DAMASCUS, Syria — The leader of Hamas said Monday that his Palestinian militant group would offer Israel a 10-year "hudna," or truce, as implicit proof of recognition of Israel if it withdrew from all lands it seized in the 1967 Middle East War.
Khaled Mashaal told The Associated Press that he made the offer to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in talks on Saturday. "We have offered a truce if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, a truce of 10 years as a proof of recognition," Mashaal said.
In his comments Monday, Mashaal used the Arabic word "hudna," meaning truce, which is more concrete than "tahdiya" — a period of calm — which Hamas often uses to describe a simple cease-fire.
"Hudna" implies a recognition of the other party's existence.
Mashaal said Hamas would accept a Palestinian state limited to the lands Israel seized in 1967 — that is, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. But he said the group would never outright formally recognize Israel.
Earlier, Carter said that Hamas is prepared to accept the right of Israel to “live as a neighbor next door in peace.”
Carter said the group promised it wouldn’t undermine Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ efforts to reach a peace deal with Israel, as long as the Palestinian people approved it in a referendum.
In the past, Hamas officials have said they would establish a “peace in stages” if Israel were to withdraw to the borders it held before 1967. But it has been evasive about how it sees the final borders of a Palestinian state and has not abandoned its official call for Israel’s destruction.
There was no immediate reaction from Israel to Hamas' truce offer.
Israel, which evacuated Gaza in 2005, has accepted the idea of a Palestinian state there and in much of the West Bank. But it has resisted Palestinian demands that it return to its 1967 frontiers.
In Washington, the State Department dismissed Carter’s assessment of his meetings, saying there was no indication Hamas wanted peace with Israel.
“What is clear to us is that there certainly is no change in Hamas’ position,” said deputy spokesman Tom Casey. “It does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, it has not eschewed or walked away from terrorism and violence, nor has it said it will honor any of the previous agreements that have been made with the Israeli government.”
Carter’s comments came after his much criticized meetings with the top Hamas leaders in Syria in last week.
Over the weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he decided not to meet with Carter in Israel because he does not wish to be seen as participating in any negotiations with Hamas.
Carter also urged Israel to engage in direct negotiations with the Islamic militant group, saying it was a “problem” that Israel and the United States refuse to meet with Hamas. Both governments consider it a terrorist organization.
'Problem' with Israel, U.S., Carter says
“The problem is not that I met with Hamas in Syria,” he said. “The problem is that Israel and the United States refuse to meet with someone who must be involved.”
“There’s no doubt that both the Arab world and Hamas will accept Israel’s right to exist in peace within 1967 borders,” he said.
In his comments Monday, Carter said Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking has “regressed” since a U.S.-hosted Mideast conference in Annapolis, Md., in November.
Israel has been negotiating directly with Abbas, who heads a moderate government based in the West Bank. Abbas lost control of the Gaza Strip last June, when Hamas violently seized control of that territory.
Carter said Hamas has promised to let a captured Israeli soldier send a letter to his parents, and said the militants “made clear to us that they would accept an interim cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.”
However, Carter said Hamas rejected his specific proposal for a monthlong unilateral cease-fire.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.