The Palestinian Authority over the weekend expressed concern over Hamas's growing attempts to gain recognition from the international community and warned EU representatives against engaging in dialogue with the extreme Islamist movement.
A senior PA official in Ramallah condemned initiatives by some EU citizens and officials to talk to Hamas, accusing them of "ignoring the fact that Hamas had staged a coup in the Gaza Strip."
The official warned that meetings between Hamas and Westerners was "playing into the hands" of the movement and undermining efforts to achieve reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
"Those who are trying to legitimize Hamas are harming the Palestinian Authority and any chance of achieving peace with Israel," he said.
Hamas officials, meanwhile, said that their group accepts the two-state solution but only as a temporary one.
The warning came following a meeting in Hebron last week between Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker Abdel Aziz Dwaik and British businessman David Martin Abrahams, who said that he was on a mission to "facilitate dialogue between Hamas and the international community."
During the meeting, Dwaik announced that Hamas accepted Israel's existence and was even prepared to consider the possibility of "nullifying" its charter.
Dwaik stated that Hamas has agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 lines and noted that Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal had already accepted the idea.
Dwaik's remarks, which were first published in The Jerusalem Post
, sparked controversy among the movement's top brass. Hamas leaders and spokesmen made every possible effort to explain what Dwaik really meant when he talked about accepting Israel and "nullifying" the charter.
Dwaik himself appeared to be confused and under pressure in light of the storm created by his controversial remarks. He initially claimed that some of the statements attributed to him were "inaccurate" and that Hamas had never recognized Israel's right to exist.
Dwaik said that he and other Hamas representatives made it clear during the meeting with Abrahams that Hamas "accepts the de facto existence of Israel but does not recognize the legitimacy of its occupation of Palestinian territories."
On the possibility that Hamas would consider canceling its charter, Dwaik said he reminded Abrahams that the PLO, which had canceled its charter under Israeli and American pressure, did not achieve anything in the interest of the Palestinians. He also said that Hamas was planning to continue its discussions with Abrahams and other Westerners.
Mahmoud Ramahi, another top Hamas operative in the West Bank, said in response to Dwaik's comments that his movement was indeed willing to accept an independent Palestinian state within the pre-1967 lines, but only on a temporary basis and without recognizing Israel's right to exist.
Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas representative in the Gaza Strip, confirmed that his movement was considering the possibility of changing its charter. In an interview with the Saudi daily Okaz
, Hamad said that the Hamas charter, like any other document, may be subject for changes and discussions.
But Hamad also stressed that "accepting" Israel did not mean that Hamas would "recognize" the Jewish state.
Salah Bardaweel, a Hamas legislator and spokesman from the Gaza Strip, said in response to the Post
story that his movement was not seeking the destruction of Israel.
"There is a huge difference between our demand to restore the Palestinian people's rights and the annihilation of Israel," he told a Hamas-affiliated Web site. "We haven't said that [we want] to destroy Israel, but we are striving to restore our people's rights and refugees' right to return to their dwellings and land from which they were deported."
Bardaweel also confirmed Dwaik's remarks that Hamas was seeking to launch a dialogue with the international community.
Hamas's efforts to explain its position came after Fatah spokesmen, responding to last week's Post
story, accused the group of double-talk.
"The true face of Hamas has finally been exposed by Dwaik's remarks to the British millionaire," said Ahmad Assaf, a spokesman for Fatah in the West Bank.
"Hamas is seeking recognition of the international community at the expense of the Palestinians' interests and national rights." Hamas is talking in two voices and has two policies, Assaf charged. "In one voice directed toward our people and Arabs and Muslims, Hamas is saying that it's a resistance movement," he said. "In another voice directed toward the international community, Hamas is talking about its readiness to recognize Israel and accept a long-term hudna [temporary truce]."
The Fatah spokesman described Dwaik's attempts to clarify his remarks as "an attempt to deceive public opinion by playing with words." Assaf added that Dwaik's clarifications actually confirmed his position as published in the Post.