CAIRO, (Reuters) – Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on Wednesday set the tone for his first foreign tour since taking office by promoting a Palestinian initiative based on an independent state on land outside Israel’s 1967 borders.
After talks with Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, Haniyeh told a news conference it was time governments in the Middle East and around the world put pressure on Israel to recognise such an independent Palestinian state.
Haniyeh is from the Islamist movement Hamas, which has traditionally advocated a single Palestinian state in all of Palestine as it existed before the creation of Israel in 1948.
Some analysts see a gradual and cautious evolution in the position of Hamas, which took office this year after winning a majority in parliamentary elections in January. But Haniyeh sidestepped a question on whether a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders — Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem — would mark a temporary or a permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Before we talk about permanent or temporary we are talking about a Palestinian political vision based at this stage on setting up a state in the 1967 borders,” he said. “The question must be put to the other side. Is it prepared to recognise this state? Is it prepared to recognise the rights of the Palestinian people? At that point we will define our position in a final manner,” he added.
Haniyeh said on departure from Gaza on Tuesday that he would lobby for political and financial support in the region in the face of economic sanctions the West imposed on the Palestinian Authority after Hamas came to power in March. He plans to be away for several weeks and visit Egypt, Qatar, Syria, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Sudan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, a trip likely to delay further efforts to form a unity government with moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas has agreed with other factions to a Gaza ceasefire but has rejected international demands to recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept existing interim peace accords.
Haniyeh told the Cairo news conference that the Palestinians looked forward to implementation of an Arab League decision to ignore the economic sanctions imposed on them.
Arab foreign ministers took the decision two weeks ago but in practice little has changed. Palestinian ministers still have to hand-carry millions of dollars across the border to pay civil servants.
Asked about the fate of the Israeli soldier captured in Gaza in June, Haniyeh said Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman was dealing with this on a visit to Israel on Wednesday. “I hope, God willing, that it will reach a rapid and urgent solution on the basis of ending the suffering of the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails,” he said. Suleiman is trying to arrange an exchange of prisoners.