'They are starting to think differently'

Minister Hirchson tells 'Post' he's hearing hints of moderation from Hamas.

hirshson 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
hirshson 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Leading Kadima minister Avraham Hirchson says he has been hearing comments from within Hamas that offer some hope the terrorist group may chart a more moderate course now that it has been voted into a Palestinian Authority leadership position. Hirchson, the minister of tourism and of communications, stressed to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the government would not talk to Hamas until, or unless, it changed its positions - laying down its arms, recognizing Israel's right to exist and accepting previous agreements with Israel. But he said he had been hearing "expressions that were not the same as previous expressions" emanating from Hamas in recent days that offered some hope of a shift toward moderation. Hirchson did not specify which comments, or which Hamas leaders he had in mind, and said it was too early to establish which views would ultimately hold sway within Hamas. But "they are starting to think differently... and I estimate that they won't be able to act in the way they did when they were not in power," he said. "I believe that the responsibilities of leadership will impact them." Asked whether Hamas's conception of Islam as ruling out the legitimization of Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East would not prevent any kind of significant transformation in Hamas's orientation, Hirchson said a reexamination was still possible. "There'll be forces within who, for the good of the people, press for a different approach," he said, again stressing, however, that it was too soon to say whether such forces would prevail. Hirchson said the government was trying leave a door open to a possible shift by taking moderate positions, such as not firmly ruling out the continued transfer of tax revenues to the PA. The minister said Hamas's hostility to Israel was "not a central factor" in the heavy support it won from Palestinians in last week's elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council. Palestinians chose Hamas over Fatah, he said, because of Fatah's internal mismanagement - "the rivalries, the corruption. It was a protest vote." Asked whether, nonetheless, Hamas's commitment to destroying Israel had plainly not deterred voters, he said he wasn't sure that the Palestinian public had thought about their vote in those terms. Questioned about Wednesday's bloody scenes at Amona, near Ofra, Hirchson said all avenues of potential compromise had been exhausted, and the notion that settlers would voluntarily remove the nine permanent structures and rapidly rebuild them inside Ofra was unrealistic. "It would take months to dismantle and rebuild the homes," he said. "And they wouldn't have done it." Hirchson, No. 10 on the Kadima list, said it was "sad" and "painful" that a changed reality now necessitated the removal of certain outposts and settlements, and noted that he had been directly involved in the establishment of settlements in northern Samaria that were evacuated and bulldozed last summer. The fact was, he said, that "the world has changed" in ways that couldn't have been predicted years ago. The policies followed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and now by Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, he said, were necessary if Israel wanted to be "part of the world community," to maintain "a Jewish majority," "to keep the major settlement blocs, to prevent a 'right of return' and to retain a complete Jerusalem." Hirchson added that Kadima, if it dominated the next government, would seek to set Israel's permanent borders. Asked whether that would require further unilateral withdrawal in the absence of a viable Palestinian negotiating partner, he said Kadima government would remain committed to the road map. "We believe it can lead us to permanent borders," he said, adding that in the absence of progress within that framework, the government might need to reassess "after two or three years."