Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth and Italian newspaper La Repubblica published a rare interview with Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar on Friday in which he outlined his views on a ceasefire with Israel as entailing “complete calm” and an end to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza.
“Through war, we don’t achieve anything,” he said.
Sinwar told Italian journalist Francesca Borri that the people of Gaza have been subjected to Israeli aggression since long before Israel imposed a blockade on the coastal strip in 2007. He said that Hamas is willing to exchange prisoners as part of any future agreement with Israel to end the blockade of Gaza.
“We are always under occupation, it’s a daily aggression. It’s just of varying intensity,” he said.
The truth is that a new war is in no one's interest. For sure, it is not in ours. Who would like to face a nuclear power with slingshots?
Describing Hamas’s understanding of the reality on the ground and the balance of power between his organisation and Israel, Sinwar said that the group is not foolish enough to start a war with a much stronger Israel, even though he said an Israeli military victory over Hamas would not be in Israel’s interest.
“The truth is that a new war is in no one’s interest. For sure, it is not in ours. Who would like to face a nuclear power with slingshots?”
“For Netanyahu, a victory would be even worse than a defeat, because it would be the fourth war. And they are trying their best to get rid of the Palestinians of the West Bank and keep a Jewish majority. I don’t think they want an additional two million Arabs. No. War achieves nothing,” he added.
Hamas has organised weekly protests on the border with Israel in part to push for an end to the blockade that was imposed after the group seized control of Gaza in 2007.
A spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry declined to comment on Sinwar’s newspaper interview when contacted by Al Jazeera.
Sceptical Israeli public
Israeli journalist Seth Frantzman said that most of the Israeli public would not believe Sinwar’s overtures to reach an agreement with Israel to end the Israeli siege of Gaza.
Frantzman, who writes for the Jerusalem Post, said that Israelis have had 20 years of experience with Hamas that included wars, tunnels and missiles.
“Israelis just don’t care about Gaza, and if they do, they would think that Sinwar’s statements were just propaganda,” he said.
The Israeli peace camp has gotten smaller and smaller over the years
Frantzman attributes the Israeli public’s scepticism towards Hamas as a result of a general shift to the political right in the country.
“The Israeli peace camp has gotten smaller and smaller over the years,” he said. “Even the Israeli centre-left is not interested in having peace talks with Hamas. They prefer to deal with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.”
Israel does not want peace with us, it only wants capitulation.
Osama Hamdan, Hamas’s foreign policy chief, told Al Jazeera from Beirut that Abbas had given Israel everything it wanted and has received nothing in return.
“Our experience with the Israelis has gone from bad to worse,” he said. “Since the Madrid peace conference in 1992, during which Israel and the Palestinians along with Arab delegations negotiated peace talks, the Palestinians achieved nothing from the Israelis, not even a recognition of their existence, let alone their rights to live in their own country.”
“Israel does not want peace with us, it only wants capitulation,” he said
Hamdan said that Hamas has learned lessons from Abbas’s futile efforts to achieve peace with the Israelis.
“Abbas has repeatedly denounced terrorism, coordinated security matters with Israel, renounced Palestinian rights and recognized Israel’s right to exist, only to see nothing but humiliation and rebuke from Israeli leaders,” he said.
Wasel Abu Yousef, a senior PLO leader in Ramallah, told Al Jazeera that Sinwar’s statements about reaching an agreement with Israel are unacceptable to the PLO leadership.
He said that as a Palestinian faction, Hamas had no right to negotiate a separate agreement with Israel outside the bounds of the national Palestinian leadership.
“This is just unacceptable,” Abu Yousef told Al Jazeera.
He stressed that any agreement with Israel, including one to end the Israeli blockade on Gaza, must only come through a unified and reconciled Palestinian leadership.
Sinwar was imprisoned by Israel in 1988 and was released a part of a prisoner exchange in 2011.
Reflecting on the time he spent in Israeli prison, Sinwar told the Italian journalist that the world today is different from when he entered prison.
“The Cold War was still going on. And here, the Intifada. To spread the latest news, we printed fliers. I came out, and I found the internet. But to be honest, I never came out – I have only changed prisons. And despite it all, the old one was much better than this one. I had water, electricity. I had so many books. Gaza is much tougher,” he said.
Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @ali_reports