The four-storey sand-coloured building where the political chief of Islamic Jihad in Gaza has his headquarters is surrounded by evidence of the war and siege the territory has endured.
Homes and businesses have been shattered by Israeli air strikes, some collapsing into the street, while many of those still standing are pockmarked by shrapnel, their shattered windows patched up with plastic sheets.
Yet, sitting in his sparsely furnished office, Khaled al-Batsh declared yesterday: “The election of Benjamin Netanyahu has been the best outcome for the Palestinian people. It means there is no confusion. We are seeing the true face of Israel, a face that does not want peace, and we know at least what to expect.”
The alternative election outcome, a victory for the centre-left coalition of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni – which would have suited the Obama administration and many European governments – would have sent false signals, said Mr Batsh in an interview with The Independent. “They would have made noises about agreements and kissed Abu Mazen [the Palestinian President also known as Mahmoud Abbas], yet they are no different from Netanyahu. Their Labour Party has started many wars.”
Mr Batsh is a key ideologue for the Iranian-backed organisation that has its main office in Damascus, reaches across the Middle East and is considered a terrorist group by the US and European governments. Islamic Jihad refuses to recognise Israel and its core aim is the creation of a Palestine stretching throughout the territory that was partitioned to form Israel in 1948.
To achieve this, it proclaims, requires a ceaseless struggle against the forces of Zionist occupation. In that respect, might not Mr Netanyahu’s campaign pledge against the creation of a Palestinian state – that would mean sharing the land between Jews and Arabs – actually suit Islamic Jihad?
Mr Batsh, a burly, bearded and jovial man, as he fussed over providing tea, gave a weary sigh. “All the things said during the elections in Israel are just advertising, so difficult to take seriously,” he stressed. “But they are advertisements painted in Palestinian blood, and afterwards wars are created, people killed, by Israeli leaders, to suit domestic politics – we have seen this over the years. As for peace, we have heard so much about that, just in the last quarter century. A generation of Palestinians has grown up in that time without hope.”
In pictures: Israel election
In pictures: Israel election
1/21 Israel election
Benjamin Netanyahu prays at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem following Likud's victory in Israel's general election
2/21 Israel election
The motorcade carrying Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drives across the plaza before the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City
3/21 Israel election
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kisses his wife Sara as he claims victory in Tel Aviv
4/21 Israel election
Isaac Herzog, right, and Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union party make statements in their headquarters on their party's future role following its decisive loss in the Israeli general election
5/21 Israel election
Co-leader of the Zionist Union party, Israeli Labour Party leader Isaac Herzog, delivers a speech as he reacts to exit poll figures, in Tel Aviv
6/21 Israel election
Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrate as election results come in at his election campaign headquarters in Tel Aviv
7/21 Israel election
Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party react to exit poll figures
8/21 Israel election
Likud Party supporters celebrate after the exit polls were announced, at the party's headquarters in Tel Aviv
9/21 Israel election
A screen displays exit poll results showing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin's Netanyahu Likud party and Isaac Herzog's centre-left Zionist Union neck-and-neck, in Tel Aviv
10/21 Israel election
Copies of ballot papers and campaign posters for Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party lie on the ground in the aftermath of the country's parliamentary elections
11/21 Israel election
Vandalized posters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near a polling station in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, near Hebron
12/21 Israel election
A woman waves an Israeli national flag outside a polling station in Tel Aviv
13/21 Israel election
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his ballot for the parliamentary election at a polling station in Jerusalem
14/21 Israel election
Israeli MP and chairperson of center-right Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid, takes a selfie with his wife Lihi (R) and his supporters, outside a polling station in Tel Aviv
15/21 Israel election
Ultra orthodox Jews line up to vote in Bnei Brak
16/21 Israel election
Israeli Arab political leader and head of a joint list of Arab parties, Ayman Odeh, casts his ballot with his children at a polling station in the coastal city oh Haifa
17/21 Israel election
Isaac Herzog (standing in foreground on L), co-leader of the centre-left Zionist Union party, poses next to his wife Michal as he casts his vote for the parliamentary election at a polling station in Tel Aviv
18/21 Israel election
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man casts his ballot at a polling station in Jerusalem
19/21 Israel election
An Israeli ceections committee worker prepare ballots at a polling station for the Israeli general elections in the city of Haifa
20/21 Israel election
A supporter of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, or Sephardic Torah Guardians, holds a campaign poster depicting the party's spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, in Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv. Israel's Sephardic community, Jews of Middle Eastern descent, have traditionally been the Likud party's backbone. But political analysts say Sephardim may throw their support elsewhere in the March 17 election, angry over the high cost of living and housing prices
21/21 Israel election
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, visits a construction site in Har Homa, east Jerusalem, a day ahead of legislative elections. Netanyahu is seeking his fourth term as prime minister
During the Israeli election the right wing, including the Prime Minister’s Likud party, repeatedly claimed that among the main sources of danger to Israel were Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. The groups were, it was claimed, rearming, replenishing stocks of missiles and rebuilding the tunnels which had been used to smuggle in arms and carry out attacks. Mr Batsh does not deny it. “I am not in charge of our military wing so I would not know about these things. I have read the reports, just like you,” he said.
