JERUSALEM — In a fiery speech Saturday before a mammoth rally in Gaza City marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, Khaled Meshal, the political leader of the militant Islamist group, pledged that it would never recognize Israel and called for an Islamic Palestinian state on the territory of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
A sea of green flags filled Katiba Square in Gaza City as Meshal and the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, walked out of a giant replica of a long-range Hamas M-75 rocket set up on a stage with a mock-up of the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.
Tens of thousands gathered for what was billed as both an anniversary and a victory celebration after last month’s conflict, during which Hamas fired rockets toward Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Meshal, who has led Hamas from exile, used the occasion to reiterate the group’s long-held principles, calling for “armed resistance” to eliminate Israel.
“Palestine, from the river to the sea, from north to south, is our land,” Meshal said, “Not an inch of it can be conceded.”
“We cannot recognize the legitimacy of Israel’s occupation of Palestine,” he said. “There is no legitimacy to occupation, and therefore no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take.”
“Liberating Palestine, all of Palestine, is a duty, a right and a goal,” he added.
As for Jerusalem, “we will liberate it inch by inch, stone by stone, Islamic and Christian holy places,” he said. “Israel has no right in Jerusalem.”
The recent recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state at the United Nations was a “small step but a good one,” Meshal said, but he asserted that armed action took precedence over diplomacy.
“Liberation first, then the state,” he said. “The real state is the product of liberation, not the product of negotiations.”
“Holy war and armed resistance are the real and right path to liberation and recovery of rights,” he declared, adding that that while diplomatic efforts could also serve the cause, they had “no value without resistance.”
Meshal’s message stood in stark contrast to the strategy of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the rival Fatah faction that is dominant in the West Bank. Abbas led the successful U.N. bid, has negotiated with Israel and rejects violence.
Still, Meshal urged Abbas to follow through with a reconciliation agreement signed last year between Hamas and Fatah, calling the U.N. vote a boost to faltering unity efforts.
After the reconciliation accord, Meshal endorsed a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and unarmed “popular struggle” advocated by Abbas, but he did not renounce violence or commit to ending the conflict with Israel once that state was achieved.