zahar 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Mahmoud A-Zahar, leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, announced Wednesday that he would be willing to consider negotiating with Israel, as long as any negotiations would serve the Palestinian interests of "withdrawing from Palestinian territory, releasing prisoners and reconstructing all that was destroyed by the occupation."
The Hamas leader called on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Jerusalem, stopping short of calling for a return to the 1948 borderline.
A-Zahar refused to consider disarming, telling Israel Radio that the Palestinian people need weapons in order to protect themselves.
According to A-Zahar, when Israel "refused" to withdraw from the West Bank peacefully, it lost both status and credibility.
A-Zahar, however, also said that all Israelis were Shin Bet agents and a foreign body in the region. The Hamas leader, who is considered radical even in a movement like Hamas, has already managed to survive several Israeli assassination attempts. In one of those attempts, his son was killed.
When asked if negotiations could begin after the upcoming elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, A-Zahar replied, "It depends on Israel. It is not willing to negotiate, and maintains the same policy. After the elections, the situation will clear up."
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom rejected the notion that Hamas was turning moderate. "Hamas is rejecting itself since its charter states clearly, on page one, that Israel must be destroyed. Only two weeks ago, the same A-Zahar, when asked if he was willing to make peace with Israel, answered no. When asked why not, he said 'because Israel does not have a right to exist.'"
According to Shalom, "I wish Hamas would change its stance. I would be the first to welcome it. But this vague statement is no more that a tactic ahead of the PLC elections, in an attempt to gain international recognition."
The foreign minister added that Hamas is under pressure since both the "road map and the Oslo Accords clearly state that a group that calls for the destruction of the State of Israel cannot participate in Palestinian elections. And yet [PA Chairman] Abbas insists on its participation."
Shalom believes Hamas's aim is to adopt Hizbullah's model. He urged the PA to disarm Hamas now, since after the elections it would be "impossible."