Hamas offers conditional peace plan

April 22nd, 2008 - 5:04 am ICT by admin  

Damascus, April 22 (DPA) Hamas announced Monday that it would accept a Palestinian state on land seized by Israel in the 1967 war but would not recognize Israel. The Syria-based leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, said the peace plan would have to be approved by the Palestinian people while also offering a 10-year truce with Israel.

Mashaal told reporters in Damascus he made the offer to former US president Jimmy Carter during talks Saturday, but rejected Carter’s proposal for an immediate 30-day ceasefire.

“We want to protect our people and end the aggression and siege (by Israel). Those are now our main goals,” Mashaal said, adding that other options were being discussed with Egyptian mediators.

Although Mashaal did not say Hamas would recognize Israel, his comments were seen as a tacit acknowledgment that a Palestinian state would exist next to Israel and a shift in Hamas’ position.

Mashaal’s statement fell short of meeting the demands of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and United States - known collectively as the Quartet - to renounce violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist and accept previous peace agreements.

“Nothing has changed in terms of Hamas’ basic views about Israel and about peace in the region,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in Washington.

“The bottom line is Hamas still believes in the destruction of the state of Israel, they don’t believe Israel has a right to exist,” Casey said.

Speaking about the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit held prisoner by Hamas, Mashaal said the soldier would be freed and handed over to Egypt if Israel released 71 Palestinian prisoners including children, women, ministers and lawmakers.

The Hamas leader rejected direct talks with Israel, saying his group would negotiate through Egypt.

Any settlement between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would have to be put to a national referendum or be accepted by a newly elected Palestinian parliament, Mashaal said.

Abbas, the leader of the moderate Fatah party, is leading direct peace negotiations with Olmert’s government and has the backing of the United States and other countries.

The United States, Israel and the European Union list Hamas as a terrorist organization and Washington has sought to isolate the militant group since it seized control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah in June.

Carter met with Mashaal and other Hamas leaders over the weekend in Damascus despite strong objections from the White House, which refuses to engage the militants.

Carter earlier Monday in Jerusalem said Mashaal informed him of Hamas’ position that would also include a referendum by the Palestinian people.

Hamas has previously rejected peace with Israel and advocates the Jewish state be replaced with all of historic Palestine.

“They said they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders if approved by the Palestinians and that they would accept the right to live as a neighbour next door in peace, provided the agreements negotiated by Prime Minister (Ehud) Olmert and President (Mahmoud) Abbas will be submitted to the Palestinians for their overall approval,” Carter said.

The comments, and similar remarks by Mashaal in a recent interview with a Palestinian daily, reflect a major change in the stance of Hamas, whose leaders have repeatedly said they will never recognise Israel.

Hamas has also said that Abbas, in his peace talks with Israel, does not represent the Palestinian people. Hamas defeated Abbas’ Fatah faction in the January 2006 parliamentary elections, but was ousted after seizing the Gaza Strip.

Carter, 83 and a Nobel Peace Laureate, deflected the criticism of his meetings by emphasizing the need to bring Hamas into the peace process.

“We believe the problem is not that I met with Hamas in Syria,” he said. “The problem is that Israel and the United States refused to meet with these people, who must be involved.”

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