause in the deal, have floundered, as the two groups fail to agree on who should be the new Palestinian prime minister.
Abbas wants Salam Fayyad, the current prime minister of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, to continue in the post. Hamas rejects this outright.
“This man is not acceptable to us,” al-Zahar states flatly.
He says the pro-Western Fayyad, an internationally respected economist, “is not a nationalist, he is a collaborator.”
Al-Zahar differs from other Hamas leaders regarding the efforts of a German official trying to mediate a deal which would see Hamas release an Israeli soldier it has been holding since 2006, in return for Palestinian prisoners freed from Israeli jails.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri described the mediator, an official of the German Intelligence Service BND, as being “not a fair negotiator” and rejected all future cooperation.
But al-Zahar says the mediator “is not on the side of Israel. He is neutral.”
“The problem is not the German mediator,” he says, blaming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the impasse in the swap deal and accusing him of “public relations.”
And what of the so-called Arab spring, the revolutions sweeping Middle East countries, which have overthrown the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and threaten two more, in Libya, and in Syria, where the political headquarters of Hamas is located?
Hamas spokesman Abu Zuhri dismisses speculation – at least publicly – that the movement would have to up and leave Damascus if its patron, Syrian President Bashar Assad, is overthrown.
“We are guests in Syria and Lebanon as refugees. And also very important: We are not part of what is going on in Syria. We have no intention of leaving Damascus. We see no reason to leave Syria,” he says.