CAIRO, (Reuters) – The Palestinian militant group Hamas recognises the existence of Israel and will go along with negotiations with the Jewish state, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in an interview published on Saturday.
Aboul Gheit, whose government has had close contacts with Hamas and other Palestinian militants over the past year, also said that joining the political process would lead to fundamental changes in the thinking of Hamas.
Hamas, which advocates replacing Israel with an Islamic state throughout historical Palestine, is taking part in Palestinian parliamentary elections for the first time on Jan. 25. It poses a strong challenge to the ruling Fatah movement.
The United States and the European Union want Hamas to disarm and renounce armed struggle against Israel.
Aboul Gheit said: “I am confident that Hamas recognises the existence of Israel and I am confident that it is able to coexist with the idea of negotiations with Israel.”
“There’s no need to keep equivocating on this matter, especially since Hamas has already accepted a truce with Israel for the sake of negotiations. I wonder whether this truce was with a ghost,” he added.
In March Egypt helped persuade Hamas and the militant Islamic Jihad group to accept a conditional halt to attacks on Israelis until the end of 2005. Hamas has shown more respect for the truce than many other factions.
Aboul Gheit said: “The Hamas which works in the political framework through parliamentary work is completely different from the Hamas which adopts armed struggle… We believe that Hamas joining the political process will lead to a fundamental change in its thinking and its premises.”
Asked about U.S. and European threats to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas wins the elections, he said the elections should take place without intervention.
A Hamas spokesman said this week that there was no question of disarming and that it was “committed to resistance against the occupation”.