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Hamas edges toward recognizing Israel in draft agreement with rival Fatah - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) – The Hamas militant group, facing a crippling international boycott and unable to meet Palestinians’ basic needs, is prepared to accept a plan that calls for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, a Hamas official said Friday, potentially a major concession implying recognition of Israel.

However, Hamas’ top leaders have not yet responded to theplan. Even if Hamas accepts a two-state solution to the Mideast conflict, it’s unlikely it would be able to secure a resumption of Western aid without explicit recognition of Israel.

The plan was negotiated by top militants from Hamas and the rival Fatah group, who are held in an Israeli prison.

The 18-point proposal will be the basis for upcoming talks between Hamas and Fatah, said the Hamas official who spoke on condition of anonymity because Hamas leaders have not yet gone public with their views.

Since taking power in March, Hamas has sent conflicting signals about its willingness to accept the international community’s conditions for doing business with it. The West has froze hundreds of millions of dollars in aid payments to the Palestinian Authority because Hamas has refused to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

In the West Bank, about 5,000 Hamas supporters rallied in the city of Nablus, donating money and jewelry to the cash-strapped Palestinian government. Organizers announced over megaphones how much participants were donating.

Speakers criticized Western economic pressure on the Islamic militant group. “These donations are our way of telling the world that we can live without them, and our children are paying what the Europeans should be paying,” said Bassam al-Shaqaa, a former mayor of Nablus.

The prisoners’ draft agreement was negotiated over the past month by militants held in an Israeli prison, including Abdel Khaleq Natche, the top Hamas member held by Israel, and Marwan Barghouti, the senior Fatah prisoner.

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.

While the draft document signals an important turning point for Hamas, it includes key Palestinian demands that Israel rejects. These include affirmation of the right of millions of Palestinian refugees to return to homes in what is now Israel and a complete withdrawal from all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The document also asserts that Palestinians have the right to attack Israelis in the West Bank, but that Israel itself should be off-limits for bombings and shootings.

Hamas leaders in Gaza and the West Bank have previously 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.

Attending a conference in Qatar on Thursday, Mashaal made no reference to the document. He called on Hamas and Fatah to end their infighting and adopt a platform of “liberating Palestine, not recognizing Israel and adopting the path of Jihad and resistance.”

“I urge you in the name of God to save your blood and direct the weapons to the chests of the enemy,” Mashaal said. “We are brothers. We may disagree politically, but we are not enemies.”

Since Hamas defeated Fatah in Jan. 25 parliamentary elections, it has been in an increasingly contentious struggle with the moderate president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, for control of the government. The rivalry erupted in Gaza this week, with three gunmen killed and more than a dozen wounded in firefights.

Abbas said he backs the draft, which authorizes him to lead peace talks with Israel. “This document is very important,” Abbas said Thursday.

“It includes a deep and realistic political vision that to a very large extent represents my point of view … and thus I adopt it.”

Abbas has repeatedly urged Hamas to soften its positions. 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 (¤43 million) it collects in taxes for the Palestinians.

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

Concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation, Western donors agreed this week to resume some humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. But they said no aid will be sent to the Hamas government until it renounces violence, recognizes Israel and accepts past peace agreements.

In other developments: An Israeli court charged four Palestinian militants in the 2001 assassination of Israeli Cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001. The men were charged, two months after troops snatched the men in a brazen military raid on a West Bank jail. A Palestinian militant was killed during an Israeli raid in the West Bank city of Nablus. The army said it shot the man, a member of the Fatah-linked Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, after militants opened fire at the troops. Two Palestinians, an Australian and a Dane were hurt during a protest against Israel’s separation barrier near the West Bank village of Bilin, witnesses said. The four were hurt by rubber-coated steel pellets. The Israeli military said troops fired rubber bullets and tear gas after protesters tried to tear down barbed wire and threw rocks. Two border policemen were hurt by stones, the army said.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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