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Hamas edges toward recognizing Israel

Hamas edged toward recognition of Israel in an agreement worked out by Hamas and Fatah leaders in an Israeli prison, mentioning a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza while refusing to renounce violence.
Palestinian PM Haniyeh speaks during a rally in Gaza
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh addresses a rally in Gaza on Friday.Mohammed Salem / Reuters file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Hamas edged toward recognition of Israel, a key international demand, in an agreement worked out by Hamas and Fatah leaders in an Israeli prison, mentioning a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza while refusing to renounce violence.

Israel refused to comment on the document on Thursday, and the Hamas leadership in Damascus were also silent — but there was little reason to believe either would welcome it.

Hamas leaders in Gaza and the West Bank have hinted they might abandon the group’s call for the destruction of Israel, but Khaled Mashaal, the Syria-based leader of Hamas, has rejected any suggestion of moderation.

Also, the document included key Palestinian demands Israel has always rejected — return of millions of refugees to their original homes in Israel and complete Israeli evacuation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

Since Hamas won Jan. 25 parliamentary elections, the Palestinian government has grown increasingly isolated. Western nations, which list Hamas as a terror group, cut off all funding to the Palestinian Authority, and the Israeli government froze its monthly transfer of $55 million it collects in taxes for the Palestinians.

The economic boycott has left the Palestinian government unable to pay its 165,000 workers, causing a deepening financial crisis throughout the West Bank and Gaza.

The draft agreement was negotiated over the past month by militants held in Hadarim Prison next to the seaside Israeli city of Netanya, including Marwan Barghouti, a leader of Abbas’ Fatah Party, and Abdel Khaled Natche, the top Hamas militant held by Israel.

The proposal calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state “in all the lands occupied in 1967,” a reference to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. The document does not include explicit recognition of Israel, but even the implied recognition would mark a major breakthrough for Hamas.

'A good base,' but more discussions due
Mushir al-Masri, a Gaza-based Hamas spokesman, praised the prisoners’ effort but refused to commit to the agreement.

“It could be a good base for a national platform and a national dialogue, but it still needs more discussion,” he said Thursday.

Abbas said he backs the draft, which also authorizes him to lead peace talks with Israel based on what is referred to as “Arab legitimacy,” an apparent reference to an Arab peace initiative that calls for a two-state solution. “This document is very important,” Abbas said. “It includes a deep and realistic political vision that to a very large extent represents my point of view ... and thus I adopt it.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he is ready to withdraw from much of the West Bank to make way for an independent Palestinian state, but he plans to keep large blocs of West Bank settlements and holy sites in east Jerusalem. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev declined to comment on the accord, calling it an internal Palestinian matter.

Violence not renounced
The draft agreement does not renounce violence, saying Palestinians should “focus their resistance on the lands occupied in 1967.”

Hamas has largely observed a truce since February 2005 but has refused to formally renounce violence. Barghouti has supported continued shooting and bombing attacks against Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza, while Abbas opposes all violence.

The prison negotiations were also aimed at ending rising tension between Hamas and Fatah, who are vying for control of the government. The rivalry erupted into violence in Gaza this week, killing three people and wounding more than a dozen others, including five on Thursday.

Hamas and Fatah are to hold crucial talks in two weeks to try to settle their differences, and the draft, which calls for Fatah to join the Hamas government, could be part of the negotiations.