(photo credit: AP)
Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal criticized an upcoming US-sponsored Mideast peace conference Saturday, saying Washington was trying to impose its agenda and widen divisions between the Palestinians.
US President George W. Bush proposed the conference this summer after bloody Palestinian infighting split the Hamas and Fatah movements into two rival governments. His administration sees the bitter internal split as an opportunity to push for a political settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
"The international conference is a tool to be used by America to impose the US agenda and to embarrass Arabs into taking the side of American policy," Mashaal told Hizbullah's Al-Manar television.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah plans to attend the conference, but Hamas representatives have not been invited, given the group's continued refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist.
"America wants to engage the service of the conference to strengthen the Palestinian division," said Mashaal.
He argued that the meeting would lead "the Palestinians and Arabs into a tunnel of fruitless negotiations," especially if clear expectations were not established beforehand.
"It is dangerous to deal with the American call or the Israeli call in an international meeting without accurate calculations ... as well as the conference's expected results," said Mashaal.
Washington has advertised the conference as a chance for Israelis, Palestinians and some of their Arab neighbors to discuss issues that have blocked restarting peace negotiations and setting up an independent Palestinian state.
US officials said it was unlikely that Syria, a main backer of Hamas, would attend. Arab allies of the United States, however, were quick to welcome the proposal for the conference, which is expected to take place in Washington in November.
PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad asked the US government on Saturday to be painstaking in its preparations.
The conference should produce "explicit agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state ... and lay down a binding timetable and international guarantees for the completion of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement."
Abbas has been meeting regularly with Israeli officials for several months about ways to revive the peace process. So far, there have been few concrete results, with Israel preferring to focus on general outlines and the Palestinians pressing for detailed talks on the main issues.