Hamas signals desire to talk to world

"We want to be part of the international community," one official says. "We don't want to challenge it."

Ghazi Hamad 248.88 (photo credit:  AP)
Ghazi Hamad 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Senior officials in Hamas are indicating a willingness to negotiate a deal for a long-term truce with Israel as long as the borders of Gaza are opened to the rest of the world. "We want to be part of the international community," Hamas official Ghazi Hamad told The Associated Press at the Gaza-Egypt border, where he was coordinating Arab aid shipments. "I think Hamas has no interest now to increase the number of crises in Gaza or to challenge the world." Three Hamas leaders interviewed by AP said they would accept statehood in just the West Bank and Gaza and would give up their "resistance" against Israel if that were achieved. "We accept a state in the '67 borders," said Hamad. "We are not talking about the destruction of Israel." The group appears to be in the throes of an internal power struggle between hard-liners and pragmatists. Which group comes out on top will likely depend on who is able to garner the most benefits in postwar Gaza. With hawks urging more violence, the window of opportunity to boost the voices of relative moderation is likely to be short. "We won this war," said Hamas politician Mushir Al-Masri. "Why should we give in to pressure from anyone?" Al-Masri spoke to the AP while standing next to a chair that used to serve as his seat in the Palestinian parliament, now reduced to rubble by Israeli bombing. Surrounding him were cracked cement, broken bricks, shattered glass and microphones covered in ash. Yet even Al-Masri, a staunch hard-liner, sounded a conciliatory note. "We have our hands open to any country ... to open a dialogue without conditions," he said - clarifying that does not include Israel. Hamas's pragmatists may have emerged from Israel's offensive slightly stronger, perhaps because of a perception among some Gazans that the organization's hawks overplayed their hand by provoking the wrath of Israel. Obama has repeatedly reached out to Muslims since becoming president. He assured hard-liners in his inaugural address that "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." He dispatched special envoy George J. Mitchell to the Middle East on a "listening tour." And on Tuesday he chose the Arab satellite network Al-Arabiya for his first televised interview, declaring "Americans are not your enemy." It's unlikely Obama would talk directly to Hamas, which the US lists as a terrorist organization. However, if reconciliation talks between Hamas and its pro-Western Fatah rivals in Egypt bear fruit, Obama, unlike his predecessor, may accept a Palestinian unity government that includes the group. Hamas leaders in the past have spoken about a long-term "hudna," or truce, with Israel. But Jerusalem sees the offer as a non-starter because it falls short of full recognition. Even so, Israel and the West appear to have leverage to get Hamas to moderate its stance. The group's demand for an open border with Egypt, for instance, could be conditioned on allowing Fatah to help monitor it. And bringing funds and materials to begin repairing the estimated $2 billion in damage caused by Israel's offensive could be conditioned on Hamas agreeing to stop its violence. Hamas officials said on Wednesdasy that they have rejected Israeli conditions for a tahadiyeh (cease-fire), which include freeing kidnapped St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told US Middle East envoy George Mitchell on Wednesday that while the Gaza crossings were open that day for humanitarian aid, their full, routine, permanent functioning would require a solution to the Schalit issue. Olmert has reportedly offered to gradually open the border crossings in exchange for Schalit, who was kidnapped near Gaza in June 2006. A spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office would not confirm the report. Syrian-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said Hamas will not accept a deal in which Israel would open the border crossings with the Gaza Strip only after guaranteeing Schalit's release. "In response to Olmert, the child killer," Mashaal said Wednesday during a speech aired by al-Jazeera. "I say to you in the name of Hamas and in the name of the heroes who are holding Schalit, we will not accept that the crossings be opened in exchange for Schalit."