Our unity can now pave the way for peace and justice

The Mecca agreement gives the west the chance to break with its policy of blackmail and recognise Palestinian rights

A historic new phase in the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence has begun. Last week’s Mecca agreement between Hamas and Fatah will pave the way for the first ever truly Palestinian national unity government. Hamas and Fatah, joined by all the other Palestinian factions, will now seek to rebuild Palestinian society following the destruction brought upon it by Israeli occupation and resume the campaign for our national rights.
We are determined to make sure that the recent internal fighting, which appalled our people and dismayed their supporters around the world, becomes history. We firmly believe that it would never have happened had it not been for foreign intervention and the brutal sanctions imposed on our people by Israel and its allies. The crisis would not have existed had international and regional powers respected the results of last year’s democratic elections in Palestine.

The Mecca agreement has laid the foundations for a power-sharing process that will produce a functioning government capable of attending to our people’s needs. It will also pave the way for rebuilding the PLO to include all the factions and become the legitimate representative of all Palestinian people. The partnership born out of the Mecca meeting is possible because of the consensus among the Palestinians that their primary objective is to win their freedom, and that their struggle should be solely against occupation. It is now up to the international community to respect this accord and the will of the Palestinian people.
We Palestinians have been the victims of invasion, occupation and oppression for almost a century. Yet we have been constantly blackmailed to make concessions and give up yet more of our legitimate rights. Since the elections of January 2006 our people have been boycotted and punished by the international community for exercising their democratic rights. In the meantime, Israel has continued to kill and detain Palestinians on a daily basis, demolishing hundreds of houses and making thousands homeless.

Today Israel has more than 11,000 of our brothers and sisters in jail and continues to deny millions of refugees the right to return to their homeland. It has defied international law by proceeding with the construction of the apartheid wall and building settlements on land expropriated from Palestinians. Meanwhile, excavation resumed last week in the compound of al-Aqsa mosque, and on Friday the mosque, to which access is denied to Palestinians below the age of 45, was invaded by Israeli troops who wounded scores of worshippers.

Now that Hamas and Fatah have agreed to form a national unity government, the international community has no excuse to maintain the siege against our people. We know that many governments around the world are unhappy with these sanctions and want to see an end to them. The Palestinian national accord achieved in Mecca envisages the establishment of a truly sovereign and independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in June 1967 – with Jerusalem as its capital, the dismantling of the settlements in the West Bank, the release of all Palestinian prisoners and the acknowledgement of the right of the refugees to return to their homes.

Once translated into reality, this vision will pave the way for real peace in the region. There must be no more blackmail of Palestinians, for there is nothing else they can give away. Global powers should have learned by now that neither sanctions nor any other form of pressure or bribery will force the Palestinians to abandon their struggle for freedom and independence.

All previous peace proposals have failed because they were intended to impose an unjust pro-Israel settlement on our people, and were based on the assumption that the Palestinian struggle was a form of terrorism that the Palestinians had to renounce. The attempt to divide Palestinians into moderates and extremists or peacemakers and terrorists has failed. Now we are united in our determination to seek an end to oppression and occupation.

So, will the international community seize this historic opportunity, require Israel to respect our rights and stop hindering this attempt to turn the Palestinian national agreement into a reality? Or will it remain weak and ineffective in the face of Israeli intransigence and risk alienating not only Hamas but also Fatah and all the other Palestinian factions?

If the latter is the choice, the outcome will be dire indeed: the entire Middle East region will be driven towards another cycle of bloody escalation that may last for many years to come – and an entire Palestinian generation, which might not be willing to accept what we accept today, will be left profoundly embittered.

The west needs to wake up and realise that time is no longer on the side of Israel and its policies of occupation, destruction and expansion. Time no longer favours the continuation of policies biased towards Israel. It will not serve the best interests of the west to support Israel while it continues to terrorise our people, occupy our land, violate our basic human and national rights and encroach on Muslim and Christian holy places. Such blind support has proven to be very costly for the west and will increasingly damage its vital interests.

It must be understood by all that the people of Palestine have the key to both peace and war in the Middle East. There can never be peace and stability in the region without settling the Palestinian question. And that can only be achieved by ending the occupation and recognising our people’s rights.

· Khalid Mish’al is head of the Hamas political bureau

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