Hamas proposal for Israel peace plan

Photo: Hamas proposal for Israel peace plan / Arab-Israel Relations

One of the most influential leaders of Hamas has declared the group will renounce violence if ­Israel agrees to the formation of a Palestinian state, The Australian reported.

In an interview with The Australian in Gaza City, Hamas elder statesman Ahmed Yousef said the group was prepared to end the decades-old conflict in return for a state.

He said he believed a majority of the 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza and the 2.5 million in the West Bank would accept a Palestinian state on pre-1967 lines.

Dr Yousef's reference, several times, to pre-1967 lines is a clear acknowledgment of Israel and its right to exist - something Hamas has been reluctant to do in the past.

"If there is a Palestinian state, we do not need any more war or catastrophe," he said. "We are like the rest of people in the world, we just want peaceful lives."

The comments by Dr Yousef, who is one of the leaders of Hamas's consultative committee, will be greeted with great suspicion but interest in Israel.

While Israeli politicians employ strong rhetoric against Hamas, privately they pay far more attention to what they say and do than the more moderate Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank under Israeli occupation.

In recent years Israel has found itself increasingly negotiating with Hamas, although discreetly and usually through intermediaries.

Last week, Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire after a brutal 50-day war and, in three weeks, will begin negotiations over the possible lifting of Israel's blockade of Gaza. Israel launched the war after the repeated firing of rockets from Gaza.

Hamas's official charter provides for the destruction of Israel but Dr Yousef's comments appear to reflect a growing view inside Hamas that "resistance" against Israel is not working.

"The legitimate demands of Hamas, who represent the major­ity of people in Gaza, is for an end to the occupation and for a Palestinian state along pre-1967 lines," he said. "We are prepared to have a one-state solution or a two-state solution. If we get our own state, there is no need for violence."

Asked whether Hamas would explicitly renounce violence in return for a state, Dr Yousef replied: "Of course. We do not enjoy fighting or killing. We are not al-Qa'ida, we are not ISIS. Unlike them, we are people defending our country and our people. We are people looking for our own state and a future for our children. Every Palestinian family has suffered one way or another."

Asked how he justified firing rockets at civilians in Israel, Dr Yousef replied: "We are under occupation and we have a legitimate right to defend ourselves. Palestinians began our struggle against Israeli occupation by throwing stones but the world ignored us. "

We then took up Kalashnikovs and Katushas, and still nobody listened. We are the people who, in war after war with Israel, have lost thousands of people. We are trying to defend ourselves and make Israelis understand that we cannot accept the occupation."

Dr Yousef addressed a key demand of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: that any agreement for a Palestinian state would mean the end of the conflict. "If we get our own state and find a just solution for (Palestinian) refugees, then it would be the end of the conflict," he said.

"It may be a bi-national state, or a Holy Land federation, or two states. Whatever the solution, if we are not living under occupation the struggle will stop.

"When Palestinians accepted the Oslo accords, we accepted that Palestinians would live alongside Israelis in two states: one in Pales­tine and one in Israel. The question is not about Hamas but about whether Israel still accepts the Oslo accords, which provide for a Palestinian state on pre-1967 borders. I do believe that a majority of Palestinians will still accept that."

While Dr Yousef several times raised the prospect of an end to the conflict, he also warned that if ­Israel did not agree to a Palestinian state, it faced "all-out war".

"If there will be no Palestinian state and Palestinians will continue to be under occupation, then I expect that every two or five years there will be a war," he said.

"If efforts to find a peaceful solution fail, then one day we will have to come to all-out war. It will not just be the Palestinians but some of the Arab and Muslim countries will help ... We believe the whole Middle East region will rush to support us."

He named Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon as countries that would support the Palestinians.

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