Friday, March 26, 2004

Palestine is now part of an arc of Muslim resistance: "The chances of a lasting settlement should in reality be higher than ever before. For the first time, every significant political and armed Palestinian group - including Hamas and Islamic Jihad - is now prepared to accept a de facto end to conflict in return for an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza - just 22% of historic Palestine.

"The sharp-tongued Rantissi is widely regarded as more hardline than Yassin. But, as he told me in Gaza a couple of months back, Hamas is ready to call a ceasefire that 'should be seen in terms of years' in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from the territories it has illegally occupied for the past 37 years. On another occasion, referring to the Hamas dream of Islamist rule throughout Palestine, he has said: 'We can accept a truce ... live side by side and refer all the issues to the coming generations.' And the organisation's new number two in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, confirmed its commitment to a West Bank/Gaza state in yesterday's interview with the Guardian.

"But instead of seizing the opportunity for peace offered by such political signals, the Sharon government is deliberately undermining the basis for a two-state solution by carving up the occupied territories with its electrified fences, closed zones and ever-expanding settlements. At the same time, it is planning a partial withdrawal from the most heavily populated areas, while effectively annexing other areas of the West Bank and confining Palestinians to walled bantustans that can never form the basis of a viable state."

"Justice for the Palestinians should self-evidently be pursued on its own merits. But given the extent to which Palestine has become a focus of global Muslim grievance, it has also become a necessity for international security. And the failure of western leaders to confront the crisis in a remotely even-handed way is now a threat to their own people.

"The most dangerous delusion of our time must surely be the notion - trotted out by all manner of public figures, from George Bush to Clive James - that Islamist terror is motivated by hostility to freedom and the western way of life. As anyone who is familiar with the Arab and Muslim world, or even bothered to read successive statements by al-Qaida leaders, it is in fact overwhelmingly driven by hostility to foreign, and especially western, domination and occupation of Arab and Muslim countries."

"To address the swelling and legitimate grievances that underlie [terrorism and insurgency] is now a global imperative. Unless and until the occupying powers - notably the US, Britain and Israel [and Australia] - do that, they will be fuelling, not fighting, terror."

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