In signs of a possible political stance should Hamas ever front a negotiating table with Israel, a senior official for the militant group said on Wednesday that his organization may be open to accepting a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with Israel.
The international spotlight is scrutinizing Hamas and its potential bargaining positions after it signed an agreement to form a unity government with the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority last week. The deal brought a tentative end to the fratricidal violence of recent years, but it raised questions over the future political positions of the unity government and what its composition might mean for the stalled peace process.
Hamas officials have in the past privately said they would accept a state based on 1967 borders, but its public position has long fixed on a state across all of Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. In a significant shift on Wednesday, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar told Palestinian news agency Ma’an that the group would be willing to accept a Palestinian state “on any part of Palestine.” More specifically, Zahar said that Hamas would accept a Palestinian state within 1967 borders, referring to borders before the war in which Israel captured territory in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel has since withdrawn from the Gaza Strip, but the Jewish state's settlements in the West Bank have remained a divisive issue.
The political statement and actions of Hamas will likely hold the key to Western relations with a restructured Palestinian Authority. For its part, Israel has denounced the unity deal as detrimental to a peace process that hasn't gone anywhere for months. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that peace with a Palestinian Authority that includes Hamas is impossible because the latter group is intent on destroying Israel.
Even with its more lax terms for borders, Hamas said it would never recognize Israel--a precondition Israel views as essential to striking a peace deal. Such recognition, Zahar said, would “preclude the right of the next generations to liberate the lands… What will be the fate of the five million Palestinians in the diaspora?"
Zahar also said that while Hamas intends to honor a military truce with Israel, a lull in fighting is “not peace” and is “part of the resistance, not its rejection.”
The U.S., like Israel, considers Hamas a foreign terrorist organization. Under the law, the U.S. cannot provide aid or assistance to any organization under this designation. As U.S. lawmakers begin issuing calls for suspending aid to a future Palestinian Authority that includes Hamas, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said last week that the U.S. will hold off for the time being on making judgments about the future of the unity government until their positions—and composition—are more clear.
“We’re going to wait and make our assessment as we actually see what unfolds from this moment on,” she said last week. For Hamas to be considered a partner in the peace process, it must denounce violence, recognize Israel, and abide by all past political agreements.
Under the terms of the unity deal, both sides must pick a prime minister--a decision likely to be a key indicator of future Palestinian political views. The authority's current prime minister, Salam Fayyad, is one of Washington’s key partners, but he is despised by Hamas. Fatah leader Nabil Sha’ath told Ma’an that no decisions have been made yet, but that Fayyad is still being considered for the position.
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