Hamas softens Israel stance in calls for Palestinian state

Hamas yesterday appeared to soften its long-standing refusal to recognise Israel. Khaled Meshal, the Islamic movement's political leader in exile in Damascus, said that Israel was a "reality" and that "there will remain a state called Israel, this is a matter of fact". Both Israeli and European diplomats reacted with caution, although they acknowledged that the interview contained things Hamas had not said before. Mr Meshal is regarded as the man who dictates policy for the Palestinian government from his base in the Syrian capital.

Mark Regev, Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman, said: "The problem up to now has been that Hamas says again and again that Israel has to be wiped off the map." Asked about Mr Meshal's statement that there would remain a state called Israel, he conceded: "That has to be looked at more carefully. We have no indication so far of any policy change."

In his comments, in a Reuters interview, Mr Meshal hedged his acceptance of Israel and said that Hamas would refuse to consider granting formal recognition until its demand for a Palestinian state was met. He said: "The problem is not that there is an entity called Israel. The problem is that the Palestinian state is non-existent." He added that Palestinians had to have a state that included the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, with a right for Palestinian refugees to return to their homes inside what became Israel in 1948.

He said: "As a Palestinian today I speak of a Palestinian and Arab demand for a state on 1967 borders. It is true that in reality there will be an entity or state called Israel on the rest of Palestinian land. This is a reality, but I won't deal with it in terms of recognising or admitting it." He declined to accept the Western demand for Hamas to recognise Israel, renounce violence against it and honour previous peace agreements.

One European diplomat said in Jerusalem that Mr Meshal had not gone far enough for economic sanctions to be lifted. It would have been better, he said, if he had endorsed the 2002 Arab peace plan, which offered full peace in return for Israel's withdrawal from all territories occupied in the 1967 war.

The diplomat suspected that the softer line might have been a tactical ploy to revive the chances for a Palestinian unity government and restore Hamas's popular appeal. Hamas has recently been weakened by the massacre of a Gaza security commander, identified with Fatah, and seven of his men; and the execution of Saddam Hussein.

The massacre shocked Palestinians and encouraged Fatah to challenge the domination of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Tens of thousands attended a rally in a football stadium, chanting anti-Hamas slogans and anointing Mohammed Dahlan, a charismatic Fatah security chief, as a future leader.

Mr Dahlan boasted in an interview with the liberal Israeli daily Ha'aretz yesterday: "We proved to Hamas that Gaza is not theirs. They lost the Palestinian street, which sees what they have become: a bunch of murderers and thieves who execute Fatah members."

To most Palestinians, Saddam Hussein was a hero who supported their cause, rocketed Israel in the 1991 Gulf war, and subsidised the families of suicide bombers. They condemned Hamas for not distancing itself from its Iranian backer, which rejoiced at his execution.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£12 - £15 Hourly Rate: Sheridan Maine: Are you an experienced Accounts Assista...

Sheridan Maine: Financial Accountant

£150 - £190 Daily Rate: Sheridan Maine: One of London's leading water supplier...

Sheridan Maine: Portfolio Accountant

£30,000 - £35,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a Management Accountant with...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor