Speaking before tens of thousands of supporters on the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, Mr. Meshal said the Jewish state would be wiped away through “resistance,” or military action. “The state will come from resistance, not negotiation,” he said. “Liberation first, then statehood.”
His voice rising to a shout, Mr. Meshal said: “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on any inch of the land.” He vowed that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants would one day return to their original homes in what is now Israel.
“We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation, and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take,” he said. “We will free Jerusalem inch by inch, stone by stone. Israel has no right to be in Jerusalem.” He also promised Palestinian prisoners held in Israel that they would be freed using the same methods that have worked in the past — the kidnapping of Israelis and Israeli soldiers, like Gilad Shalit, who was released last year in a prisoner exchange after five years as a hostage.
Mr. Meshal’s harsh words reflected longstanding Hamas principles rather than new, specific threats toward Israel. But they will only reinforce Israel’s belief that Hamas is its enemy and intends to continue to use military force to reach its goals.
Mr. Meshal, on his first visit to Gaza after 45 years of exile, having fled a West Bank village at 11 with his family during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, was in a joyous but not conciliatory mood. He promised Palestinian unity, but only on the basis of Hamas’s principles, which would mean a subordinate role for Fatah, the main Palestinian faction in the West Bank. He called the United Nations General Assembly’s vote granting Palestinians enhanced status as a nonmember observer state — engineered by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank — “a small step but a good one.”
He insisted that Hamas had won a great military victory by achieving a cease-fire with Israel last month after eight days of rocket launches and airstrikes, and said it could form the basis, with the General Assembly vote, of a new Palestine Liberation Organization that would contain all Palestinian factions. An inclusive Palestinian Authority and a P.L.O. based on Hamas principles, however, would almost surely find itself shunned by Israel and much of the world. It would also be a humiliating defeat for Mr. Abbas, who supports a two-state solution and has negotiated with Israel.
The Palestinian Authority, run by Mr. Abbas of Fatah, is the sole legal representative of the Palestinian people and does not now include Hamas.
The celebration took place under cloudy skies, mixed with periods of rain. But few of the supporters, many waving the green flags of Hamas, left the crowded square.
Mr. Meshal and Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, emerged together from a giant replica of a Hamas rocket called the M-75, which is supposed to be able to travel 75 kilometers, or 47 miles, from Gaza City, putting it close to Tel Aviv. Many experts have said they think the M-75 is a repainted Iranian Fajr rocket, but the one on display bore the words “Made in Gaza,” in English. The crowd cheered and a band played a song praising Hamas leaders for being fearless in the face of death.
The stage featured the rocket, a banner showing the walls of Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock, and large photographs of Mr. Meshal and of Ahmed al-Jabari, Hamas’s military commander who was killed by an Israeli strike on the first day of November’s fighting.
While nearly everyone in the crowd carried Hamas flags, Mr. Haniya and Mr. Meshal brandished large red, white, green and black Palestinian flags from the stage, pressing the day’s theme of reconciliation and Hamas’s claim to leadership of the larger Palestinian movement, encouraged by the latest fighting and by the victory in Egypt of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian branch.
“We are imposing a new reality on the Israeli occupation,” said Salah Bardawil, a Hamas spokesman. “All the factions are here, and the Hamas flags embrace the Palestinian flags and the Fatah flags. We need to extend the Arab revolution to all Palestine from the sea to the river, and every refugee returns to his home.”
But Hamas is also anxious, some members say, about the current challenges to President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, who ran as the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate. To ride the wave of a Muslim Brotherhood ascendancy is fine, they say, unless it fails.
Those who came said they were thrilled to be here, proud of Hamas and its claims of victory over Israel in November. The conflict ended without an Israeli ground invasion and in a cease-fire brokered by Egypt, leaving Hamas with the sense that it had stood up to Israel despite the deaths here and the loss of many of its largest rockets.
It was also an entertainment for those with young children, providing a sense of excitement in what can be a difficult life here.
Many expressed the hope that Hamas and Fatah could finally reconcile in the interests of the larger Palestinian nation. Some Fatah representatives were invited to the rally, and few yellow Fatah flags, let alone Palestine flags, were seen in the waves of Hamas green. But the Fatah flags were often attached to poles also bearing the Hamas and Palestine flags.
People recalled that at an earlier rally here marking the cease-fire, a senior Fatah leader, Nabil Shaath, praised “the resistance” for its victory over “the enemy” and added, “The war has turned Hamas into a legitimate partner for Fatah.”
Abu Muhammed, 43, said he thought that the day showed Hamas’s new sense of self-confidence and demonstrated that “the mood is going toward reconciliation.” Nearly everyone in Gaza wants the two factions to reconcile, he said. The split “only favors Israel,” he said.
Mr. Meshal is thought to be more favorable to reconciliation with Fatah than is Mr. Haniya. But Mr. Haniya also basked in Mr. Meshal’s presence.
A man named Wissam, who refused to give his surname, said Hamas was trying to show its dominance, but for him, “It’s one day for one movement in Gaza, but there are other movements.” Every faction, he said, “wants to show that they are the biggest and most important in the field.”
After pushing Fatah out of Gaza in 2007, Hamas has banned Fatah anniversary celebrations.
Wissam wanted all the factions to celebrate together on one day, he said. When reminded that there was already a Palestinian national day, he shrugged and said, “That day is considered to be Fatah’s.”