(photo credit: Associated Press)
Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar accepted an Arab proposal on Sunday for a peace conference to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Arab diplomats said.
Zahar, of the ruling Hamas party, endorsed a statement by Arab foreign ministers calling for the peace conference during a meeting in Cairo, said the diplomats.
"The ministers call to convene a peace conference attended by Arab parties, Israel and the permanent members of the UN Security Council in order to reach a just and comprehensive settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict on all tracks according to international resolutions and the principal of 'land for peace'," the statement said.
But earlier on Sunday, Zahar celebrated Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and reiterated Hamas' refusal to recognize the Jewish state. In an interview to the London-based Asharq al-Awsat, Zahar announced that Palestinians would never give up their right of return.
The endorsement was the first time Hamas, which has refused to recognize Israel and renounce violence against the Jewish state, said it would consider making amends with Israel.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said he was not aware of such a conference proposal, but Hamas could not be a party to talks with Israel unless it met the international community's stipulations that it recognize Israel, renounce the use of violence and agree to abide by existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
"A multilateral conference doesn't make Hamas legitimate," Regev said. "What makes Hamas legitimate is accepting the international benchmarks."
In his earlier interview, Zahar told Asharq al-Awsat: "All of Palestine is our land... When any part of it is liberated, any Palestinian and Muslim will have the right to come."
"The withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and the evacuation of the settlements is an important historical event. It will shape the Palestinian conflict the Arab and Islamic worlds and the rest of the world," Zahar said.
When asked if the PA intended to enter the settlements, Zahar declared that the Palestinians would "sully the dignity of Israel with our feet." Zahar indicated that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority were in agreement on the management of lands evacuated by Israeli settlers during the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
However, Hamas still steadfastly refuses to recognize Israel, Zahar insisted. "We do not and will not recognize a state called Israel. Israel has no right to any inch of Palestinian land... This is a holy land. It is not the property of the Palestinians or the Arabs. This land is the property of all Muslims in all parts of the world."