BEIRUT: Israel’s war on Gaza was a turning point in the struggle to liberate Palestine, Islamic Jihad’s representative to Lebanon said over the weekend.
Abu Imad al-Rifai also boasted that Palestinian fighters would be able to hold out against Israel for longer than the Israelis could politically sustain their ground incursion.
However, Rifai told The Daily Star that the Palestinian cause was still in danger of being undermined by Arab infighting and international interests. Rifai praised the Palestinian resistance for its “victory” against the Israeli army, and for putting up fierce resistance despite its limited resources.
“The current steadfastness will inevitably lead to significant gains for the Palestinian people, especially since we do not think that Israel can fight a long war of attrition, nor can it bear the losses incurred by its ground incursion into Gaza,” he said. “Due to the nature of Israeli society, casualties among soldiers sow terror in the hearts of settlers.”
He insisted the Palestinian resistance, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah, will not agree to a cease-fire until the eight-year siege of Gaza is lifted completely.
With headquarters in Damascus, the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad is the second largest armed group operating in Gaza.
“Field coordination between the Palestinian factions includes military and political cooperation,” he said, offering cautious praise for Fatah while expressing hope that the battle would take on a “national Palestinian” dimension rather than a factional one. He also congratulated the Palestinian Authority for making “progress” by retreating from its previous position that rockets are futile and the only option is negotiation with Israel.
Rifai boasted that the Palestinian fighters would be able to hold out against Israel for longer than the Israelis could politically sustain their ground incursion, promising “surprises” yet to come, including drones.
“We have won the battle of Gaza because for the first time in the Arab-Israeli conflict we have defeated the Israeli army on the ground, and for the first time all Israeli cities are within the range of the rockets and the threat affects all the occupied territories,” he said.
The resistance’s weapons, he said, come from Iran, which supplies them directly, funds their acquisition or provides the Palestinians with the technology and training to manufacture their own.
Iran, he said, supports the Palestinian cause as a humanitarian, moral and religious duty, and to stop the United States from using Israel to seize the region’s wealth.
The Arab leaders, by contrast, were watching the bloodshed unfold and doing nothing to stop it, he said.
“The Palestinian struggle with Israel is to establish the rights of Palestinians and their decision to live on their land,” he said. “What we fear is that everything we achieved on the field [of battle] will be lost in political compromises.”
Rifai blamed an Israeli-American plan to divide and conquer the region for creating a rift between Hamas and the Syrian regime, referring to the expulsion of Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal from Damascus by Syrian President Bashar Assad. He expressed confidence that the Gaza war would put a stop to plans to implement the “new Middle East.”
He went on to discuss in more detail the soured relationship between Hamas, Syria and Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad’s role in bridging those differences.
“We [Palestinians] should avoid getting involved in any disagreement between two Arab parties because the Palestinians will pay the price in the end, and in times past we paid heavily for inter-Arab struggles, especially the invasion of Kuwait and the occupation of Iraq,” he said. “ Islamic Jihad is keen to keep the Palestinian house, as well as Arab and Islamic affairs, in order, for the betterment of the Palestinian situation.”
Rifai said that Islamic Jihad did not have a “concrete initiative” to resolve the dispute between Assad and Hamas as a result of the latter’s backing of the opposition.
“If there were a mutual desire [on the part of the Syrian regime and Hamas to reconcile], we wouldn’t necessarily have to be the ones to mediate,” he said.
Regarding the relationship between Hamas and Hezbollah, Rifai said it “never ceased to exist” but turned “lukewarm” as a result of the two parties finding themselves on opposite sides of the crisis in Syria.
“Now we are trying to sort things out and restore what was lost ... on the basis of strengthening the role of the resistance and reinvigorating Arab support for the Palestinian cause,” Rifai said.
He praised Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s decision to risk his personal safety by appearing in person at a party event Friday to commemorate Jerusalem Day, saying that this bold move shows the party’s commitment to the Palestinian cause.
Rifai said that it was the party’s decision whether to join the fighting, emphasizing however, that should Gaza fall and the Palestinian resistance collapse, “anything could happen” and “dramatic choices” could be made. The fall of Gaza would have repercussions for all the neighboring countries and the Arab world, he warned.
Of the Palestinian camps in Lebanon, Rifai said the “humanitarian demands” of Palestinians living in Lebanon should be met, but “we must resist the great pressure to accept the naturalization of a number of Palestinians in Lebanon in order to preserve of our right to return.” Palestinians in Lebanon are barred from owning land or entering professions represented by syndicates or unions, severely limiting their employment options.
In addition to addressing living conditions of Palestinians in Lebanon, Rifai also called for improving relations between Palestinians and Lebanese political and especially security authorities.
He also played down reports of extremist elements growing within and exploiting the camps.
“Maybe an individual or a group might deviate from the norm, but the Palestinian camps should not pay the price, nor should Palestinians be assumed guilty till proven innocent.”
He said this atmosphere of suspicion has forced many Palestinians to remain in the camps, which are painted as refuges for criminals and fugitives from the law, adding that this issue should be resolved with the Lebanese authorities.
Rifai pointed to the recently-formed elite security task force in Ain al-Hilweh, which boasts some 70 members of different parties, and said there is a movement to create similar security teams in all the camps.