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Hamas could one day change vow to destroy Israel

By Wafa Amr
Reuters
21 September 2005

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/21/
AR2005092100385.html

NABLUS, West Bank (Reuters) - Hamas could one day amend a charter
calling for the destruction of Israel and hold negotiations with the
Jewish state, a political leader of the Islamic militant group in
the West Bank said.

`The charter is not the Koran,` Mohammed Ghazal told Reuters in an
interview in Nablus on Tuesday.

`Historically, we believe all Palestine belongs to Palestinians, but
we`re talking now about reality, about political solutions ... The
realities are different.`

The unprecedented comments by Mohammed Ghazal clashed with recent
pronouncements of more senior Hamas officials in Gaza.

But they reflected an apparent shift in Hamas toward the political
mainstream and to winning greater world acceptance in the run-up to
Palestinian parliamentary elections and after Israel`s pullout from
the Gaza Strip.

Ghazal said it was still early to talk about recognizing Israel
`while Israel doesn`t recognize me as the victim.`

He said any Hamas talks with Israel would still depend on its
withdrawal from the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem to allow
an independent state as well as a `right of return` for Palestinian
refugees who fled in 1948 and their descendants.

He acknowledged a `strong belief` that those conditions were never
likely to be met.

Despite pulling troops from Gaza after a 38-year occupation, Israel
has said it will hold East Jerusalem and major West Bank settlements
forever and never allow millions of Palestinians abroad to flood
into Israel.

`The Israelis should reach that stage when they feel they should
negotiate with us and at that time I don`t think there will be a
problem of negotiating with the Israelis,` said Ghazal, long known
as a relative moderate.

TALKS?

`The idea of negotiating is not something problematic and is not a
dogma,` he said at his office in an-Najah university, where he is a
professor of engineering.

Hamas, listed as a terrorist group by the United States and Europe,
has been the most powerful group behind suicide bombings and rocket
attacks in a Palestinian uprising that began in 2000 after talks
collapsed.

The political position of Hamas has been that it could declare a
long-term truce if Israel gave up the West Bank and Gaza and might
even talk to Israel, but it has not talked openly of changing the
charter drawn up in 1988.

Unlike the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas
has stood for replacing Israel with an Islamic state rather than a
state in peace alongside it.

But Hamas, weakened militarily by Israeli raids and assassinations,
has largely respected a truce since February and is preparing to
take part in parliamentary elections for the first time in January
and hopes for big political gains.

Abbas is under pressure from Israel and the United States to start
disarming Hamas as part of a peace `road map` and Israel has ruled
out statehood talks before then, but Hamas refuses and Abbas has
shied from the measure, fearing internal strife.

Objecting to Hamas participation in the parliamentary election,
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said Israel could hinder the ballot
if Hamas does not disarm and change what he called its `horrible`
charter.

Ghazal said such Israeli statements would only serve to strengthen
the Hamas position.

He said he still feared that Israel and the United States could
press Abbas to put off the already delayed elections given their
concerns that Hamas could do well against a dominant Fatah movement
weakened by a record of mismanagement and corruption.

But he said that if elections were not held it would delegitimise
Abbas and the Palestinian Authority and that in such a case Hamas
could move to establish its own authority.

`There will be parallel authorities,` he said.

(Additional reporting by Matthew Tostevin)

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