No doubt Ismail Radwan is a terrorist, but, unlike other Palestinian leaders and spokesmen, he is at least an honest one.
At a time when most Palestinian leaders are telling the world that settlements are the real "obstacle" to peace, Radwan, a senior Hamas official, last week made it clear that the conflict with Israel is not about Jews living in a settlement in the West Bank. The truth is that the Palestinians see Israel as one big settlement that needs to be uprooted from the Middle East.
The Palestinians do not differentiate between a Jew living in a settlement on the outskirts of Bethlehem, in the West Bank, and a Jew living in the cities of Haifa, Tel Aviv or Eilat. All the Jews, they say, are "occupiers" and "settlers" who need to "go back to where they came from."
For the Palestinians, the real "occupation" began with the establishment of Israel in 1948.
The Palestinians do not differentiate between a Jew living in a settlement on the outskirts of Bethlehem, in the West Bank, and a Jew living in the cities of Haifa, Tel Aviv or Eilat. All the Jews, they say, are "occupiers" and "settlers." Pictured: The skyline of Tel Aviv. (Image source: Ted Eytan/Flickr)
Let us be clear about this: When Palestinians -- and some of their supporters in the international community, including Europe -- say that they want an end to the "occupation," they mean they want to see an end to Israel's existence, full stop. They do not want to throw the Jews out of their homes in the settlements; rather, they want Jews to be expelled from the whole country.
The conflict, as far as the Palestinians are concerned, did not begin in 1967, when east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip came under Israeli control. In the eyes of the Palestinians, all Jews are "settlers" and "colonialists." All the land, they argue, stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, is Muslim-owned land, and no Muslim is entitled to give up any part of it to a non-Muslim.
In other words, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a Muslim himself, will be considered a kaffir," an "apostate" and a traitor if he ever agreed to cede control over "Muslim owned" land to Jews.
That is why it is naïve to assume that Abbas would ever sign any deal with Israel.
Neither Abbas nor any other Palestinian leader can accept anything less than 100 percent; and 100 percent means all of Israel. It does not mean a 100 percent of the "'67 borders" or of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Yes, the Palestinians want "peace," but that that means peace without Israel, not peace with Israel. Real peace, the Palestinians argue, will be achieved only when Israel is eliminated and the Jews disappear.
For the Palestinians, accepting Israel's "right to exist" with Jews is seen as an act of treason. Muslims are not supposed to accept the presence of Jews on Muslim-owned land.
Each time Abbas states his commitment to a two-state solution, he is immediately condemned by his people and other Arabs and Muslims. For them, a "two-state solution" means accepting Israel's presence in the Middle East; it also means allowing Jews to live on "Muslim-owned" land -- a "crime," according to Islamic teachings, punishable by death.
Now back to the Hamas official, Ismail Radwan.
Why is it fair to say that, although he is a terrorist and Jew-hater, he is still honest? To his credit, he speaks the truth and does not hesitate to conceal what most Palestinians merely think. There are many Palestinian terrorists and terror groups who never miss an opportunity to remind us that their real goal is to destroy Israel, not make peace with it.
During a Hamas rally in the Gaza Strip on February 23, Radwan told the thousands of supporters of his terror group that there is no such thing as east and west Jerusalem. "The whole city belongs to Palestinians and Muslims," he said. "The united city of Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Palestine."
Why is this an important statement that needs to be brought to the attention of the US administration and the rest of the international community? Because it basically sums up the essence of the entire Israeli-Arab conflict: namely, that many Arabs and Muslims have still not accepted Israel's right to exist inside any borders.
Radwan's statement came in response to US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The Palestinians, revealingly, are totally opposed to the relocation of the embassy -- even though it will be established in the western, and not eastern part of the city. Why would any Palestinian who supported a two-state solution (with east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state) oppose the transfer of any embassy to west Jerusalem? Do the Palestinians really accept Israeli sovereignty over west Jerusalem? Do they accept Israeli sovereignty over any land, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River? Do they accept Israeli sovereignty over Tel Aviv?
The answer is clear and simple: No.
Radwan is refreshingly frank about this issue. His views do not represent those of a minority of Palestinians: such views have long become part of the mainstream thinking among the Palestinians.
The last time Hamas, which openly seeks the destruction of Israel, ran in a free and fair Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006, its candidates won the vote handily. If elections were held tomorrow, Hamas would win the vote again.
To put it simply: a majority of Palestinians continues to see Israel as a foreign entity and an alien body that was imposed on the Arabs and Muslims by Western superpowers, despite the Jews having lived there for four thousand years, as evidenced every by archeological findings, which corroborate material in the Bible. The Palestinians want to liberate "all of Palestine" – meaning all of current-day Israel. This is what the entire Palestinian "national struggle" is about. It is not about "liberating" a certain part of "historical Palestine." Instead, it is about "liberating every inch of Palestine" and driving the Jews out of the land and out of the region.
Mahmoud Abbas is a known liar who has not only questioned the Holocaust, but also specializes in distorting history. In a speech before the Palestinian Central Council in January this year, Abbas said that Israel was a "colonialist project that has nothing to do with Judaism." Behind him appeared a large placard with a map of "Palestine" that made no reference to Israel.
This time Abbas, like Hamas, is being honest. His talk about a "colonialist project" shows that he, like many Palestinians, has a problem with Israel's very existence.
For Abbas, the problem is not settlements or borders or the status of Jerusalem. He sees Jews as an occupying force and as settlers, regardless of where they live. The map behind him tells the story, namely that Abbas and most Palestinians are fighting to drive the Jews out of the land and replace Israel with an Islamic Arab regime.
Such maps are not new in the Palestinian landscape; they can be found in school textbooks and various media outlets. Anyone who watches the weather forecast on Palestinian television stations will see that Haifa, Tel Aviv, Tiberias and Jaffa are "occupied" cities.
Anyone who follows the news on Palestinian media outlets will see how all Jews, whether they are living in a West Bank settlement or in Tel Aviv, are referred to as "settlers."
To sum up, it is not Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital or to move the US embassy to the city that is behind the current Palestinian outrage.
What is really bothering the Palestinians is that Israel, with Jews, exists, period. The Palestinians want all of Jerusalem. They want all of "Palestine." They want Israel removed from the planet. It is time to listen carefully to what the Palestinians are saying -- in Arabic -- to understand that the conflict is not about Jerusalem and not about settlements.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim based in the Middle East.