(photo credit: AP)
On a day when The New York Times reported that the US and Israel were in cahoots, intending to destabilize the newly elected Hamas-led Palestinian government by cutting off funding, Hamas chief in exile Khaled Mashaal attacked the policies of Western governments and Israel on Tuesday saying Hamas would never recognize Israel, and calling for the "liberation of Jerusalem."
"Our goal is to free Jerusalem and to purify Al-Aksa Mosque," said the Damascus-based leader, according to Hamas's Web site. "Islam is strong," he reportedly said in a speech to a crowd in Sudan's capital Khartoum, "because its strength is from God, and it will continue to go forward despite those who oppose it. Don't fear, we will not recognize Israel."
With the possibility of foreign funding being cut off, Mashaal began a tour of Muslim countries last week in order to drum up financial support. But he told his audience that "we are a nation which is ready to starve and die." His words echoed the goal of a plan described by the Times, which said that Israeli and US officials would try to "starve the Palestinian Authority of money and international connections to the point where, some months from now, its chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, is compelled to call a new election.
"The hope is that Palestinians will be so unhappy with life under Hamas that they will return to office a reformed and chastened Fatah movement."
Professor Shaul Mishal of Tel Aviv University, an expert on Hamas, told The Jerusalem Post that withholding funds from the Palestinians could have a "boomerang effect." "I think the problem now is that you can no longer use the preelection logic that without donor aid the Palestinians can't work and that they will have to raise their hands and give up," said.
Mishal, who wrote The Palestinian Hamas: Vision, Violence and Coexistence, said that the reaction of the Muslim world had to be taken into account.
"This is not some corner of the world, this is Palestine," he said. "It is a litmus paper for the rest of the Muslim world. There could be a civil uprising... The moment they see the pictures of hungry children, there will be charity to help them. The West calls for democracy but then rejects it when it does not suit them."
Mishal said Mashaal's call to liberate Jerusalem was a call to the Muslim world, because Jerusalem is the third holiest Muslim site.
"This is strategic rhetoric to draft the Muslim world," he said. "Fatah has America, Hamas has the Muslim world."
Hamas condemned the plan described by the Times, as did Palestinian leaders from across the political spectrum.
Liberal-minded secular Palestinian leader, Mustafa Barghouti, told the Post that such a move would be "immoral" saying if "[the US and Israel] expect democracy they have to accept the results." Barghouti warned that cutting off funds to the PA would have grave consequences for Israel and the region.
"I believe if they put people under more hardship they will become more radical," said Barghouti, who ran on the Independent Palestine list in the recent Palestinian election.
Mushir Al-Masri, a Hamas PLC member from Gaza, said an attempt to cause the Hamas government to fall was a "rejection of the democratic process, which the Americans are calling for day and night. It's an interference and a collective punishment of our people because they practiced the democratic process in a transparent and honest way."
In his speech Mashaal said the Palestinians no longer trusted the Europeans, and referred to the Holocaust: "What did you do to us? Do you want us to give you 50 more years? You sowed Israel among us. You did an injustice to the Jews in your countries and you pushed them on us. We never did to them the injustice that they did to us. Facing all this, and facing the occupation, you don't want us to struggle.
"What did international decisions do for us? Is there a single European country that forced Israel to uphold a single international decision like the one regarding the fence? We don't believe you and we don't trust you and we won't wait for you."
Aid organizations made a joint appeal to Western governments on Tuesday not to stop aid to the Palestinians, reported Agence France Presse.
Thirty-one international organizations, including Oxfam and Medecins du Monde, said the local Palestinian population was in desperate need of foreign support.
Outgoing Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser Al-Kidwa urged the international community not to cut off funding to the PA once Hamas takes power.
"The aid for Palestinians should continue, despite the political situation and the parties that are in government," Kidwa said after meeting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
AP contributed to this report.