Hamas Offers Conditional Truce To Israel

Khaled Mashaal, head of the Hamas politburo, is seen in this March 1, 2008 file photo. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is to meet Mashaal, the group's exiled leader, in Damascus, Syria, on Friday, April 18, 2008.
AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi
Hamas would accept a Palestinian state on only part of the land it claims and would grant Israel a 10-year "hudna," or truce, as an implicit proof of recognition if Israel withdraws from those areas, the Palestinian militant group's leader said Monday.

Khaled Mashaal's comments were one of the clearest outlines Hamas has given for what it would do if Israel withdrew from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, which it seized in 1967. He suggested Hamas would accept Israel's existence alongside a Palestinian state on the rest of the lands Israel has held since 1948.

However, Mashaal told reporters in Damascus that Hamas would not formally recognize Israel.

"We agree to a (Palestinian) state on pre-67 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital with genuine sovereignty without settlements but without recognizing Israel," Mashaal said.

"We have offered a truce if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, a truce of 10 years as a proof of recognition," he said. He said he made the offer to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter during talks Friday and Saturday in the Syrian capital.

Mashaal used the Arabic word "hudna," meaning truce, which is more concrete than "tahdiya" - a period of calm - which Hamas often uses to describe a simple cease-fire. Hudna implies a recognition of the other party's existence.

Earlier in Jerusalem, Carter said that Hamas is prepared to accept the Jewish state's right to "live as a neighbor next door in peace."

The State Department twice advised Carter against meeting Hamas leaders before he left on his Mideast trip early last week. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticized Carter's plans to meet Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal in Syria. It was the first public contact in two years between a prominent American figure and Hamas' leadership.

Hamas has previously claimed all of what is now Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, and its charter calls for the destruction of Israel. Mashaal did not address whether the group would consider changing it. But his comments were one of the strongest Hamas statements in favor of a two-state solution.

"This is Hamas' clear vision," Mashaal added. He said the future Palestinian state must have Jerusalem as its "genuine, sovereign" capital. He appeared to be referring to east Jerusalem, since Israel held west Jerusalem before 1967.