Between Hamas and the PA: An Interview with Islamic Jihad’s Khalid al-Batsh
Khalid al-Batsh, a senior official of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Gaza chair of the “Freedom Committee,” established under the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement of May 2011, was interviewed in Cairo by Mouin Rabbani on 11 July 2012. The interview from which the following excerpts were taken covered a range of issues, including the impact of the “Arab Spring” on the Palestinians, the situations in Egypt and Syria, Islamic Jihad’s relations with Fatah and Hamas, and prospects for reform of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The excerpts below directly concern Islamic Jihad and Palestine. The complete interview in Arabic was published by JPS’s sister journal, Majallat al-Dirasat al-Filastiniyya, no. 93 (Winter 2013), pp. 122–37.
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The Authority in Ramallah has adopted a strategy of negotiation in a situation where there is no horizon for negotiating a political solution. Meanwhile, the Authority in Gaza has adopted a strategy of resistance without any program for resistance. I imagine that many, if not most, Palestinians see stagnation in both courses. What is the assessment of Islamic Jihad?
EQUATING THE TWOpaths is a great injustice. . . . It’s the difference between a project that leads to the loss of Palestinian rights and a project that strives to recover Palestinian rights, between one that engages with the enemy in negotiations and one that engages in permanent confrontation with the enemy. . . .
Concerning the first project, all observers of the negotiations with Israel—even Abu Mazin [Mahmud Abbas] himself—agree that the experiment has failed, with zero accomplishments, and that Israel dominates everything. [Israel] does not seek peace, but rather uses negotiations as a cover for building settlements, Judaizing Jerusalem, and expelling people from their homes.
On the other hand, what led Israel to exit Gaza? . . . They left in October 2005 against their will. The resistance achieved something. . . . The resistance was contained and weakened by political divisions and fighting between Fatah and Hamas, but even so, with its simple and primitive means, this resistance was able to evict the Israelis from the Gaza Strip in less than five years, since the start of the [second] intifada . . .
The enemy knows before the friend that the capabilities of the resistance in the Gaza Strip have changed. The enemy no longer has a free hand in Gaza, and knows it. . . . In the past, our people’s homes were hit by Israeli planes and artillery while the settlers remained secure in their settlements. Today, Israel doesn’t dare return to the previous practice because they know that any air raid on Gaza will be met with a rocket attack on their settlements. . . . The days when Gaza could serve as a training ground for air strikes and tank and naval attacks are over, because they are met with locally-made rockets. This has created a situation of restraint among the Israelis.
Along the southern Lebanon pattern, with Hizballah?
Yes. This formula now exists in the Gaza Strip. This situation was not reached through negotiations, which brought us nothing. . . . In the West Bank, perhaps the resistance has receded a little, allowing Israel to think that any protests and denunciations will be verbal only. This has helped Israel become more radical.
How do you see the coming period in terms of Israel’s action and strategy? Might there be a partial withdrawal from the West Bank? A new invasion of the Gaza Strip?
I believe the current regional changes might lead the Americans to advise Israel to give something to the Palestinians so as to frustrate the Arab revolution . . . , to give peace a chance once again. It wants to see Gaza in ruins, the resistance to surrender, and the option of resistance and jihad eliminated. The recent Israeli threat of a big strike against Gaza is something that we take seriously. . . .
The strategies of the Ramallah Authority and of Hamas are well known to everyone. Can you give us an idea of Islamic Jihad’s strategy?
We believe that we’re in the stage of Palestinian national liberation, and this stage cannot tolerate the existence of one authority here and another there. We also believe that compromising [with Israel] and declaring an “Authority” were regrettable, premature steps by the Palestinian leadership.
I assume you are referring to the Oslo accords?
Exactly. It was premature. The fruit was unripe, green, and bitter; the Oslo accords were bitter and we were made to swallow the bitterness. The result of this premature step was the Palestinian Authority.
So what is our strategy today? We consider ourselves on a path to national liberation and therefore proclaim ourselves a movement of national and Islamic liberation from Israeli occupation. This requires us to adhere to the motto of resistance and continue with that option to reclaim the land. The present reality in Palestine is that there is an authority for Hamas and an authority for the brothers in Fatah. This impedes and negatively affects the resistance project, but regardless it is essential at this stage to continue. We must rid ourselves of Oslo and its political ramifications. If we can terminate Oslo, that will be for the good. At all events, it must be made clear that this land is occupied and that resistance, jihad, and liberation are the only paths to restore our rights, while rejecting all compromise with Israel.