RAMALLAH, West Bank, AP -After months of tensions, senior members of the rival Hamas and Fatah factions have forged a joint platform, including acceptance of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
However, it was unclear whether Hamas, particularly the group’s hardline leaders abroad, will back the program, which would signal a major softening of positions. Until now, Hamas has balked at the West’s demands that it renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept existing peace agreements.
The document was formulated by senior Hamas and Fatah members who are imprisoned by Israel, and was presented to Abbas on Wednesday.
Abbas, the moderate leader of Fatah, said he backs the draft which also authorizes him to lead peace talks with Israel.
“This document is very important. I adopt the position of those heroes,” he said late Wednesday, referring to the prisoners. “It includes a deep and realistic political vision that to a very large extent represents my point of view.”
Senior Hamas officials were not immediately available for comment. Hamas legislator Salah Bardawil said he has not seen the document, but that the views of the Hamas prisoners are considered important.
Tensions have been rising since Hamas defeated Fatah in legislative elections early this year, and Abbas — elected separately last year — has been in a power struggle with the Hamas-led government.
The rivalry erupted into violence between the sides in Gaza this week, killing three people and wounding a dozen others.
Hamas and Fatah are to hold crucial talks in two weeks to try to settle their differences, and the draft could be part of the negotiations.
The negotiations were held in Israel’s Hadarim Prison, where Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti and Abdel Khaleq Natche of Hamas are serving time. It was not clear whether Natche had the blessing of the Hamas leadership abroad, including Syrian-based Khaled Mashaal.
The document 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. Such an implied recognition of Israel would mark a major breakthrough for Hamas, which remains committed to the destruction of the Jewish state.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he is ready to withdraw from much of the West Bank to create an independent Palestinian state. But he plans on holding on to large blocs of West Bank settlements and holy sites in east Jerusalem. Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza last year.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Thursday he was not familiar with the Palestinian talks and saw no need to comment on an internal Palestinian matter.
The draft does not renounce violence. Instead, it says that Palestinians would “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, in contrast to Abbas who opposes all violence.
The document would authorize Abbas to lead negotiations with Israel, based on what is referred to as “Arab legitimacy,” an apparent reference to an Arab peace initiative which calls for a two-state solution. Any agreement would either be put before the Palestinian parliament or submitted to a referendum of Palestinians everywhere.
Based on the program, Fatah would join the Hamas government, the document said.