The rival Hamas and Fatah movements agreed on a plan implicitly recognizing Israel, a top Palestinian official said Tuesday after weeks of acrimonious negotiations aiming to lift crippling international aid sanctions.
Moderate President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah has been trying to coax his Hamas rivals into endorsing the document, which calls for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, in effect recognizing the Jewish state. He has endorsed the plan as a way to end sanctions against the Hamas-led Palestinian government and pave the way to reopening peace talks with Israel.
“We have an agreement over the document,” said Ibrahim Abu Najah, coordinator of the “national dialogue” over the proposal.
The plan also calls on militants to limit attacks to areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast War and calls for formation of a coalition Palestinian government.
The United States, Israel and European Union list Hamas as a terrorist group because it rejects the existence of Israel and has sent dozens of suicide bombers into Israel, killing hundreds.
The West demands that Hamas recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previous peace accords, but Hamas refuses. As a result, the West has cut off much-needed aid to the Palestinian government.
Islamic Jihad opposition
Salah Zeidan, another negotiator, said preparations were being made for a formal signing ceremony.
“All political groups are prepared for a mutual cease-fire with Israel,” he said.
The document was formulated by senior Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
However, the deal was overshadowed by a crisis over the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier and opposition to the deal voiced by Islamic Jihad, a small militant group that has carried out numerous attacks against Israel.
“In today’s meeting, we announced we reject some of the articles of this document and we have reservations about other articles,” said Islamic Jihad spokesman Khaled al-Batch.
Hamas and Fatah have been locked in a bloody power struggle since Hamas won legislative elections in January. Hamas controls the parliament and Cabinet. Abbas was elected separately last year.
Israel has said the document is an internal Palestinian matter that falls short of international demands.
With Hamas-linked militants holding a captured Israeli soldier, the Palestinian agreement is even less likely to reduce tensions. Israel has massed troops along its border with Gaza, promising a broad offensive into the area.
U.S.: Hamas must renounce terror
The United States is waiting to see if the apparent implicit recognition of Israel by Hamas is real, but the group must still renounce terrorism, White House spokesman Tony Snow said.
“Let’s wait until we see something for real,” Snow told reporters.
“It’s one of those vague things where people are doing a little bit of bargaining through the press,” Snow said. “If Hamas wants recognition it has to renounce terror and it has to abide by the other steps that we have talked about. Those are baseline conditions, then we can proceed from there.”
A State Department official said he had not seen the document, but he also reiterated the U.S. position that Hamas should agree to all the conditions laid down by the Quartet of mediating powers.
“I don’t know whether this changes anything for us,” said the State Department official, who spoke on condition he not be named.
“But anything which moves in the direction of accepting the Quartet’s principles is a good thing. However, it is hard to figure out yet where this is all going.”