- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar has proposed a dramatic shift of Palestinian policy — ending security cooperation with Israel, cutting most trade links with the Jewish state and refusing to engage with the “Christian-Zionist” U.S. administration.

“We have to go away from Israel and move toward all possible linkages with our Arab and Islamic brothers,” he told The Washington Times just days before his militant movement’s stunning election victory.

“Cooperation [with Israel] on the security and economic fields was a disaster for the Palestinians,” he said

Although he promised last night to invite Fatah and independent candidates to participate in a broad-based government, Mr. Zahar — the highest-ranking Hamas official in the Palestinian territories — gave no indication that the electoral success had softened his views.

“Resistance is a legitimate right of the Palestinian people, and we will not abandon it. There is no contraction between resistance and entering the legislative council,” he told reporters at his party’s Gaza City headquarters.

Mr. Zahar said Hamas would extend its year-old truce if Israel reciprocates.

“If not, then I think we will have no option but to protect our people and our land,” he said.

Another Hamas official, speaking to The Washington Times on the third floor of the group’s eerily unfinished offices in central Gaza City last night, warned that the group’s year-old cease-fire with Israel would not last forever.

“We have declared a cease-fire, but the occupation didn’t appreciate it,” he said. “A one-sided cease-fire is not useful.”

During the earlier interview, Mr. Zahar — who was nearly killed when an Israeli bombing raid destroyed his home two years ago — spoke in firm, quiet tones in strongly accented but clear English.

Noting Israel’s plan to “disengage” from the Palestinians, he proposed his own form of disengagement in which the Gaza Strip and “any part of Palestine that can be liberated” would seek to link themselves economically with their Arab and Islamic neighbors.

He said the 1993 Oslo accords and the 1994 Paris agreement that followed had given Israel economic advantages at the Palestinians’ expense.

“Our economic status was destroyed by the linkage of our economy with Israel,” he said.

He charged that Palestinian agricultural exports had been restricted while oil and electricity purchased through Israel cost many times more than they would if purchased from Egypt.

“In 2004, we paid $186 million for electricity, and if we had taken it from Egypt, it would have been $20 million,” he said, apparently assuming the oil and electricity could be purchased at the highly subsidized rates provided to Egyptian consumers.

“We are not speaking about a fanatical process, not saying we are going to kill the Jews — we are talking about how to address the destruction of our economy,” he said.

Mr. Zahar seemed unconcerned about the prospect of a cutoff in foreign aid, saying a Hamas government would not renounce the right to armed resistance to keep the money flowing from Europe and the United States.

“How could we justify taking the money?” he asked.

Mr. Zahar said he thinks European countries would soon “change their mind” and continue to do business with the new Palestinian Authority, but he said he could foresee no relationship with the Bush administration, which he accused of supporting Christian sectarianism in Egypt and interfering in the affairs of Lebanon, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

“President Bush is introducing hysteria into the region,” he said. “He used the term ‘a new Crusade’ and clearly is pushing the Christian-Zionist agenda — which is why we cannot deal with him.”

Mr. Zahar said that a continuing security understanding with Israel was “not impossible” while the Palestinians build new institutions.

But, within the next five decades, “I’m sure Israel will disappear as the Crusaders and other empires disappeared,” he said.

“All of Palestine will become part of the Arab and Islamic land — as the Koran promised.”

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