Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniya said on Wednesday the Islamist group would accept a peace deal with Israel if the Palestinian people approved it in a referendum.
His statement appeared to signal a shift in the group’s long-standing policy of refusing to accept either Israel’s legitimacy or any peace treaty negotiated by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas “will respect the results of a referendum even if the results conflict with Hamas’ positions,” Haniya said at a rare press conference with foreign journalists. “We accept a Palestinian state with full sovereignty on the land occupied in 1967 with Jerusalem as its capital and a solution to the issue of refugees.”
However, an Israeli government official pointed out that Haniya never explicitly said Hamas would be prepared to end its conflict with Israel in such a case.
“They never say that a -Palestinian state living alongside Israel will be enough for them, but rather that they will accept it,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Notice that he never says that they will then be willing to live with Israel after that.”
“Ultimately they are committed to an Islamist Palestinian state that will replace Israel,” the official added.
Hamas has frequently derided negotiations with Israel as a waste of time and Haniya said he remained unconvinced that peace talks would result in an agreement.
“There won’t be a solution with two states on the land ... Israel wants the the land, peace and security with us and this is something impossible,” he said.
Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006, defeating Abbas’s Fatah party. Long-standing tensions between the rivals boiled over in June 2007, when the Islamist group’s forces routed Fatah and seized control of Gaza.