JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Islamic militant group Hamas does not rule out eventual talks with Israel, a state it officially aims to destroy, a leader of the Palestinian faction said on Wednesday in a rare interview with Israeli media.
The comments from Mahmoud al-Zahar to Israel Radio were the latest sign of a shift in Hamas”s line ahead of Palestinian parliament elections in January which it is contesting for the first time. Israel dismissed Zahar”s comments.
He said that negotiations were "not our intention" but might be considered after the elections.
"A negotiation is a method. If the method enables us to liberate our land, to liberate our people from Israeli jails, to reconstruct what was destroyed by Israel in its long standing occupation, at that time we can discuss," Zahar said.
He and other Hamas leaders have made similar comments before, always acknowledging the chance of such talks is slight. Israel makes clear it will not speak to an armed group that is dedicated to its elimination.
"The Israelis are not intending to make any negotiations … the Israelis are going to imitate the previous example … Let us wait and see after the election," Zahar said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Zahar”s comments were "an attempt at spin."
"In my opinion, it is a quick fix to subdue the international pressure on it. They also want more support among the Palestinian people," Shalom said.
Israel opposes the participation of Hamas in the parliamentary election unless it disarms. Hamas boycotted the last parliament election in 1996 because it rejected interim peace accords with Israel.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hopes that Hamas will shift closer to the political mainstream after the election. The group has largely followed a nine-month-old truce, but Zahar reiterated that it would not give up its arms.
Israel rules out statehood talks with the Palestinians before disarmament, which they are meant to start under a U.S.-backed peace "road map." Israel has failed to meet its own road map obligation for a freeze to settlement expansion.
The Palestinian Authority seeks a state in the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and Arab East Jerusalem, all captured in the 1967 war. Israeli troops completed a withdrawal from Gaza in September.