Hamas leader Mashaal offered to have his organization cease any further attacks on Israel civilians if Israel would end attacks on Palestinian civilians. “We renew our offer to Israel to let the civilians on both parts not be part of the conflict. We renew this offer today.” He also confirmed that captured IDF soldier Gilad Schait is still alive. Mashaal insisted that 1,000 prisoners must be released in exchange for the return of the captured soldier. In an interesting comment, the Hamas leader claims the strength of his organization is greatly exaggerated by Israel and “we have primitive weapon.” Mashaal argued Palestinian suicide bombing only began after Baruch Goldstein killed 28 people who were praying in a mosque.
Even as the Hamas leader spoke, Prime Minister Olmert was telling Secretary of State Rice his government intends to continue building in Jewish areas of east Jerusalem and on the West Bank. Peace Now, the Israel group, issued a report which indicates the supposed feeze on settlement construction has never been accepted by the Israel government and documented at least 101 examples.
Hamas is a violent organization but its violence is also triggered by Israel violence. The American government should be focusing on first getting Hamas and Fatah back together, forging a cease fire, and drawing upon support from Arab nations to begin a meaningful peace process. Peace Now is correct, the freeze on West Bank housing construction is now a dead letter, but the issue of the West Bank will not go away. The Bush administration policy of allowing Israel to do whateve it desires on the West Bank will return to haunt peace efforts by the next person who becomes president of the United States.