Hamas has accepted Israel's right to exist and would be prepared to nullify its charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel, Aziz Dwaik, Hamas's most senior representative in the West Bank, said on Wednesday.
Dwaik's remarks are seen in the context of Hamas's attempts to win recognition from the international community.
Dwaik is the elected speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council. He was released a few months ago after spending nearly three years in an Israeli prison.
Dwaik was among dozens of Hamas officials and members who were rounded up by Israel following the abduction of IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit near the Gaza Strip in June 2006.
His latest remarks were made during a meeting he held in Hebron with British millionaire David Martin Abrahams, who maintains close ties with senior Israeli and British government officials.
Abrahams is scheduled to brief British Foreign Secretary David Milliband this weekend on the outcome of his meeting with Dwaik and other top Hamas officials in the West Bank.
Abrahams, a major donor to Britain's Labor Party, told The Jerusalem Post he would urge Milliband to "consider the implications of Hamas's positive overtures."
During the meeting in Hebron, Dwaik stressed that other Hamas leaders, including Damascus-based leader Khaled Mashaal and Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, have voiced support for the idea of establishing an independent Palestinian state within the pre-1967 boundaries.
"The [Hamas] charter was drafted more than 20 years ago," Dwaik noted, adding that his movement would even be prepared to "nullify" the document.
"No one wants to throw anyone into the sea," he said.
Dwaik also expressed Hamas's desire to engage in dialogue with the international community, first and foremost the European Union. He confirmed that Hamas was receiving financial aid from Iran, but said that this was the direct result of the boycott and sanctions against the movement.
Abrahams said that he would be happy to facilitate a dialogue between Hamas on the one hand, and Israel and the international community on the other. He said he was "very excited" to hear from the most prominent leader of Hamas in the West Bank that the movement would be prepared to nullify its charter and accept Israel.
"The fact that there is a possibility for recognition of Israel is a symbolic gesture," Abrahams added. "We can all look for good in people and we can all look for bad in people. I always look for the good."
Asked whether he might be condemned as naïve for believing Hamas, Abrahams said, "People might say that I'm naïve, so let them. But I'm prepared to give them [Hamas] a chance because I've got faith and confidence in Dwaik and Haniyeh. We can't allow 1.5 million to be festering in the Gaza Strip while the majority of them are good and well-educated."
Abrahams said that his decision to engage Hamas was aimed at "preventing bloodshed on both sides." He said he was encouraged by the massive support he found among the Jewish community in Britain for the idea of talking to Hamas.
"I recently published an article in the Jewish Chronicle to test the temperature of the water within the Jewish community about Hamas," he said. "I found a lot of support among Jews for dealing with Hamas and I was pleasantly surprised."
Denying that he had delivered any message from the British government or the EU leadership to Hamas, Abrahams said he was convinced more than ever that the movement posed no threat to the US. "Hamas is different from al-Qaida," he said. "Hamas is no threat to Western interests."
Some consider Dwaik, as speaker of the PLC, to be the acting president of the Palestinian Authority, since Mahmoud Abbas's term officially expired on January 9. Dwaik himself has said that he is content to let Abbas continue in office until the election that is now scheduled for June 28, 2010