“But as we are facing occupation, facing constant threat from an aggressive power armed with the most modern weapons, the resistance has a right to defend an isolated people. International law gives us the right to protect ourselves, even if with unsophisticated weapons. Just look at the balance in the military between the two sides.”
For all its fiery expressions of principle, Islamic Jihad is also pragmatic, as is its political supremo. The movement took part in the talks in Cairo which ended last summer’s war and Mr Batsh played an important role in achieving that outcome with an impressive show, according to those present, of diplomatic finesse. Since then his movement’s approval rating in Gaza has also risen among a population, battered by violence and poverty that also has to endure a feud between the two major Palestinian political factions, Hamas and Fatah.
Mr Batsh said, “I stayed here for 34 days of bombing before going to Cairo. I was worried like any other Palestinian. The Israelis were carrying out assassinations, and they could have targeted the delegation even though we were trying to get a ceasefire. There is no red line for them.”
He continued: “The ceasefire will hold unless the Israelis attack and break it. We will not be the ones to violate the ceasefire. But the Israelis have continued with the siege. We had hoped that the international community would pressurise Israel to abide by the conditions. Britain has a particular responsibility because of its role in the history of this place, but it has not really done anything to solve the problem. Other Europeans, like the Swiss and the Norwegians, are trying to do much more.”
The role of a former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, the special envoy of the “Quartet” – the UN, US, EU and Russia – and sent to promote peace in the conflict and development in the Palestinian community, has left him puzzled. “We could not work out whether he was a statesman or a businessman. Maybe a bit of both, but mostly a businessman, I think.”
On the matter of the internal strife between Hamas and Fatah, Mr Batsh took a statesmanlike stance. “They are taking different approaches, but if we antagonise each other we become weak. Even if there is no political unity, there should be a clear agreement between the parties. Otherwise it just helps the other side,” he said.
For now, Mr Batsh’s forecast is gloomy. “Obama wants to leave a fingerprint, bring peace here. Of course others have tried before, like Carter, Bush. Obama will try, maybe he is sincere, but he will not succeed. The Israelis will not let it happen; they think they have time on their side. He will find this is a very difficult region in which to leave a legacy.”
Islamic Jihad at the heart of conflict
Islamic Jihad, al-Islami al-Filastin, was founded in Gaza in 1981 by a group of radical activists who had split from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Its stated aim was the establishment of a Palestinian state before the creation of the state of Israel. That remains its position today.
Following the movement taking up military action against Israel, the Israeli government expelled its leadership to Lebanon where it built close relations with Hezbollah and its backers, Iran
After the 1993 Oslo Accord, Islamic Jihad formed an alliance with the fellow rejectionists of Hamas, against Fatah. The movement has a presence in the West Bank, but Gaza became the centre of operations where its military arm, the al-Quds Brigade, has built up a formidable presence with its fighters playing a prominent role in the conflicts with Israel.
Islamic Jihad has been designated as a terrorist group by the US, the EU, the UK, Japan, Canada and Australia as well as Israel. However, behind-the-scenes meetings have taken place between some European diplomats and the movement’s officials.
It took part in the talks in Cairo with Israel which led to the ceasefire ending last summer’s war that devastated much of Gaza.Reuse content