A conference in Beirut has heard that the state of Palestine will be "the fruit of liberation". Hamas Political Bureau head Khaled Meshaal addressed the conference by satellite link and told delegates from around the Arab world that the liberation of Palestine must come first, "then a state". Mr. Meshaal was speaking just days before the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas makes its bid at the UN for non-member state observer status.
Organised by Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations in Beirut, the conference focused on "The Islamists of the Arab World and the Palestinian issue in light of the Arab Uprisings". The keynote speakers were Mr. Meshaal and the Secretary General of Palestinian Islamic Jihad Dr. Ramadan Shallah. A paper prepared by the General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Dr. Muhammad Badie, was read out by his representative at the conference.
Dr. Badie expressed his hope that the Islamist movements around the Arab world would cooperate and coordinate their actions, not least over the cause of Palestine. This cause, said the Director of Al-Zaytouna, Dr. Mohsen Saleh, in his introduction, "is the pivotal issue in the Middle East" today. He noted that the conference had attracted a broad spectrum of participants, including "Leftists and Nationalists as well as Islamists".
"As an Islamist and forward-thinking movement," said Khaled Meshaal, "Hamas is not struggling against Jews because they are Jews, only those who are also colonists on Palestinian land." In this he was referring to those Zionist Jews whose aim is to take Palestine from the Palestinians. Indeed, Meshaal described the conflict in the region as one between "Arabs and Zionists", not Israelis or Jews.
"Armed resistance is the right path," he stressed, "along with the diplomatic, political and media routes to liberation and freedom."
Insisting on the Palestinians' right of return to their land, the Hamas leader reminded the audience that Palestinians do not have an "alternative homeland". He also pointed out that "all humans make mistakes", but that doesn't mean that basic principles – which he outlined – must be abandoned in the clamour for a state. "While we may compromise or appease others on some issues," he said, "the basic principles themselves will not change, and cannot change."
The ultimate aim of Hamas, Meshaal explained, "is to serve the people of Palestine in the best way". For this to happen, he added, Palestine needs everyone to be involved, not just Islamists. "Liberals, Leftists, people of all political shades, including Islamists, should not let our enemies use our differences to divide us; we must be united."
Dr. Ramadan Shallah called the latest Israeli attack on Gaza a "historic juncture" in the struggle against "the Zionist entity". The Islamic Jihad Secretary General also stressed the need for unity in the "common cause to liberate Palestine". The "Western assault on Palestine, spearheaded by Israel" should be challenged, he said.
"If libertarians and humanitarians in the world really care about liberty and well being for all," argued Dr. Shallah, "then they should all join the struggle to liberate Palestine – all of it." Human freedom, he said, is the top priority of the liberation of any land.
With regards to the acceptance of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, Shallah was emphatic: "Do we accept the 1967 borders? No. We have to restore all of Palestine."
In a clear warning to the government and people of Egypt, he claimed that if Gaza is re-occupied by the Israelis, then Sinai will suffer the same fate. "Gaza is the human shield between Israeli aggression and Egypt."
In calling for unity across the Arab and Islamic world on the cause of Palestine, Shallah challenged those who are critical of the resistance groups who accept support from Iran. "Those who blame us should first do their duty and support us, and then they can be critical."
The conference is due to last two days, with presentations from representatives of Islamist organisations in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. Speakers will also address the stance taken by Israel and the United States over the rise of Islamists in the Arab world, as well as the role of the "Islamist media" in the Palestinian cause.