Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal's return to Gaza Saturday drew a lot of attention, both for his defiant rhetoric and for indications that Hamas' power is on the rise.
"Palestine belongs to us and not to the Zionists," Meshaal told a cheering crowd. He vowed never to recognize Israel or "give up one inch or any part of it."
As the Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh reports, Meshaal's defiance "stood in sharp contrast to a recent interview he gave to CNN's Christiane Amanpour, where he said that Hamas accepted a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 lines."
In the interview last month, Meshaal said a peace deal creating a Palestinian state "according to the border of 1967 with the right to return ... is something we have agreed upon as Palestinians, as a common program."
But Meshaal's language also was significant in understanding the motives and goals of American Islamists and their anti-Israel allies.
"Palestine – from the river to the sea, from the north to the south – is our land and our right and our homeland; there will be no surrender of even the smallest piece of it," he said.
Palestine "from the river to the sea" is not a statement for a Palestinian state. Rather, it is a demand for Israel's destruction. It's not a new sentiment. Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative Sami Al-Arian used nearly identical language during a fundraiser in Cleveland more than 20 years ago.
And it's a chant commonly heard in anti-Israel rallies in the United States, including one in Cleveland last month.
It has been used to raise money for aid convoys to Gaza, ventures intended more to score political points than alleviate any humanitarian suffering. "Historic Palestine from the river to the sea; that is Palestine," said Archbishop Atallah Hanna of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem during a July 2009 event. "Therefore, friends, we must not talk about the people of '67 or the people of '48. The Palestinian people are one people, no matter where they are or where they are found. The Palestinian people are one people indivisible."
It's not just fringe groups that call for Palestine "from the river to the sea." It was chanted at a March 2009 rally an MPAC-sponsored rally in by the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a group which the White House relies upon for advice on policy, including programs meant to combat extremism.
Meshaal's Gaza comments may sound aspirational for a Palestinian state, but the subtext of Israel's destruction is anything but subtle. Remember that the next time "From the river to the sea" is chanted on American streets.